September 22nd, 2017
In a setback to the government of West Bengal, the Calcutta High Court on Thursday, 21 September stayed its order prohibiting immersion of Durga idols after 10 pm on 30 September and 1 October on account of Muharram (Islamic New Year). In its order, the court allowed the immersion of idol till 12 am on all days including Muharram.
As reported by The Tribune, a Division Bench comprising Acting Chief Justice Rakesh Tiwari and Justice Harish Tandon directed the West Bengal Government to make imperative security arrangements and asked it to chalk out designated routes for immersion and Tazia processions (a Muslim passion play celebrated by the Shiʽa in Muharram).
Justice Tiwari said that people have the right to practise their religious activities and the state cannot put restrictions.
The directions by the High Court came on three Public Interest Litigations (PILs) challenging the restrictions on the immersion of Durga idols at the end of the five-day Durga Puja festival.
Hailing the court verdict, Dilip Ghosh, BJP president of West Bengal said that the state government’s attempts ‘to divide the people into religious lines and reap electoral benefits out of it’ had been vanquished.
The order came a day after the High Court slammed Mamata’s government for hampering a citizen’s right to practise religion by a mere assumption of law and order disruption and said that it must provide sound reasons for doing so.
Reacting to the order, she was quoted by The Indian Express as saying, “Someone can slit my throat, but no one can tell me what to do. I will do what I can to keep peace in the state.”
A notification was issued last month in which the government of West Bengal restricted Durga idol immersion on 30 September – the Vijaya Dashami day, after 6 PM and barred immersions on 1 October of Muharram.
As per the order, the government later clarified its position and modified the notification, allowing immersion till 10 pm on 30 September. The immersion would start again on 2 October and will continue till 4 October.
The order sparked a controversy in the state of West Bengal and the BJP, RSS, Bajrang Dal and VHP accused the chief minister of indulging in appeasement politics.
Ghosh said, “The state government doesn’t have the right to decide when and how immersion will take place, it can only decide the routes for immersion. This administration, especially the chief minister, has no confidence in herself or her administration. That’s why she is attacking our religious beliefs and introducing restrictions. If she has so little confidence, let her seek the Centre’s help.”
CM Mamata Banerjee’s stand
She gave a reason for not holding the Muharram and Durga idol immersion processions on 1 October and said, “We have been handling Durga Puja and Muharram together for last five years, and every time my government maintained peace and harmony. I am not doing it for any religion but for people, to keep peace and harmony.” reported The Economic Times.
She further added that there are 30% Muslims in Bengal and since independence, we all are living here together. They are also citizens of our country. Furthermore, one should look at the nature of these two events. Durga Puja is our major festival, while Muharram is a day of mourning. In that context, we have to take some administrative measures.
She also warned the right-wing organisations asking them not to ‘play with fire,’ and said that some ‘mischievous people’ have conspired and deluded others by making false statements.
She claimed, “No one accuses me of appeasement when I attend programmes of the Hindus, Buddhists or Christians. This charge is levelled only when I attend programmes of Muslims.”
High Court’s Verdict
Passing an interim order, the court directed that processions with Durga idols reaching places of immersion by midnight would be allowed to complete the process on a given day.
The state government was also directed to put out advertisements to widely circulate information about the routes and also for ensuring amity and harmony between the communities.
The Bench asked the state authorities to file its affidavit on the prayers made by the petitioners within three weeks after the Durga Puja holidays and the petitioners to give their reply within another two weeks.
The Court declined a plea of the Trinamool Congress government for a stay on order. The matter would come up for hearing again five weeks after the vacation.