The Bombay High Court directed the Maharashtra government to grant a hearing on Thursday evening to a local Shia Muslim organisation seeking permission to organise a symbolic mourning procession in the city during Muharram. The petitioner, All India Idaara-E-Tahafuz-E-Hussainiyat, approached the high court after the Maharashtra government issued two resolutions earlier this month, prohibiting mourning processions and asking everyone to observe Muharram at home this year in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The petitioner has sought permission for the prayer meet or symbolic procession between August 27 and August 30 this year. The organisation argued that if the state permitted Ganesh idols immersion with certain health safeguards, it must also permit the Muharram mourning procession.
A bench of Justices S J Kathawalla and N M Jamdar, therefore, directed the disaster management department of the state to give the petitioner a hearing. The bench said if the petitioner was asking for something similar to what was allowed for the Ganpati festival, which began last Saturday, then the state could not deny permission to the petitioner organisation.
"If what you are asking for is on the lines of Ganpati, then they (state) can't say no. For then, it will be discrimination. But, if you are asking for anything more, then that can't be allowed," the bench said. In its plea, filed through advocates Rajendra Shirodkar, and Shehzad and Asif Naqvi, the petitioner organisation said each year, between the 7th and 10th day of Muharram, the Shia community here carries out a procession holding 'Alam' and 'Tazia' symbols from Mohammed Ali Road graveyard on Reay Road in the city.
It said this year also, it be permitted to carry out the age old tradition of the procession, albeit with a limited number of people and with all health safeguards such as masks, social distancing in place. The state's counsel Purnima Kantharia, however, told the high court that a procession of any kind would involve amass gathering, and the state could not permit it.
Advocate Shirodkar then told the court that the petitioner would agree to not holding a procession as long as it was permitted to carry out a symbolic procession. "It can just be symbolic. It can just be between 20 and 50 people gathering for prayers while maintaining social distancing. Or, the court can limit the number of people further and tell us how many can be permitted to gather for prayers," he said.
The bench then directed the petitioner organisation to first go to the state's disaster management department with its revised demand. It directed the state to grant the petitioner a fair hearing and to inform the court of its decision on Friday morning.
The Maharashtra government issued two resolutions on August 18 and 19 this year, prohibiting Muharram processions in the city. But, the government resolutions permitted the setting up of Chhabils, or water stalls, as long as only a maximum of two persons manned the stalls, distributed only sealed water bottles, and maintained hygiene and social distancing.
For the Ganpati idols immersion, the state earlier issued a slew of directions and restrictions that included a limited number of people at immersion sites, and a cap on the size of the Ganesh idols.