Calcutta HC pulls up state for puja restrictions meant to ‘appease’ minorities

HT Correspondent, New Delhi: The Calcutta high court pulled up the West Bengal government for its

“arbitrary” directive to limit Durga idol immersions so as to not clash with Muharram processions in a recent hearing.
A single-member bench of justice Dipankar Dutta noted that the government’s directive was a “clear endeavour” to “appease the minority section”, especially as there has never been a state or Centre-declared holiday on the eve of Muharram to prepare for the tazia (processions), according to a report by the Indian Express.
“There has been a clear endeavour on the part of the state government to pamper and appease the minority section of the public at the cost of the majority section without there being any plausible justification. The reason therefore is, however, not far to seek,” the court said.
Justice Dutta conceded that we did “live in difficult times” in which it would be “dangerous to mix politics with religion”, but noted that governments should not take decisions that pit “one community against another”.
“Intolerance would rise in the event of such arbitrary decision,” the judge said in the October 6 ruling after hearing a petition by three parties — two households and an apartment complex – which sought to immerse their idols by 8:30 pm on Bijoya Dashami.
Sometime in early August, the Mamta Banerjee government announced that there would be no idol immersion post 4 pm on Bijoy Dashami, the day of the Durga idol immersion. This year the day falls on October 11, a day before tazia takes place.
Given the restrictions, bigger puja pandals have decided to immerse their idols after Muharram.
The court directed civic agencies, including the police and civil administration, to identify routes for the immersion processions and for the tazia, while making sure that the routes did not overlap.
“The administration has failed to take note of the fact that Muharram is also not the most important festival of people having faith in Islam… To put it curtly, the state government has been irresponsibly brazen in its conduct of being partial to one community, thereby infringing upon the fundamental rights of people worshipping Maa Durga,” the bench further noted.
“Never has there been a restriction on immersion of Durga idols on Bijoya Dashami at any earlier point of time. It has been brought to the notice of this Bench that in the years 1982 and 1983, Moharram was observed on the day following Bijoya Dashami, but no restriction of the nature impugned herein was imposed.”
Stating that the limitations on idol immersion were “unprecedented”, justice Dutta also noted there was “no decision in black and white taken either by the civil administration or by the police administration indicating any reason for imposing the impugned restriction”.
The state government has so far not appealed the high court’s ruling.