Stressing the safety of children, the Bombay High Court has directed the Additional Commissioner of Police, South region to hold a meeting with members of the Shia community to prevent children from inflicting injuries upon themselves during the Muharram procession.
A division bench of Justice R M Savant and Justice S S Jadhav was hearing a suo motu petition based on a PIL filed by activist Faisal Banaraswala, seeking a ban on participation of children in the ritual. The petition contends that the use of sharp weapons such as knives, blades and swords to inflict cuts on the back and head is a violation of fundamental rights.
Muharram marks the anniversary of the battle of Karbala in which Imam Hussain, the grandson of Prophet Muhammad, and his family were killed. To mourn his killing, participants, including children, hit themselves with sharp objects. This year, Muharram will be observed on October 1.
The court pointed out that a division bench which was earlier hearing the matter had asked the community leaders to decide the matter. In the earlier hearings, lawyers who appeared for Shia bodies had filed interventions stating they have been performing the rituals in such a manner since 1,300 years and that nobody has been “injured”.
The court, however, passed directions for the police to hold a dialogue with religious leaders to address the issue as it concerned the safety of children. The court has also directed the police to watch the processions and videograph them. In the last hearing in December, 2016 the court had asked for the implementation of a 2014 circular issued by Deputy Commissioner of Police (Operations) stating that the police will be taking all preventive measures to ensure that followers of the Shia sect do not inflict injuries on themselves.
Justice Savant said, “It is a serious issue concerning the safety of children. We direct the Additional Commissioner of the South region, Pravin Padwal, to convene a meeting with the members of the Shia community and organisers of the procession to take steps to ensure children are not harmed or injured in the process.” The court had asked the police to file a reply after the meeting, in the next hearing.
The court also said that it will decide the matter before the Muharram procession this year. Habib Nasser, one of the intervenors who represents the Shia community, said, “We are a peace-loving community. We will sit with the additional commissioner and speak about the traditions that we have been following for a thousand years.
Muharram should be commemorated in the same manner. We haven’t faced any fatality and nobody has been forced to flagellate himself. We are not above the law but the PIL was filed to pressurise us to stop the religious rituals that has not caused any harm or fatality.”
The PIL was filed by Faisal Banarasiwalla against children inflicting injuries on themselves using blades and knives during Muharram procession. The Shia community said the PIL by a Sunni community representative is motivated which led to a ruckus between the two communities in the court. Following this, the court turned the PIL into a suo motu petition since it involved the safety of children.