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 on themselves during the Muharram procession.
A division bench of Justices R M Savant and S S Jadhav was recently hearing a suo motu petition based on a PIL filed earlier 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 Mohammed, and his family were killed. This year, Muharram will be observed on October 1.
The court pointed out that a division bench that was earlier hearing the matter had asked the community leaders to decide on it. In the earlier hearings, lawyers who appeared for Shia bodies had filed interventions stating they have been performing the rituals in this manner for 1,300 years and that nobody has been “injured”.
The court, however, passed directions for police to hold dialogue with religious leaders on the issue. The court also directed the police to watch the processions and videograph them.
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 asked the police to file a reply after the meeting, in the next hearing.
The court also said it would 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 followed 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 pressure us to stop the religious ritual that has not caused any harm or fatality.”