The loudspeaker provocation

A blanket ban would not violate religious rights of any individual or community.

Written by Tahir Mahmood | Published:August 9, 2014 2:25 am
Why are judicial verdicts being flouted by all religious communities? The answer lies in weak environment protection. ( Source : AP ) Why are judicial verdicts being flouted by all religious communities? The answer lies in weak environment protection. ( Source : AP )

On Hindu religious occasions one often hears people “doling out cheap jazz or cinema music… I am surprised to hear that the canker has now spread to the precincts of Muslim religious institutions. May be that what is sought to be propagated in this instance is not profane music but a call to the faithful for offering daily prayers, but the objection remains.” Thus observed a Calcutta High Court judge in Masud Alam and others vs Commissioner of Police and another in 1956. He was dealing with a case in which the use of amplifiers in a mosque had been banned by the police, in response to the objections of non-Muslim neighbours. Giving his verdict against the Muslims, the judge said, “one remembers with pleasure the romantic sound of an early morning moazzin from the turrets of an upcountry mosque on a misty morning, but to transform this into a noisy fanfare is neither artistic nor necessary; I find nowhere that the religion of the Muslims enjoins it.”

This case was decided at a time when big mosques had just begun using microphones for congregational prayers, against public opinion. In my childhood, people used to oppose its use, saying “the devil speaks in this machine”. So the Calcutta High Court just tried to keep the devil away from the mosque. But the scenario became entirely different within a few years of the Calcutta High Court judgment. Gradually, all mosques began using amplifiers. Today, mosques big and small, in cities and villages, take pride in rendering a “religious service” to the people through the use of loudspeakers. During Ramzan, mosques sound alerts for sahri (the pre-sunrise meal) and iftar (fast-breaking at sunset) by setting off sirens or making announcements over loudspeakers.

Temples in India had embraced the microphone culture long before mosques. Amplifiers are used to broadcast bhajan-kirtans (as well as night-long recitation from the scriptures) that are held not only in temples, but also in makeshift pavilions erected in parks and on public lands. This was also once challenged in the Calcutta High Court, which, consistent with its mosque decision of 1956, ruled that using an amplifier in a temple or for a Hindu religious ceremony elsewhere is not an essential practice of the Hindu faith (Om Birangana Religious Society vs the State and others, 1996) and can lawfully be stopped by a competent authority.

Loudspeakers are used in Sikh gurdwaras to broadcast gurbani (the singing of Granth Sahib hymns) as well, but there is no reported judicial decision regarding this practice. Loudspeakers are generally not used in churches, but a Pentecostal church in south India was once dragged to court for using a microphone during mass. On the neighbours’ complaint, a prohibitory order was issued by the local authorities. The Christians challenged this in the Madras High Court, alleging that it violated their fundamental right to religion. Failing to get relief, they went to the Supreme Court. Rejecting the appeal, the apex court observed: “Undisputedly, no religion prescribes that prayers should be performed by disturbing the peace of others, nor does it preach that they should be through voice-amplifiers or beating of drums.” It is indeed a matter of common sense that the use of an amplifier — an electronic device invented in the 19th century — cannot be an “essential practice” of any of the religions that appeared on the globe hundreds of years earlier.

The Supreme Court’s clear verdict was that, in its view, “in a civilised society, in the name of religion, activities which disturb old or infirm persons, students, or children having their sleep in the early hours or during daytime, or other persons carrying on other activities cannot be permitted.” (Church of God (Full Gospel) in India vs KKR Majestic Colony Welfare Association and Others, 1999). This decision of the apex court constitutes the law applicable to all temples, gurdwaras, mosques, churches and the like. It also covers all religious functions, regardless of the community they may be organised by, outside houses of worship.

The question is why these binding judicial verdicts are being flouted, day in and day out, by all religious communities. The answer lies in the weak environment protection laws of the country, which provide ample room for this state of affairs. The Central Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, and the Noise Pollution (Regulation and Control) Rules made under it, as well as the local laws, only restrict the volume, pitch and reach of loudspeakers — the voice must not reach “beyond 50 feet” or so. In a country like ours, such restrictions can never be voluntarily adhered to, nor meticulously implemented by the authorities. Who is going to measure the volume of a particular loudspeaker, gauge whether its sound is reaching beyond 50 feet or check whether it is affecting an infant or patient living 51 feet away?

Loudspeakers are used in our society not only for religious purposes, but also to celebrate weddings and for electioneering. As long as this goes on, religious places alone cannot be restrained from using them. In my opinion, the Supreme Court verdict should be translated into parliamentary legislation that emphatically imposes a blanket ban on the use of loudspeakers in all places of worship and in all public places, whether for religious purposes or otherwise. Only this will, in the apex court’s words, make us a “civilised society”. I can confidently say that it will not violate the religious rights of any individual or community since, as aptly put by the Calcutta High Court, “prayer is intended to be a silent communion with the creator and does not call for a tumultuous prelude or a noisy accompaniment.”

The writer is former chair of the National Minorities Commission and former member, Law Commission

express@expressindia.com

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  1. I
    Imi
    Sep 19, 2014 at 8:21 am
    Don't forget the churches, it is the same with them!
    Reply
    1. I
      Imi
      Sep 19, 2014 at 8:17 am
      Noise pollution has become a menace all over India, by all religious and political groups and organisations, and leading to severe health hazards. In addition to what is already mentioned in the article, the churches in South are blaring almost day and night, be it by playing CDs for hours and hours, or be it by transmitting their service/m which only interests the respective congregation. "Noise" is defined as "Unwanted sound imposed on others", and as such a criminal offence, clearly stated by a very detailed SC order in 1996. The extremely high decibels emitted are injurious to health, even more so for children, and the authorities should see to it that law enforcement personnel is putting an end to it.
      Reply
      1. I
        Imi
        Sep 19, 2014 at 8:18 am
        Not only from religious places but also from other groups (political or otherwise), and also ban mobile laoudspeaker batteries making the rounds for advers.
        Reply
        1. S
          S.Jain
          Aug 9, 2014 at 2:25 am
          Fully agree. Loudspeakers now literally terrorize ordinary people. People have now even started using HUGE speakers (during marriages/pujas etc.) that are loaded on to vans/trucks and create a sound blast that is greater than a low-flying jet. These sound blasts happen at any time of the day and also often continue well into late hours or throughout the night. Normally persons manning these "blasts" are the local "leaders"/mafia/criminals and no one even dares to raise a voice against them. The police, of course, never "hears" such sound blasts to take any action. It is time to stop this unimaginable and unbearable public nuisance. So, time to ban ALL loudspeaker usage in public except for political rallies or for urgent police or disaster announcements.
          Reply
          1. J
            JK
            Aug 9, 2014 at 8:50 am
            Thank you so much Sir. I am thankful to you for enlightening us with such a lucid and factual article. Its a shame that Muslims or for that matter pracioners of any religion make it look like as if it is a violation of their religious rights if they are not allowed to use loudspeakers for religious reasons. Thank you
            Reply
            1. M
              Mohan
              Aug 9, 2014 at 5:07 am
              I agree with you --- a blanket ban on loudspeakers on ALL RELIGIOUS INSUTIONS
              Reply
              1. M
                mf
                Aug 9, 2014 at 6:27 am
                As a Muslim i support blanket ban on use of loudspeakers in Masjids(mosques).
                Reply
                1. M
                  mf
                  Aug 9, 2014 at 6:25 am
                  excellent article.
                  Reply
                  1. S
                    Sanjiv
                    Aug 11, 2014 at 11:44 am
                    Please ban all Loudspeakers from all Religious Places..
                    Reply
                    1. P
                      P
                      Aug 9, 2014 at 9:19 am
                      Loudspeakers should not be allowed to be used to destroy the peace and tranquility of ones neighborhood
                      Reply
                      1. J
                        Jugal Kishore Sharma
                        Aug 9, 2014 at 10:50 am
                        Blow the rampant social nomadic culture, which only rise insane,inhuman behaviorisms to our surrounding, and effected are gather for Violante for other. Violence and uncivilized act to other, but clout for w community.
                        Reply
                        1. R
                          rkannan
                          Aug 9, 2014 at 12:39 pm
                          By judicial pronouncements, the writer has shown that laws exist but are not enforced properly. His solution to ask for another legislation does not sound logical.
                          Reply
                          1. R
                            rm
                            Aug 9, 2014 at 4:00 am
                            Good Idea! Loud speakers are such a nuisance that they should be banned in all outdoor places except for specified grounds where public meetings can be organized with prior permission of local authorities.All religions have perfected this art of perforating ear drums! Worst offenders are "Ratri Jagrans" and the least are Sikh Gurudwaras which use very low volumes. But to be fair to all religions loudspeakers should be banned by all.
                            Reply
                            1. P
                              PJ
                              Dec 25, 2014 at 7:55 am
                              (I M sure ur moderates will not display my comments)loud speakers disturb old and frail who due to old age or due ill health often get disturbed our children having too much work load their bags weighing more than their body weight and having almost daily cl, weekly .... tests get disturbed a lot above all there r devout people and meditate their own way at their homes r disturbed a lot loud speakers steal their solitude ie EKANT meditation requires silence and solitude which is totally not now any where that is why due to noise pollution our society has become intolerable i request through the columns of this paper to concerned for complete ban on loud speakers in all forms
                              Reply
                              1. S
                                S.Suchindranath
                                Aug 9, 2014 at 6:04 am
                                A good survey of my Bete Noir. It was Mohammeds' (PBUH) Gros Bete Noir who started this "for the Jews had their Rams' Horn and the Christians their bells". India abolished rule of law in 1947. In 1949, this was formalized by grafting satire from George Orwell's "Animal Farm" such as "All animals are equal.... but some are more equal than others" and "Four legs good, two leg bad" on to the Government of India Act (1935) to arrive at the "Consution" and set the trend for all subsequent "Social Engineering" laws that found politically convenient alternatives to equity and equality-under-law thus setting in train the confusion in which corruption flourished. The "Rule of Law" has given way to rule by the Neta-Babu-Milard-VIP-Celebrity-Crony-Copocracy. We have an all too cozy do-nothing mafia that is content to loot, rape and per by a thousand cuts, a society that has been trained to this purpose rather than "democracy" for thousands of years. The Noise pollution that they allow to be fomented makes the perpetrators a partner in their crimes, thus perpetuating this uneasy "calm".
                                Reply
                                1. V
                                  Vikram Kumar
                                  Aug 9, 2014 at 6:19 am
                                  Fully agree with this article. Loudspeakers should be completely banned. It has gone out of control. And this should apply to all religious places, including the call to namaz which disturbs my sleep everyday morning at 5 am from the masjid near my house. Mind you the same applies for Hindu bhajans which are pla on every festival day. Please let us have peace and quiet.
                                  Reply
                                  1. V
                                    Vish
                                    Aug 9, 2014 at 4:42 am
                                    Couldn't agree more with the author, please bring a law to ban all loudspeakers at all religious places. Azaan is a disturbance for others and similarly loudspeakers at temples, festivals etc.
                                    Reply
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