The bad news from West Bengal is that Mamata Banerjee had imposed an undeclared & illegal ban on Vijayadashmi proceedings. The Kolkata Police web portal for providing a single window to all Durga Puja related clearances, ‘Aasan’ was launched on 30th August. During the inauguration, the Chief Minister of Bengal informed that “idol immersion will take place till 4 pm on October 11 – the Vijayadashmi day.”
The good news is that the Hon’ble High Court of Bengal not only overturned it, but exposed her minority appeasement politics in choicest of words. On the last working day before going on Dussehra Vacations, the single bench of Justice Dipankar Dutta ruled in favour of petitioners Sandeep Bera, Amrita Lal Dhar, & Ajoy Kumar Dutt, w/one other petitioner (Writ Petitions #24153, 24471, & 24488)
Justice Dutta refuted the decision heavily, remarking that it was an arbitrary & discriminatory decision, without any jurisdiction. He went on to call it an illegal step, considering that the government advocate failed to provide any supporting documents to prove that such a decision was taken in the first place. No procedure was followed, nor was any order signed by the Chief Minister or any other competent authority, such as a civil administrative body or the police available.
Mamata Stands Completely Exposed
The Court rapped the State Government’s method of imposition & slammed Mamata without naming her. Justice Dutta observed:
“This is plainly not permissible. A decision not on paper cannot be enforced in any manner whatsoever. Someone has to take responsibility for such decision. Even if a high constitutional functionary duly empowered proposes to take a decision affecting rights of subjects, he cannot escape the rigours of reducing such decision in writing & signing it. If such constitutional functionary perceives that he is not bound to follow such procedure that would amount to subverting the rule of law & indeed a very sad day for the State.”
Justice Dutta further went on to say that the decision was unwarranted & beyond the scope of the state’s powers:
“The power that the State Government has to regulate processions … has to be exercised reasonably, rationally & without any discrimination. Durga Puja happens to be the most important festival of Bengali speaking people residing in West Bengal or in any other state. Never has there been a restriction on immersion of Durga idols on Vijayadashami at any earlier point of time.”
Freedom of Religion & Minority Appeasement
The petitioners were seeking shelter of Article 25 (Freedom of Religion), Their argument was upheld by the court.
“Immersion on Vijayadashami is such a ritual for puritan Hindus that the same cannot be postponed to a day beyond Vijayadashami or preponed at the whims and caprices of the State Government.”
Exposing Mamata’s minority appeasement politics in most severe words, the court observed:
“There has been a clear endeavour on the part of the State Government to pamper & appease the minority section of the public at the cost of the majority section without there being any plausible justification … 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 State Government must realise that it would be dangerous to mix politics with religion. We, the people of India boast of being a secular nation but actions of some State Governments are in deviation of the constitutional norms and principles. No decision ought to be taken that would have the potential of pitting one community against another. We are living in difficult times. Intolerance would rise in the event of such arbitrary decision of the State Government being put in place and enforced.”
Completely Dictatorial & Illegal
Two of the petitioners (Amrita Lal Dhar & Ajoy Kumar Dutt) had served notices to the Burrabazar & North Port Police Stations; & the Howrah Bridge Traffic Guard. However, receiving no response from any of them, he approached the Hon’ble High Court of Bengal.
However, based on the merit of the case & considering that sensitive religious sentiments were involved, the court upgraded the case to a rare category & passed an interim writ, bypassing the established legal procedure. The court remarked that 2 things were done for the first time in the history of Bengal:
- Restriction on the immersion of Durga idols on Vijayadashami (11th October, 2016).
- Arbitrary decision taken “in a hush-hush manner” without giving any valid reason, or creating any records or a written order.
The court dismissed the decision, questioning its legality:
“The State Government has clearly acted in a hush hush manner by not putting the relevant decision on paper, not putting the contents of the press report as well as not publishing any order imposing restriction in the Official Gazette … Should a constitutional functionary take a decision & seek to enforce it without putting it on paper, there is no existence of a decision at all. Question of enforcement of such non-existent decision does not arise at all … What is more surprising is that no reason is forthcoming” for the prohibition.
The Final Relief:
The court allowed each petitioner to take their immersion procession using the same routes that they have been following every year. Not just the petitioners, but every private organiser & apartment owners association was exempted from this restriction.
The court further reminded the police & the administration of their primary duty – ensuring law & order in the state. It directed them to oversee the immersion & prevent any law & order situation. They were also directed to identify routes for the Tajias within 2 days & ensure that their routes do not overlap with the Vijayadashmi processions.
The next date of the hearing was kept at 6 weeks after the Dussehra vacations, effectively denying the government an opportunity to appeal elsewhere.
Historical & Cultural Significance
The High Court observed that Muharram was observed on Ekadashi (the day after Vijayadashmi) in 1952, 1982 & 1983; & on Dwadashi (2 days after Vijayadashmi) in 1950, 1951 & 1984. All these years, no such restriction was imposed at any point of time. The immersion processions had went ahead without any law & order problems back then.
The state administration did not even consider Muharram a major festival. This was evident because they did not bother to collect the data about the number of processions (the Tajia) being taken out in the State. It was observed that the Tajia was NOT an inseparable part of the mourning associated with Muharram. The court further observed that while Durga Puja is the most significant festival of Bengal, Muharram is not the most important festival of Muslims.
Ironically, as per both Union & the State Government’s notifications, 11th October is declared as a government holiday in view of Dusshera (Vijayadashami). There has never been such a holiday for Muharram.
A SatyaVijayi Exclusive