The Calcutta High Court has lambasted the Mamata Banerjee government’s decision not to allow any idol immersion on Vijaya Dashami post 4pm and also the following day on account of Muharrram, saying that the restrictions have been put up in an “unprecedented” way as there are no written orders to this effect from the administration. Hearing a petition filed by private persons, the HC has ruled that at least for private pujas, immersion of idols will be allowed till 8:30 pm on Vijaya Dashami, which is on Tuesday. 

The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party has also protested the government move and called it “partisan” and in violation of “secular principles”. Speaking to The Sunday Guardian, BJP’s state unit spokesperson Krishanu Mitra said that in a secular state, the government has “no authority to patronise one set of rituals and one set of traditions at the expense of another set of rituals and another set of traditions”.

“I have grown up in different cities and on several occasions Muharram and Vijaya Dashami have coincided, but Mamata Banerjee’s decision not to allow idol immersion in order to give exclusive passage to those who would take out Muharram processions, is unfortunate. We are not asking her patronisation, but why can’t she set up an administrative structure in which both communities can carry out their rituals independently, as is done in other states?” asked Mitra.

Shedding light on the ambiguity of the orders, Sanjoy Som, who describes himself as a conscious citizen and friend of the petitioner Sandeep Beras, pointed out that the administration has not issued any orders in writing. “The chief secretary generally signs an order, the home secretary too could have signed it, and sent it to the police. It could have been challenged. But by issuing verbal orders, they have not left any opportunity for anybody to challenge the order,” he said.

He added that the administration arm twisted community puja samitis to follow the unwritten directive. “The CM had called the representatives of the community puja samitis on 29 August and she had verbally said this is what she has decided (setting a time limit up to 4pm for immersion on Vijaya Dashami and restricting it altogether on Muharram). When they (community puja samiti representatives) later went to seek permission from the police for their pujas, they were made to write the time and date of immersion then and there. If they had written a time and date that was against what the CM had directed, they wouldn’t have been granted permission. So, all of them actually mentioned time and date that were within the limits that she had set,” Som explained.

The HC also pointed out to the government counsel during the hearing that in Allahabad, where the biggest Tajiya is taken out, the Muslim community has rescheduled it by a day so that there is no obstacle to idol immersions. “If Eid falls on Republic Day, will you stop the 26 January functions also?” the judge asked sardonically.

Explaining the unconscionable attitude of the government, Mitra added: “There is a tradition of ‘sindoor khela’ on the afternoon of Vijaya Dashami. It takes a few hours, only after which processions are taken out and immersion done. It is difficult to imagine how all these rituals can be completed and immersion done by 4pm.”

Som alleged that the CM was placating the minority community for vote bank politics. “Hindu votes here are fragmented, some of them vote for Congress, some for the Left, many for the Trinamool, some again for the BJP. But Muslims have been traditionally voting en masse. So, they are holding the key to who is going to form the government here. So, if the Chief Minister has to be elected based on Muslim votes, the only thing she can possibly do is appease. And this is one way of appeasing the Muslims here,” he told this correspondent.

When asked if the opposition has been doing anything to protest these moves, he said, “Congress is a defunct party, they are more focused on keeping their flock together. As far as the Left is concerned, they never bothered about the right of the Hindus. BJP is not a political force as yet in Bengal.”

It is notable that the administration had gone a step further in a village called Kangla Pahari in West Bengal, where they had restricted Durga Puja altogether. “There are 250-300 Hindu families and about 25 Muslim families there. The administration stopped the Durga Puja of the Hindus there. So, we had to go to court. This is the fourth year running, and the court has just given a ruling and the puja is happening right now,” Som said.

Some time back, a certain Dhar family, who do a private Durga Puja, had approached the court seeking relaxation of the time limit for private immersions. The court in its response not only reprimanded the West Bengal administration but also relaxed the deadline for immersion by a few hours.

But a senior journalist aware of the judgement confirmed to this newspaper that it would be applicable to only private samitis as the petition was moved by a private individual.


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