Allahabad High Court
Allahabad High Court
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Breaking: Not possible to lift the prohibition on Muharram processions in these testing times of COVID-19, Allahabad HC [Read Order]

"We must trust God would perceive our restraint in customary practices, not as a slight, but as an act of compassion and give us the opportunity to celebrate all festivals with greater faith in future", the Court said.

Meera Emmanuel

The Allahabad High Court today declined to permit the conduct of Muharram processions in Uttar Pradesh in view of the COVID-19 pandemic situation in the state (Roshan Khan and Others v. State of UP and others).

The Bench of Justices Shashi Kant Gupta and Shamim Ahmed has dismissed petitions challenging the Uttar Pradesh government's orders prohibiting large gatherings for religious and other reasons.

Delivering its judgment on the matter, the Court said,

"... it is with a heavy heart that we hold that in these testing times, it is not possible to lift the prohibition by providing any guidelines for regulating the mourning rituals/practice connected with the 10th day of Moharram."
Allahabad High Court

The Court added,

"We must hope and trust that God would perceive our restraint in our customary practices, not as a slight, but as an act of compassion for our brothers and sisters and give us the opportunity to celebrate all festivals with greater faith and fervour in future."

The order comes close on the heels of the Bombay High Court's decision to allow the conduct of limited Muharram rituals, with the participation of 5 persons.

On Thursday, the Supreme Court declined to grant permission for the conduct of limited Muharram processions in the country, voicing concern that it may lead to the targetting of a single religious community for the spread of COVID-19.

Before the Allahabad High Court, a number of PIL pleas had challenged two state government orders passed in August insofar as they banned the taking out of Moharram processions.

The petitioners argued that these orders were discriminatory and arbitrary, while pointing out that the Supreme Court had earlier allowed the conditional conduct of the Rath YYatra in Odisha and for devotees to conduct prayers in Jain Temples during Paryushan in a limited manner.

The High Court, however, did not find merit in the petitioners' case, highlighting that:

  • The two Government orders under challenge had placed similar restrictions on the conduct of religious festivities for all religous communities. It was noted that Jhankis or processions were not allowed for the Janmastami festival, nor were such ceremonies allowed for Ganesh Chaturthi this year. Therefore, the same yardstick was applied for all religious communities, given that a complete prohibition had been imposed on all religion activities that may involve a large conglomeration of people. Hence, the prohibition was not discriminatory.

  • The Supreme Court had only allowed the conditional, limited conduct of the Rath Yatra and the prayers for Paryushan, after considering the COVID-19 situation in the area where it is to be conducted. The High Court noted that the present case is clearly distinguishable given the intensity of the COVID-19 contagion in Uttar Pradesh. It added that the petitioners were unable to provide any workable mechanism for the restricted conduct of the Muhrarram procession. As such, the prohibition was not arbitrary.

"There is no mechanism fathomable, by the means of which it can be ensured that all... persons be permitted to take the Taziyas to the burial ground in a single day, while avoiding the risk of transmission of the contagion or following basic rules of social distancing, which are an absolute necessity in these unprecedented times."
Allahabad High Court

The Court added that,

"Another important aspect of the matter is that no restriction can be placed only on certain groups or individuals while permitting the others, since that would clearly amount to forming a class within a class, which would be arbitrary and discriminatory."

The Bench went on to emphasise that,

".... regard may be had to the intensity of Covid-19 transmission in the State of Uttar Pradesh, which is alarmingly high. It may be noted that the Uttar Pradesh is the most populated State in the Country and is at the Stage of Community Transmission on account of which it has quicky reached the 4th spot amongst the States in the number of active cases, with each passing day, the highest number of cases being reported."

In view of these reasons, the Allahabad High Court has rejected pleas for the conduct of Muharram processions this year, while also observing that,

"... although the complete prohibition of practices which are essential to our religions is an extraordinary measure, it is very much in proportion to the unprecedented situation we are faced with, owing to the pandemic. The right to practise and propagate religion has been made subject to public order, morality and health, even under the Constitution of India."
Allahabad High Court

Read the Order:

Roshan Khan and Others Versus State of U.P. and others.pdf
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