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[COVID-19] Petitioner sought orders against use of term "social distancing", Supreme Court imposed Rs 10,000 as costs on him instead

Shruti Mahajan

The Supreme Court today dismissed a PIL seeking to stop the usage of the term "social distancing" or "samajik doori" and use another appropriate term instead to denote the norm to maintain a certain physical distance between people to curb the spread of COVID-19. The Court, while dismissing the petition, also imposed costs of Rs 10,000 on the petitioner

The Bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan, Sanjay Kishan Kaul, and BR Gavai took up the plea for hearing through video conferencing.

Social worker Shakeel Qureshi had argued in his plea that the term "social distancing" is endangering the unity and integrity of our nation. Originally, the term meant for one to keep distant from people socially but has now come to mean maintenance of physical distance, the petitioner points out.

After explaining the history and usage of various terms and phrases that have come to be commonly used in the wake of the ongoing global pandemic, the petition sought to draw the attention of the Court to India's history of communal violence, with the latest example being the riots in Delhi in February this year.

The petitioner argued that while the Centre's advisory in light of the pandemic urges people to maintain safe distance from one another, the use of the term "social distancing" may be construed literally by the people who "intentionally or unintentionally" are using it to mean "social boycott".

The term has a negative connotation, it was averred. The petitioner added that many news reports suggest that there has been discriminatory conduct against Muslims in the country in the present time. This conduct stems from the unfounded belief that the Muslim community is deliberately trying to spread the contagion, the plea stated.

Therefore, keeping in view the aspect of communal harmony in the country, the petitioner moved the Supreme Court seeking a direction from the top Court to restrain the media from using the term "social distancing" and to use an alternative term instead.

Further, the petitioner had prayed that the Court direct the government to change the word social distancing to "self-isolation" within the COVID-19 guidelines. Directions for the government were also sought to issue such advisories "during lockdown which can to uphold and protect the sovereignty, unity and integrity of India".

However, on Friday, the petitioner was directed by the Court to deposit a sum of Rs. 10,000 in Supreme Court Mediation Centre within eight weeks, while dismissing the petition.

Read Petition:

Shakeel Qureshi vs UOI - Petition.pdf
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Read Order:

Shakeel Qureshi vs UOI - 08.05.2020.pdf
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