MUMBAI: In response to a public interest litigation seeking a ban on the participation of children in `Matam' (mourning) ritual of Muharram, the Bombay High Court on Tuesday appealed to Muslim religious leaders to look into the issue. The division bench of Justices VM Kanade and Revati Mohite Dere, however, refused to pass any order.
"We shall not express any opinion on the issue but we appeal to religious leaders of the community to go into the matter," the judges said. The court also allowed Chehlum processions to be held as per the schedule on December 14.
Advocate General Sunil Manohar, on behalf of the state government, said the processions would be videographed. The state, he said, would not interfere but would step in only if serious injuries are caused to the children. The AG further said that the state would also keep first aid and ambulance services ready.
Chehlum or Arabaieen marks the the 40th day of massacre of Holy prophets family in the desert of Karbala (Iraq). To mourn the killings, some participants in annual ritual processions hit themselves with sharp objects.
Members of Shia sect thronged the court on Tuesday to express their opposition to the PIL (which wants a ban on children's participation on the ground that they get injured during Matam).
However, police stopped them from entering the courtroom. Several members of the community have intervened in the petition. Their lawyers argued that the court should dispose of the PIL as the petitioner was a Sunni Muslim and instead, they said, the court should take this up as suo motu (on its own) petition. Accepting the plea, the court disposed of the PIL and took up the matter as a suo motu PIL.
The judges later disposed of the PIL saying they are not passing any order. They however converted it into a suo motu PIL "since it is concerning children" and directed all the intervenors to be added as respondents. The judges said, "the issue can be resolved through dialogue with religious leaders who are also aware of all problems."
The petitioner Faizal Mohammed Benaraswala and Abdul Qureshi said they filed the PIL "to save children" from injuries by sharp weapons, blades, knives and swords in the name of Matam during the 40 days. The petition said during Matam "an infant's forehead is cut with a sharp weapon and bled", and in some places "they are made to walk on burning coals."
The next hearing is posted on January 13, 2014 and the State has been directed to file an additional affidavit after the procession is over.
It bears mention that top Shia clergy have already issued edicts asking followers to avoid practices which are medieval and cause injury to body.
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