Months before violence broke out during Ram Navami celebrations, the Supreme Court dismissed a petition highlighting how religious processions are being “weaponised” with participants brandishing arms in public and often unleashing mayhem.
In December 2022, a petition by NGO Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP), represented by senior advocate C.U. Singh, sought, among other reliefs, a direction to the state to develop a standard operating procedure for granting permission to take out religious processions.
“These festivals are becoming a source of riots, without blaming one side or the other. If we don’t avoid them by putting down guidelines, conflagrations will happen again and again. Authorities are abdicating their duty entirely. The court must step in,” Mr. Singh and advocate Aparna Bhat urged.
A Bench led by Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud orally drew the lawyers’ attention to religious occasions which were not marred by violence.
“We have in Maharashtra where lakhs of people congregate during the Ganesha festival… Why do you have to always portray that religious festivals are a source of riots? Let us look at the good things that happen in this country as well,” the court observed orally.
Mr. Singh responded during the brief hearing that the court cannot “close its eyes to the reality of how these processions are weaponised at these crucial times in the year”.
In a three-page order on December 9, the Bench said the reliefs sought were “not capable of being dealt with by the application of judicially manageable standards”.
It said the petitioner was seeking a “roving writ of mandamus by this court”. The court said both public order and the police were State subjects.
“State officials would be aware of the interplay of various factors which are specific to the local landscape and which must be considered while dealing with such issues,” the court reasoned.
State Governments could either issue regulations or respond on a case-by-case basis while granting permissions for religious processions, it observed.
The court also found it unnecessary to issue directions to ensure that processions were unarmed and conducted in accordance with the permissions. “Directions to this effect are not required to be issued because the Union of India/State governments are required to act in accordance with their obligations under the relevant laws even in the absence of any directions from this court,” the court said in its order.
The NGO had moved the top court in May 2022, shortly after violence erupted in connection with religious occasions.
The CJP drew attention to the Supreme Court’s decision in Karnataka versus Dr. Praveen Bhai Thogadia, in which it observed that “communal harmony should not be made to suffer and be made dependent upon the will of an individual or a group of individuals, whatever be their religion be it of minority or that of the majority. Persons belonging to different religions must feel assured that they can live in peace with persons belonging to other religions”.