Gurudwara can hold Prabhat Pheri, says high court; raps state for singling out community

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The Bombay high court (HC) rapped the state authorities for singling out the Sikh community by refusing them permission to conduct religious rituals related to Guru Nanak Jayanti, which will be celebrated on November 19. The court directed the concerned authorities to permit the community to conduct the rituals after it was assured that all Covid-19 protocols would be strictly adhered to while conducting the Prabhat Pheri from 4am to 10am on Friday.

A division bench of justice Gautam Patel and justice Madhav Jamdar, while hearing a petition filed by Dhan Guru Nanak Darbar Dera Sant Baba Thahriya Singh Sahabji, a gurudwara in Ulhasnagar was informed by advocate Bharat Bhatia that it was founded in 1948 and had been conducting Prabhat Pheri for 60 years to commemorate Guru Nanak Jayanti. Bhatia submitted that Prabhat Pheri started at 4am with a group of people carrying the Guru Granth Sahib, followed by devotees who do kirtan. The pheri, Bhatia submitted, ended at 7am and was being held similarly for the past 50 years.

The bench was informed that the gurudwara through Hira Labana, an authorised representative, had applied to the assistant commissioner of police, the Ulhasnagar Municipal Corporation and others for permission to organise and conduct Prabhat Pheri this year, but was denied. Hence, they approached the HC. Bhatia argued that while other communities had been allowed to take out processions to commemorate their religious events, the denial by the authorities to the Sikh community was discriminatory.

Bhatia said that the organisers had already issued directives to devotees intending to join the Prabhat Pheri to have double vaccination and was also willing to abide by the decibel level restrictions while doing kirtans.

The state, through additional government pleader VM Mali, however, objected to the Prabhat Pheri stating that the organisers in 2018-2019 allegedly violated some sound pollution norms and had also invited DJs.

After hearing the submissions, the court held, “We are quite unable to see how one particular religious institution can be singled out for a refusal of permission on a particular day.”

The court further held, “We understand that to the petitioner, as to every other religious institution or organisation, the Covid-related restrictions will apply. We accept the statement of the petitioners as an undertaking to the court that they will strictly abide by all those restrictions including limiting the number of persons attending at any one time to the maximum permitted under the government-issued regulations and notifications. Only those who are fully vaccinated will be entitled to participate or be present. Sufficient care will be taken to scrutinize vaccination certificates or government-issued e-passes showing the vaccination status. Temperature checks are mandatory.”

The court directed the authorities to grant required permission to the gurudwara and dispose of the petition.

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