Silent Prayer

Written by Javed Anand | Published on: October 1, 2005

 
Is piety not possible without noise pollution?

In what is without doubt an astounding achievement, religiosity has recently made a quantum leap into the Silent Zone in most parts of Maharashtra. And few are complaining. The state shall go down in Indian history as the one that showed the way. In the matter of controlling noise pollution in the guise of faith, credit must go in equal measure to the police force and the people of Maharashtra, across boundaries of creed and community.

Following the Supreme Court ruling of July 18, putting a blanket ban on the use of loudspeakers from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. except in cases of "public emergency", the first big test came in September during Ganeshotsav, the most important religious festival in Maharashtra. For ten days every year, this is when Mumbai and most of urban Maharashtra surrendered its streets to music (noise for many) at deafening decibels, shrill loudspeakers blaring from late afternoon until well after midnight. But this time it was different. Come 10 p.m. and in Mumbai, particularly, the sounds of Silence!

Parts of Pune provided an ugly exception to the rule. On the night of September 17-18, determined to defy the SC directive, activists of the Shiv Shakti Ganesh Mandal and Rameshwar Chowk Mitra Mandal provoked and clashed with the police. In neighbouring Satara, too, the police registered 41 cases of ban violation. But in most parts of the state both people and police put on an impressive show.

(Through a fresh order on October 3, in response to a petition from the Gujarat government and other garba enthusiasts, the Supreme Court has conceded a limited relaxation on the 10 p.m. deadline. (See accompanying piece on SC judgement and ‘Decibel democracy’ by John Dayal). This has created heartburn and resentment in some communities and a resolve in some others to approach the apex court for similar concessions. Meanwhile, all of Kerala appears to be agitated with the apex court’s verdict. But more on this later.)

As we go to press, it is day three of the month-long Ramzan and reports from across the state, of Muslim compliance with the apex court’s directions, are as reassuring. For most people from the Muslim-majority and communally sensitive powerloom towns of Malegaon and Bhiwandi noise – and the powerlooms emit an awful lot of it – is synonymous with bread. "It is when the looms turn silent (this mostly means no power since the looms are worked in round-the-clock shifts) that we feel strange," quips Akram Ansari, a young engineer from Bhiwandi.

In the recent matter of controlling noise pollution in the guise of faith, credit must go in equal measure to the police force and the people of Maharashtra, across boundaries of creed and community

Yet Akram from Bhiwandi and journalist Halim Siddiqui from Malegaon vouch for the fact that there is not a single mosque where the morning (fajir) azan is now called on loudspeakers. In fact, it was not just azan; during Ramzan loudspeakers were also used for special taraweeh prayers at night and sehri time announcements sometimes an hour before the morning azan. In a city like Bhiwandi, to suit the convenience of the devout some mosques even hold the taraweeh prayers in two shifts. Akram finds it more convenient to attend the second. "It lasts beyond the 10 p.m. deadline but the masjid authorities have installed a sound system to ensure that no sound spills outside the mosque," says Akram.

When contacted, people from Navi Mumbai, Thane, Pune, Satara and Sangli all told CC that it is the same story everywhere: Muslims have agreed to respect the 10 p.m.- 6 a.m. ban across the state. "It seems to be the same story everywhere. People are amazed at this welcome dawn of silence. To be honest, even I am amazed," gushes an exultant Sumera Abdul Ali, who is among the handful of individuals in Mumbai to have consistently championed the control of noise pollution in recent years.

 

Mumbai could perhaps lay claim to having played a special role in combating noise pollution in the country. Septuagenarian Dr. YT Oke is widely respected as a pioneer in the field, one who