Again, the Supreme Court’s July judgement came in response to a petition filed by Anil Mittal, an engineer from Mumbai who petitioned the apex court after reading news reports of a shocking incident in Delhi in 1998. A 13-year-old girl, whose screams for rescue from rapists went unheard because of loudspeakers blaring in the neighbourhood, committed suicide.
Seventy-year-old HS D’Lima’s fight against unbridled noise pollution in the name of religion, in the course of which he was even subjected to grievous assault some years ago, inspired a documentary on noise pollution, "Is God Deaf?" Over the last two decades intense communalisation of society has acted as an additional hurdle in the battle to control noise pollution. Says Sudhir Badami, another prominent Mumbai-based activist in the campaign against noise pollution, "Hindus would goad us: ‘Why don’t you first ask Muslims to stop using loudspeakers in mosques?’ My answer always was, ‘We need to begin somewhere. Why don’t we start with ourselves, the rest will follow.’ Now that the Supreme Court verdict has been implemented on the ground, no one can complain."
While the battle has gone on for years, the ease and speed with which Ganesh bhakts on the one hand and Maharashtra’s Muslims on the other agreed to abide by the apex court’s fiat made it seem like some sort of magic was at work. "No, there’s no magic involved," says Sumera Abdul Ali, "The seven years that it has taken the Supreme Court to deliver its judgement have been useful, as people have gradually gotten used to the idea that a curb was inevitable. More importantly, the way the police handled the issue reassured people from different communities that the restrictions were for everyone, that there was no unfairness involved."
Anyone who has ever witnessed the sea of humanity on Ganesh Visarjan would comprehend that actually enforcing the SC deadline was no easy task. But Mumbai’s joint commissioner of police (law and order), Arup Patnaik, makes no tall claims about the role played by the police. "No law or directive can be effectively implemented without the support of the general public. There was and is a general public mandate against noise after a certain hour," Patnaik told CC (See box).
Siddiqui from Malegaon readily corroborates Patnaik’s claims. "Leave alone others, more and more Muslims were getting irritated with the way loudspeakers on mosques were being used indiscriminately late into the night and in the early hours of the morning for one thing or another." The same could be said of non-stop bhajans from every roadside mandir. Significantly, the initiative to comply with the SC’s directive in Malegaon was led by none less than Maulana Mufti Mohammed Ismail of the town’s Jumma Masjid.
Sadly, the reign of relative peace in Maharashtra has run into a new hurdle thanks to the short-sightedness of both the government of Maharashtra and the highest court in the land. On the eve of Ganeshotsav, the Maharashtra government appealed to the Supreme Court, praying for a relaxation in the 10 p.m. deadline for the visarjan. No matter how disappointed, millions of Ganesh bhakts in Maharashtra complied with the court order, and Muslims throughout the state stopped using the loudspeaker for morning azans, only to find that the apex court had granted a special concession to Gujaratis for Navratri garba. That may not be the exact truth of the matter but that is how it seems on the surface and this is something that communal forces are sure to exploit.
So the Raza Academy is once again thinking of appealing to the Supreme Court for a special concession to Muslims for those months of the year when the pre-sunrise morning prayer has to be held before 6 a.m. Meanwhile, in an obvious show of defiance, in Pune’s Karve Nagar loudspeakers blared till well past 11 p.m. on October 7 and the provocation resumed at 4.30 a.m. the next day. "There was talk by some leaders in Pune even earlier that while there will be no relaxation for Ganeshotsav, garba will be treated differently. Now they can say