Silent Prayer

Written by Javed Anand | Published on: October 1, 2005
their bhavishyavani has come true," says Anwar Rajan, Pune-based vice-president of Yuva Kranti Dal.

As discontent now brews in parts of Maharashtra, what about the rest of India? "The Supreme Court’s judgement has been well received by the ulema, so in Delhi you can already see a big difference," says Kamal Faruqui, spokesman of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board. Two years ago, the Darul Uloom, Deoband, had appealed to Indian Muslims to lower the volume of their loudspeakers as consideration to their non-Muslim neighbours.

In Hyderabad, however, it seems to be business as usual. "There appeared to be some self-imposed restraint during the Ganesh Chaturthi procession, but even now azans from loudspeakers mounted on mosques continue unchecked," says Jameela Nishat of the Hyderabad-based NGO, Shaheen. In Bangalore, "if the ban on loudspeakers has come into effect in scattered parts of the city it is only because of the action initiated by some concerned citizens. Both the city police and the heads of religious places are not only oblivious to the ban, they are also impervious about implementing it," adds Gauri Lankesh, editor of Kannada weekly magazine, Lankesh.

"There is hardly any hope of the Supreme Court order on the use of loud speakers during the Navratri celebration being enforced in Madhya Pradesh," reports LS Hardenia, a prominent secular activist from Bhopal. According to him, it would be difficult for the police to impose any restraint on Hindutva activists in a state under saffron sway. Besides, during Ramzan it would be also be no easy task for the police to impose the 10 p.m.- 6 a.m. ban on use of loudspeakers mounted on mosques.

With states like MP, Andhra and Karnataka showing little enthusiasm in implementing the Supreme Court directive, with Navratri revellers basking in the glory of the concession wrested from the Supreme Court, with virtually all of Kerala up in arms against the apex court’s ruling (see accompanying story), with resentment against perceived discrimination in parts of Maharashtra, will the dawn of silence in one part of India prove to be short-lived?

Dolphy D’souza, national vice-president, All India Catholic Union and president, Bombay Catholic Sabha, is all in support of the 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. ban on loudspeakers. Since the Maharashtra government resolution in 2003, the church authorities’ directive to the parishes not to break the law were very clear and this was scrupulously followed for the last two years, says D’souza. Among those very pleasantly surprised by the fact that Ganesh bhakts and Muslims, too, complied with the court direction, he now wonders what the implications would be, now that Pandora’s Box has been reopened and a relaxation conceded for the Navratri festival.

How the Supreme Court retrieves the situation and how it goes about enforcing its will across the country remains to be seen.

Story Box

Noise: Nuisance and health hazard

  • Although a soft rhythmic sound in the form of music and dance stimulates brain activities, removes boredom and fatigue, its excessiveness may prove detrimental to living things.
  • Effects of noise depend upon sound’s pitch, its frequency and time pattern and length of exposure.
  • Noise is more than just a nuisance. It constitutes a real and present danger to people’s health. Day and night, at home, at work and at play, noise can produce serious physical and psychological stress.
  • Not only might there be harmful consequences to health during the state of alertness, but research also suggests effects may occur when the body is unaware or asleep.
  • Researches have proved that a loud noise during peak marketing hours creates tiredness, irritation and impairs brain activities so as to reduce thinking and working abilities.
  • Hearing loss: it can be either temporary or permanent.
  • Noise can change the state of alertness of an individual and may increase or decrease efficiency.
  • In studies abroad, noise has been related to general illness, neuropsychological disturbances (headaches, fatigue, insomnia, irritability, neuroticism), cardiovascular system disturbances (hypertension, hypotension, cardiac disease), digestive disorders - Ulcers, colitis; endocrine and biochemical disorders.
  • The foetus is not fully protected from noise.

Sound: Safe and unsafe

Sound less than 80 db – normal conversation, sounds emanating from music systems or an orchestra – is safe for the ears.

Constant hearing of sound greater than 80 db – heavy traffic, very loud music – causes temporary hearing loss and if they are not treated immediately, causes permanent impairment.

Higher noise level of 160 db – sounds of aircraft engines, for examplecauses total deafness, rupturing eardrums, damaging inner ear. It also causes high blood pressure, ulcers in stomach, palpitation, nervous problems, irritation, anger, and affects pregnant women’s embryos.

Noise Pollution: What you can do

For information on noise pollution, including government regulations and court judgements, and what you can do to help control it, visit the website,

"There is a general public mandate  against noise after a certain hour"

Arup Patnaik
Joint Commissioner of Police (Law and Order), Mumbai

No police force can effectively implement any aspect of the law or any judicial directive without the public, by and large, accepting it. If the people feel that it goes against them, they take to the streets. Any political or legal mandate is effective, or not, depending on widespread acceptance of what it stands for.

For a decision of this kind that the Supreme Court delivered on the eve of the festive season, a police force needs to win the psychological and emotional support of the people. 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. It is not simply the concern of a handful but of the wider section that is concerned about the elderly, about young persons who have to study and give examinations… by and large people get irritated with noise and disturbance after 10, 10.30 p.m.

Sensing this, the Mumbai police approached the whole issue very judiciously. There appeared to be unanimity that the verdict/directives must be implemented and we conducted a series of meetings with groups and organisations, Ganpati mandaps and other religious groups. We were clear that we wanted cooperation from them and that we would not use any force. We also made it clear that the directive was not a police decision and under no circumstances should we use force. This was our approach. There was the odd Ganpati mandap and procession that chose to be defiant but these were minor incidents. We had also decided that in case of violation of the SC directive we would file a few cases and pursue them but all with an aim to convince the defaulter of full cooperation the next time round.

By the way, the SC gave little time to prepare, little time for implementation or negotiation. Some aspects of the verdict, including one that enjoins us to record decibel levels with a decibel metre amid a crowd of thousands (this to be done by an officer not lower than the rank of deputy superintendent of police) are impractical and we told the court so. We were also aware of the statutory discretion available to us under the Noise Pollution Control Act and Rules and had internally decided to use this discretionary power if necessary.

In a sense we were caught between the devil and the deep sea but fortunately passed the test. What all authorities need to remember is that we live in a multi-racial, multi-religious society and what applies to one must apply to the other. Now that some discretion has been subsequently granted by the SC, other groups will also approach the court for similar relief.

There are also some fundamental issues that this directive raises. In Punjab we have the tradition of lori in rural areas; a practice that has been going on for hundreds of years… in many of our villages we have village jatras that also have long traditions and involve the entire village community. While such a verdict is important in large urban conglomerates like Mumbai and Delhi, it will have different implications in rural India. These are long-term aspects that need to be decided when we look at this issue. We must be careful not to throw out the baby with the bathwater…

(As told to Teesta Setalvad).