New Delhi: In a statement of far reaching consequences, the Supreme Court on Friday said electoral rolls with photographs cannot be opposed on the grounds that they hurt religious sentiments.
"You cannot say I will still be a burqua-clad," a Bench comprising Chief Justice KG Balakrishnan and Justice Deepak Verma said while hearing a petition which contended that publishing photographs of Muslim Gosha women was opposed to their religious belief.
The apex court even went on to say if having photographs on election identity cards and electoral rolls goes against religious tenets and hurts religious sentiments of a section of Muslim women, they can decide not to vote.
“If they are so religious, don’t vote,” the Bench said.
Tamil Nadu’s M Ajmal Khan had appealed in the SC against the Election Commission’s mandate to carry photo identity cards for voting. Khan had also appealed against the EC’s move to publish electoral rolls with photos of Muslim women.
"Suppose you want to contest election, then what about burqua?” the Bench put a poser to Khan’s counsel V Balaji, stating that during polls, posters carrying photographs of candidates are put up all over a constituency.
The SC Bench, which posted the matter for final hearing after two weeks, said the photo identity card is necessary for the election purpose.
"Religious sentiments cannot override statutory rule", it said adding "voting is a statutory right and if you want to vote your photograph is necessary".
The Madras High Court had on September 7, 2006, dismissed a petition by Khan a few days prior to the Madurai Central by-election, holding that wearing of ‘purda’ did not form part of Islam.
The Supreme Court had in 2006 issued notices to the Election Commission on a Special Leave Petition (SLP) against the High Court judgment upholding the EC`s decision to release electoral rolls with photographs of voters, including Muslim Gosha women.
Assailing the order, the petitioner said the SLP was not directed against any election process but against EC`s powers to interfere with religious affairs, a fundamental right guaranteed under Article 25 of the Constitution.
He submitted Muslim voters were not questioning the Commission`s authority in issuing photo identity cards but their grievance was over its direction to print the photographs of women and circulate them with the electoral rolls to the public and political parties.
This decision interfered with the religious custom and preaching of the Holy Koran which laid down that Muslim women should wear ‘purda’, the petitioner said, adding that the electoral rolls should be used only by the officers concerned for verification and they should not be circulated to the public and political parties.
"Their publication was likely to wound the sentiments of the Muslim community as there was every chance of misuse of the photographs if the rolls were made accessible to unscrupulous persons," the petition said.