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Court On Plea By Pardanashin Woman

Policing Not Tailored To Serve Specific Religious Community: Court On Plea By Pardanashin Woman

“Pardanashin”, the court said, was used in the past in the context of women who were not empowered.

New Delhi:

Policing is not tailored to serve the interests of any specific religious or cultural community and there can’t be any room for anonymity in investigations, the Delhi High Court said on Friday as it refused to pass any directions to law enforcement agencies to show “greater sensitivity” towards the needs of “pardanashin” (veiled) women.

Justice Swarana Kanta Sharma observed an investigating agency has to follow the principles of impartiality, fairness, and reasonability, and directing them to act in a particular way that may be against the interest of society would be unjust and may leave scope for misuse.

“The law enforcement agencies and their investigations cannot be driven by religious practices but have to be community and safety driven,” the court said.

The court’s order came on a petition by a ‘purdahnashin’ Muslim woman who sought directions for sensitising the Delhi Police about the sacrosanct religious, social customs and practices observed by women who observe ‘purdah’ either as a religious belief or as a matter of personal choice.

The court said the fundamental rights, including those enshrined under Article 25 of the Constitution in relation to freedom of religion, are surrendered in favour of the safety of the country and community, irrespective of the gender of the accused.

“It is crucial to recognize that policing is not tailored to serve the interests of any specific religious or any cultural community alone. Rather, this Court holds that it has to be essentially guided by the principles of impartiality, fairness, and reasonability,” said the court.

“Issuance of an additional direction to first inquire from a woman as to whether she is a pardanashin woman or she wears any form of veil according to her religious belief or customary practices, and then to grant additional time and notice to wear pardah or veil, in addition to following the safeguards already provided in law, on the ground of exhibiting awareness and sensitivity of the police will be inviting an accused to misuse the directions and utilise the time so gained, at times also on falsehood, to abscond or destroy evidence,” the court observed.

The court said the concept of pardanashin women in the modern era was “less relevant”, especially in big cities, and it would rather use the phrase “women who observe a particular dress code in accordance with their beliefs and faith”.

“Pardanashin”, the court said, was used in the past in the context of women who were not empowered nor were considered well conversant with worldly affairs.

It observed that among the Hindus, there was no mandatory provision to wear a veil or “ghoonghat” and the same was the scenario for Sikh women. However, everyone made their individual choices.

The court also noted that police officers are bound by the provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure as well as judicial precedents that already provide for measures for upholding the dignity of women while either arresting or searching them or carrying out any investigation.

“In police investigations, there cannot be any room for anonymity, as identification is essential for ensuring justice and maintaining security. Allowing anonymity under the guise of religious practice or personal choice could open the door to abuse and hinder the investigation process,” it said.

“While this Court maintains that sensitivity towards cultural diversity and equipping police personnel with knowledge, skill and attitudes to deal with females will be of utmost importance, at the same time, directing the police to act in interest of a particular gender in a particular way, which may be opposed to the interest of society at large, will be unjust,” it stated.

Represented by lawyer M Sufian Siddiqui, the petitioner Muslim woman had sought an impartial probe and action against personnel who had allegedly forcibly taken her to a police station without her veil and subjected her to “degrading treatment”.

She had claimed that on the intervening night of November 5-6 last year, at around 3 a.m., certain police officials had barged into her house, held an illegal search, paraded her without her veil to the police station and then detained her for 13 hours in flagrant violation of law.

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