“Why prayer room only for one community?” Gauhati HC to petitioner seeking prayer room for Muslims at Guwahati Airport

On Friday, September 29, the Gauhati High Court refused to issue a notice as sought by a PIL requesting a separate prayer room for Muslims at the Lokpriya Gopinath Bordoloi International Airport in Guwahati. A bench comprising Justice Sandeep Mehta and Justice Susmita Phukan Khaund questioned the petitioner if such a right is provided under Article 25 of the Constitution.

The High Court bench asked the petitioner, who was present in person, what public harm would be averted with the construction of a separate prayer room. “Where does Article 25 give a right to any citizen to enforce or seek a writ that in every public institution, there should be a prayer room?” the bench said asking the petitioner to mention one judgment in this regard.

The bench further told the petitioner Saidur Zaman that just because the government has built separate prayer rooms at a few airports, it does not mean every citizen comes up with the demand to construct a prayer room at all public establishments. “Is it a fundamental right? You have places of worship, go there and worship,” the bench stated.

The court further questioned the Petitioner as to why the plea was limited to a single community. “What is the fundamental right in this regard? Our country is a secular country, why a prayer room for a particular community? What public harm can be prevented by building a prayer room? We are not on one community. There are designated spaces outside. Those who want to can go there and pray,” the Chief Justice said.

The bench continued to grill the petitioner when he argued that some flights are scheduled around the time Muslims are supposed to offer Namaz. The court said that since there is a possibility that flight timings may clash with the namaz time, the Muslim passengers should choose a flight accordingly. Not satisfied with the petitioner’s argument, the bench stated that such relief cannot be sought by a specific religious community.

“Then you choose a flight of your apt time. That is your choice, so you can complete your prayers. The airports give you a choice. Sorry, we are not satisfied. How can relief be sought for a particular community?” Chief Justice Sandeep Mehta said.

When the petitioner argued that the rules laid down by the Airport Authority of India provide for spas, smoking zones and commercial establishments such as restaurants, but not prayer rooms, the court said that offering namaz or praying is a religious sentiment and not a commercial activity.

The court also rejected the petitioner’s argument that as spaces are demarcated for smoking rooms, similarly prayer rooms can also be set up. Chief Justice Sandeep Mehta told the petitioner that smoking rooms are there to prevent damage to the health of other persons, thus preventing public harm.

The Court has granted the petitioner 15 days to prepare and address the Court with the reliefs requested. This came after the court observed that the petitioner was not well prepared.

Source : OpIndia

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