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Court seeks answer to Muslim woman’s ‘no’ to voters list photo

New Delhi, Feb 22 (IANS) If one Muslim woman is allowed not to have her photograph on the voters’ list, thousands of similar applications would be filed, the Supreme Court noted Monday and aked the petitioner to instead think of some workable solution to resolve the tangle.

A bench of Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan, Justice Deepak Verma and Justice B.S. Chauhan made the observation while hearing a lawsuit by Madurai resident Ajmal Khan, resenting the display of the photographs of Muslim women in the voters’ list.

The bench discarded Khan’s counsel P.S. Narsimhan’s plea to give liberty to at least those Muslim women who do not want their photographs on the voters’ list to approach the Election Commission and seek the privilege.

‘If we give such privilege to one candidate, it will apply to lakhs of other voters,’ said the bench. ‘If this order is passed by this court, thousands of applications are likely to be filed.’

The bench instead asked the petitioner and his counsel to give some ‘workable suggestion’ to resolve the tangle and adjurned the hearing of the matter.

Appearing for the Election Commission of India, counsel Meenakshi Arora sought to allay the petitioner’s fear and said that the poll panel has already taken steps to ensure that the voters’ list with the voter’s pictures on it are not misused.

She said the poll panel rules provide that election agents of various political parties are to be given only hard copies of the voters’ list and in case they need the soft electronic copies of electoral rolls, then such copies have to be given without photographs on them.

This would prevent misuse of the voters’ list with pictures, Arora said.

But the petitioners counsel was not convinced and he insisted that electoral rolls with the photographs of Muslim women must not be given to any poll agent in any form.

‘We are not against election officials having access to voters’ list with the photographs of Muslim women, but the same should not be given to the public at large,’ said Narsimhan.

He insisted that giving the photographs of Muslim women to poll agents would be akin to releasing their photographs to the public at large and that would mitigate against their religious edicts.

‘The religious custom and holy preaching of Holy Quran lay down that Muslim women should wear ‘purdah’ and ‘burqua’ and should show their faces only to their husbands and close relatives,’ Khan said in his petition.

Khan had approached the apex court, challenging a Madras High Court ruling that had dismissed his similar plea and questioning the Election Commission of India’s move to have photographs of voters in the electoral rolls.

Khan sought to clarify that his community is not averse to having Electoral Photo Identity Cards (EPIC) for Muslim women, but having their pictures printed on a public document was anathema to Islam.

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