The Supreme Court’s observation that Muslim women will have to lift their veils to be photographed for the electoral rolls is valid, members of the community say.
A Supreme Court bench of Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan and Justice Deepak Verma had made the observation while deliberating on a plea to prohibit display of photographs of burqa-clad Muslim women in the voters’ list.
The petitioner, Ajmal Khan had said that the photos in electoral rolls are seen by male polling booth officials, which was against Islamic religious tenets.
Naeem Kashani, a government teacher working in Kashmir, felt the apex court’s remarks were justified. "In Islam, the veil does not mean hiding your face. It signifies modesty," she said.
Kashani noted that identity verification was essential for ensuring free and fair voting. "This is a safety issue and should not be mixed with religion� If one is going to vote, it is important to prove one’s identity," Kashani told IANS.
Shabnam Akhtar, a Delhi University student, spoke in a similar vein. "I am personally for the Supreme Court’s views, as it is a matter of law and order, keeping in mind the general security situation around."
"But, like all religious matters, it becomes a sensitive issue," she said.
Zishan Haider Naqvi, a doctorate student in Islamic Studies, asserted that Islam never suggests that the whole face should be covered. "A girl is free to keep her face open and just needs to cover the hair and not the face. You can see how Iraqi, Lebanese, Turkish, Iranian other Central Asian women are dressed. They don’t wear a burqa, which means to cover the whole face," Naqvi told IANS.
However, Azam Siddiqui, member of an NGO, felt that the Supreme Court should not have make such "harsh" observations on religious sentiments.
"If for security reasons it is unavoidable – then it is the duty of the court to instruct the government to assign women officers for the task of frisking or face viewing… Unless that is done it will spark off tensions in the country," he maintained.
The All India Muslim Personal Law Board has already come out in support of the apex court’s observation, terming it "progressive".
"Muslims are going for passports and making I-cards for the Haj, then why is there a problem with voter cards?" Abdur Raheem Qureshi, an AIMPLB official, asked while speaking to a television channel.
According to Jamiat-Ulama-i-Hind president, Maulana Qari Syed Mohammad Usman, there should be provision for maintaining the modesty of women by deploying women officers at polling booths.
"At airports, there are special women officers to check passports and for screening, so the government could do the same for polling booths," Usman told IANS.