The Election Commission on Monday said wearing a burqa was a mere custom and did not “have any force of law.” In response to a petition before the Supreme Court, seeking ban on photographs of Muslim women in the electoral rolls, the EC filed its affidavit stating use of purdah (veil) could not be considered an essential or integral part of Islam.
The apex court bench headed by Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan agreed with the poll panel’s concern and said it wasn’t possible to have electoral rolls without photographs since that would not ensure free and fair elections.
The EC affidavit denied the photo electoral rolls violated the right of Muslim women to practice their religion under Article 25 of the Constitution. It said the essential attributes of a custom were that it must be ancient, certain, reasonable and must be observed without interruption.
“Protecting fidelity of election is an act pursuant to protection or public order and morality and democracy has been held to be the basic feature of the Constitution,” the affidavit read.
It said the use of photograph in the electoral roll was necessary to maintain the sanctity of democratic process and to prevent fraud of voter identity. It added that the photo-electoral rolls would help in identification of electors and prevent bogus enrollment.
Though SC did not pass a final judgment on the petition challenging the provision of photo electoral rolls, it told the petitioner that a voter’s photograph was essential in the list to ascertain his or her identity. Distribution of the list to the polling agents too was necessary to rule out the possibility of bogus voting.
The SC bench felt it was not possible to deny the polling agents access to the electoral rolls. It, however, granted time to the petitioner, M. Ajmal Khan and the Election Commission to sort out the issue.