The Bombay high court issued a notice to the Mahim police station last week, warning the officers that they could be held guilty of acting in ‘contempt of court’ for violating noise rules at the annual fair at Mahim dargah.
In December, when the fair was held, this newspaper had reported that the procession by policemen – part of the inaugural event – had noise levels exceeding 117.3 decibels (dB), which was substantially higher than the 55 dB permitted for residential areas and 50dB allowed in silence zones (the area around the shrine would come under this classification). The court said that the officers who led the procession had committed a “gross breach of the high court’s judgments and orders” and that it was a “fit case” for taking action against police officers who should have been enforcing noise rules instead of breaking them.
The court’s warning is an embarrassment for the Mahim police because the officers have an unusual tie with the shrine. The dargah is the burial place of Makhdoom Ali Mahaimi, a religious scholar who is believed to have lived between the 14th and 15th century, and is Mumbai’s second-most visited Sufi shrine after Haji Ali. The 10-day fair, which commemorates the urs, or birthday, of the saint, begins only after the Mahim policemen walk in a procession to the shrine to offer a chadar – a shawl to cover the saint’s gravestone – and other gifts.
There is no record of how the association began, but the shrine’s managing trustee Suhail Khandwani said they have a copy of a colonial-era government gazette that records the custom. “The practice is more than a century old. It is clearly mentioned in the 1901 document that the Mahim police is supposed to present the first chadar,” said Khandwani.
In the past, a senior policeman, the chief of the local police zone, would lead the procession from the police station to the shrine, stopping at two other pilgrim centres – a church and a temple – before arriving at the dargah. Nowadays, the head of the Mahim police station – the senior inspector - usually leads the devotees. There is a Mumbai Police Makhdoom Ali Baba Sandal Committee, which organises the event, and donations in the form of gifts and money for the shrine come from policemen across the city.
The association of the police with the shrine does not end with the first day’s events at the fair. Every officer who gets posted at the police station visits the shrine to pray before taking up the new job. They keep coming to the shrine, especially when they have a tough case to investigate. “They believe that praying to the saint helps them solve difficult cases,” said Khandwani.
The saint’s help is sought not just by the law enforcers; but offenders trying to escape the long hand of the law are also rumoured to land up at the shrine with their prayers. “People pray at dargahs for solutions to all sorts of problems but people who feel that they are being unfairly investigated by the police also go to the Mahim dargah,” said Imran Malkani, a businessman who is a regular visitor at the shrine. “This is probably because policemen from Mahim police station have traditionally offered the first sandal at the urs.”
This is not the first time that the Mahim police have been accused of violating noise rules at the fair. In December 2013, Awaaz Foundation – the petitioner in the case - measured noise outside the shrine on the inaugural day and found that the noise level peaked at 112.7 dB. In 2009, the trustees at the shrine asked devotees to avoid singing, dancing or loud music at the fair. Khandwani said that the police procession started at 2.30 in the afternoon and ended at 9.30 in the evening. “There is noise during the procession; this is understandable, but when the policemen enter the dargah lane, they walk silently. The procession ended before 10.00pm (when loudspeakers have to be switched off),” said Khandwani.