A Constitution Bench of the Honourable Supreme Court of India has on Tuesday, 20 September decided to hear on October 11 2022, a plea against the practice of excommunication prevalent in Dawoodi Bohra Community and known in the community parlance as Bra’t.
The Honourable Court has decided to examine whether it can continue as a “protected practice” despite the Maharastra Protection of People from Social Boycott (Prevention, Protection and Redressal) Act of 2016.
The Dawoodi Bohras belong to a small sub-sub sects of Shia Muslim community spread throughout the globe. There is a sizable population of this community in Udaipur as well as other districts of Udaipur Division. The case now under scrutiny is 36 years old and basically emanates from the aftermath of Bohra Youth Reform Movement in Udaipur in early 1970's. UdaipurTimes thought it fit to seek a summary on the issue and publish it for the readers keen to know about this.
The practice of Social Boycott is prevalent in Dawoodi Bohra community since long and is exercised by its religious establishment. In its essence, it is an exercise on a person or group who violates its religious tenets and the power of so doing is vested in the religious head. However, in practice it is exercised on any one who differs in opinion on matters not religious, but purely secular in nature. Moreover, even a local religious functionary of the community declares Bra’t if it suits or vested interest surrounding him. Bra’t entails tremendous humiliation, deprivation and hardship for a person or group subjected to such.
In the year 1970, during the Municipal election in Udaipur, members and sympathizers of Bohra Youth Association (BYA in short) expressed their reservations about the candidates nominated by local jama’at headed by the local religious functionary. When they pressed for change they were told that the nominated candidates have the blessings of the religious head and hence every one must abide by voting in their favour. The BYA refused to accept this on the grounds that voting for a candidate in election is purely secular and has nothing to do with religious tenets. They presented their own candidate and he won with a thumping majority. This act was immediately condemned by the religious establishment as rebellion against the religious head and hence religion per se. Harassment through ex-communication was brought down on the members and sympathizers of BYA in Udaipur and elsewhere. This is not the place or occasion to list out the loss and damages suffered by the victims of the social boycott. These are illustrated in details in two fact finding commissions appointed by Citizens for Democracy and known as Nathwani and Tewatia Commissions.
Power to exercise ex-communication by the religious head of the community has been a point of contention since ages and has been raised in Indian Courts of law in the past century in many instances. The most notable amongst them are the orders issued by Bombay High Court in year 1923 and the Burhanpur Dargah case in year 1949. In both the cases, courts gave the power of ex-communication to the religious authority. However, whereas the Bombay High Court order gave a long rope, the Privi Council restricted it and made it not absolute and laid down a procedure to be followed before declaring social boycott against a member or members.
Since the erstwhile Bombay Province (combining Maharastra and Gujarat region then) too had a large Bohra population and late Prime Minister Moraji Desai having first hand knowledge of all the hardships sustained by members of community, he as Home Minister of the province successfully got an Act for the Prevention of Excommunication in the year 1949. The then religious head filed a suit in the then Bombay High Court and lost. He then approached the Honorable Supreme Court Of India to nullify the Bombay High Court Judgment. In the year 1962, the Honorable Supreme Court Gave its majority judgment in favour of the religious head but also not as an absolute right but with a procedure prescribed as was the case in The Privi Council judgment.
Central Board Of Dawoodi Bohra Community, Mumbai is an umbrella body of reformist bohras throughout the globe and formed after the Udaipur Bohra Youth (BYA) reform movement. It was by its intervention that social activist organisation Citizens for Democracy appointed two enquiry commissions mentioned above (Nathwani and Tewatia), which recorded the statements of victims of the Bohra community and publicly published them. It may be mentioned that late Jai Prakash Narayan too had recommended formation of the first of the two enquiry commissions. The Central Board then decided to approach the honorable Supreme Court to Review its Previous Majority Judgment of 1962.
One must wait till October 11 to know further developments.