Syed Waseem Rizvi, the ex-chairman of the UP Shia Central Waqf Board, has recently stirred the hornet’s nest by filing a petition in the Supreme Court seeking the removal of 26 verses from the Quran. In his petition, Rizvi has argued that the Quran contains “some verses that are used to promote terrorism, violence, jihad.” This had led to a series of threats, with a Muslim cleric even offering a bounty of ₹20,000 for anyone who brings Rizvi’s head.
While such a petition might seem unusual today, it was 36 years ago when advocate Chandmal Chopra and one Sital Singh moved the Calcutta High Court seeking a ban on the Quran altogether. An application was filed on March 29, 1985, under Article 226 (power of the High Court to issue some writs) of the Indian Constitution, asking the Calcutta High Court to direct the government to ‘forfeit’ every copy of the ‘Holy book’.
The petition argued that every copy of the Quran is ‘liable to be forfeited’ under Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) Section 95 (Power to declare certain publications forfeited) when read with Indian Penal Code (IPC) Sections 153A (Promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion) and 295A (Deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings). The petition had argued that Muslims have been exploiting the laws so far to ban books critical of Islam. He added, “so far it had been the privilege of the Peoples of the Book to ban and burn the sacred literature of the Pagans.”
Calcutta High Court entertained the petition
Chandmal Chopra and Sital Singh cited direct verses from the Quran, calling for violence against the ‘infidels’. “When the sacred months are over, slay the idol-worshippers, wherever you find them. Arrest them, besiege them and lie in ambush everywhere for them,” they quoted one verse from the ‘Holy book’. Another verse, cited by them, read, “Believers! make war on the infidels who dwell around you. Let them find harshness in you’. The matter initially came up before Justice Khastgir J of the Calcutta High Court.
Far from dismissing the application, as one would expect today, the learned Judge had entertained the application. She also issued notice to the contending parties. “Everything seems insane and absurd. No mortal on earth can challenge the holy scripture and no court in the world has any authority over it,” senior advocate had Alhaj C.F. Ali remarked. Soon, over 70 advocates passed an ‘official resolution’ urging other lawyers to boycott the court of Justice Khastgir J.
Muslim groups opposed the historic petition
Radical Islamist organisations, such as Jamait-e-Islami and Kerala Muslim Association of Calcutta set up a ‘Quran Defence Committee‘ to strengthen the movement. However, they decided to not become a respondent in the case, for ‘fear’ of law and order turmoil (at the hands of common Muslims). The CPI(M)-ruled West Bengal government took a firm stand against the petition and its admission in the Calcutta High Court. In its affidavit, it said, “the court has no jurisdiction to pronounce a judgement on the Koran, the holy scripture of the Muslims the world over, each and every word of which, according to Islamic belief, is unalterable”.
Congress and CPI(M) up in arms
The government claimed that it was filed with malafide intent and that such a petition has never been filed in Indian history. The Congress-led-Union government also sided with the Left and opposed the plea. With mounting political pressure, Justice Khastgir dropped it from her list and sent it to the Court of Justice Satish Chandra. On the advice of state Advocate-General S.K. Acharyya, the matter was transferred to the Bench of Justice Bimal Chandra Basak, who dismissed the petition on May 17, 1985.
Review petition and the arguments
Advocate Chandmal Chopra noted several ‘errors’ in the Court’s verdict and thus filed another application on June 18 of that year, seeking a review of the judgement. Justice Basak, in his earlier judgement, had noted that the Quran had divine origin and had no earthly source. He had also proclaimed that the Court cannot entertain matters related to the ‘Holy book’ and that it did not insult other religions.
Chopra, in his review petition, had argued that the observations made by the Judge are against the basic tenets of secularism and therefore unconstitutional. He had also pointed out that the verdict claimed that Quran did not insult other religions, despite the verses quoted in the writ petition (calling for violence against infidels) suggested otherwise.
In his review petition, he said, “A book, even if it be a book held sacred by any community living in India, loses the protection of Sec 295 of the Indian Penal Code if its publication amounts to offences under Section 295-A of the Indian Penal Code and should have been held accordingly.” However, Justice Bimal Chandra Basak again dismissed the petition on June 21, 1985, highlighting the time-barred nature of the petition and without going into the merits of the case.
The publication of Calcutta Quran Petition book and aftermath
Following the dismissal of the petition, historian Sita Ram Goel along with Chandraal Chopra published the book named ‘The Calcutta Quran petition’ in 1986. The book highlights the saga of Muslim appeasement and the vote-bank politics of pseudo secularism. After the book was published, Hindu Raksha Dal President Indra Sain Sharma and Secretary Rajkumar Arya were arrested. They had published 24 Ayats of the Quran under the caption, ‘Why riots take place in the country?’
They had argued, “These Ayats command the believers (Musalmans) to fight against followers of other faiths’ and that ‘so long as the Ayats are not removed from the Quran, riots in the country cannot be prevented.” However, they were soon released on the orders of the Metropolitan Magistrate of Delhi Justice Z S Lohat. While Waseem Rizvi faces threats to his life for citing ‘violent verses in the Quran’, it was the heroics of Chandmal Chopra that set the precedent.