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‘Pardanashin’ Muslim Woman Moves Court Against Illegal Police Entry, Detention, and Harassment

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A Muslim woman has moved the Delhi High Court in a petition, seeking action against an incident wherein she was forcibly taken away by police officials without an arrest warrant. Reshma Shafiquddin (41), a Delhi resident, who is a pardanashin woman, was coerced to walk without her veil to the Chandni Mahal Police station. Afterwards, Reshma was detained in the police station for 13 hours and alleged she was mentally tortured, physically abused, and subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment.

On the intervening night of 5th-6th November, Reshma was in her first-floor flat in Old Delhi when at around 3 am, she heard unusual noises on the front gate of the ground floor and found many police officials trying to enter the residential building. The police wanted to enter her home and conduct a search, but Reshma refused. She informed them how she felt unsafe as she was alone in her home and being a pardanashin (veiled) woman she couldn’t allow a male member (non-mahram) at such late hours.

According to the unregistered and unacknowledged complaint that Reshma emailed on the 11th of November to the commissioner of Delhi police, she states how the police officials were in search of her brothers Rehan and Irfan alias Lala. Both her brothers are wanted in an unknown case. Upon repeatedly informing the police about the absence of the brothers from her home, the police managed to trespass and barge into Reshma’s home, conducting an illegal search, she was threatened and verbally abused.

On 16th November, a follow-up reminder of the complaint was forwarded to the police commissioner of Delhi that went unacknowledged yet again.

Miss Shafiquddin alleges in the complaint that while she was being let go, she was threatened by the police.

On behalf of the petitioner, lawyer M Sufian Siddiqui argued that the police officers’ actions violated the petitioner’s fundamental rights under the Constitution and her human rights under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

“In the writ petition, we are seeking multiple prayers, number one is an independent, fair and impartial inquiry to be conducted under the direct supervision of a senior police official. Second, stringent legal action against the concerned police officers who were involved in the incident. And third, compensation, for breaching her fundamental and human rights,” Sufian Siddique told The Observer Post.

According to the petition, a “purdahnashin” woman has the right to dress and choose her clothes under the “Right to Life,” and she cannot be forced to face the world without her obligatory veil. It says the conduct of the police officials was a heinous violation of her ‘Right to Privacy’, ‘Right to Live with Dignity’, and ‘Right to Reputation’.

The plea said that police’s actions left an “indelible blemish on her dignity and self-respect” by “forcibly entering inside her residence without her consent that too while she was all alone, illegally conducting house search, dragging her from her residence without her Purdah/Veil/Burqa to the Police Station, illegally detaining her at the Police Station for almost 13 hours, subjecting her to inhuman and degrading treatment that too during the night.”

Justice Saurabh Banerjee issued a notice to the city police commissioner regarding Reshma’s petition, which also asked for direction to educate the police personnel about the sacred social and religious practices of women who observe “purdah,” whether as a religious practice or as a personal choice.

In an order passed on November 30, Justice Banerjee directed the police to protect the relevant CCTV footage of all cameras installed inside and around the police headquarters premises and those installed by the city authorities and private occupants in the area.

The city police were given four weeks by the court to submit a status report on their response to the petitioner’s complaint.

“In a nutshell, as per law, after sunset and before sunrise, the police do not have the power to arrest a woman. Only under exceptional circumstances, you can arrest a woman during the night, that too after obtaining written permission that is in the form of a warrant from the judicial magistrate under the jurisdiction of the area. The police officials also have to be accompanied by a woman police officer during the arrest. There was no warrant, there was no woman police officer, it was complete jungle raj!,” the lawyer said.

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