Polling goes ahead on Maundy Thursday in India

High Court in Tamil Nadu rejects petition to change date but seeks to ensure that Christians' prayers are not hindered
Polling goes ahead on Maundy Thursday in India

Indian nuns display their voter cards at a polling station during municipality elections in Ranchi, the capital of Jharkhand state, on April 16, 2018. India is holding a general election in seven phases in April and May. (Photo by IANS)

ucanews.com reporter, New Delhi
India
March 27, 2019
Voters in 13 Indian states will go to polling stations on Maundy Thursday in parliamentary elections after the High Court in Tamil Nadu state dismissed a petition from church officials to reschedule the date.

The federal Election Commission has scheduled polling in 97 constituencies of 13 states on April 18 when Christians observe Maundy Thursday this year, starting their Easter triduum leading to Good Friday and Easter.

Church officials in Tamil Nadu, a southern state with 4.4 million Christians and more than any of the other 12 states, petitioned the state High Court to move polling to another day.

The High Court dismissed the petition but asked the state Election Commission to ensure that polling does not hinder Christians’ prayers.

“Since the polling is fixed on Maundy Thursday, it is expected that the Election Commission will take adequate steps to ensure that people are allowed to pray in churches situated adjacent to polling booths without any hindrance,” the court said in its March 22 verdict.

The 13 states holding polls on Maundy Thursday are Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jammu and Kashmir, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Manipur, Odisha, Tamil Nadu, Tripura, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Puducherry.

Archbishop Antony Pappusamy of Madurai, president of the Tamil Nadu Bishops’ Council, had petitioned for rescheduling, arguing that hundreds of Catholic government servants with polling duties will miss prayers.

Several church-run schools near parish churches are also designated polling stations. Church services could be disturbed by voting in these polling stations, the petition argued.

However, the Church is happy with the High Court order, said Father L. Sahayaraj, deputy secretary of the bishops’ council.

“We are happy that the court has directed the Election Commission to ensure our religious activities are not disturbed,” he told ucanews.com.

“We primarily wanted the commission to understand it is not just Good Friday and Easter, but Maundy Thursday is also important for Christians.

“The petition will be a reminder to the federal Election Commission to understand the sentiments of Christians on Maundy Thursday.”

The Catholic Church in Tamil Nadu runs 2,800 schools. Most of these state-funded schools are traditionally used as polling stations, which could affect the use of these premises for Maundy Thursday programs.

The government restricts movement near polling stations, notifying a specified radius as a security zone. “Even on the previous day, these premises will be taken over by security forces and will be under their control,” Father Sahayaraj said.

The archbishop’s petition said it would be very difficult to have prayers and elections simultaneously on Maundy Thursday as services start in the afternoon and run until late evening.

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Restrictions on people visiting churches will be a problem, it said, as in some cases the parish and the school polling station have the same gate for entry and exit. “It will be very difficult to totally sanitize the area with foolproof security arrangements,” it said.

The petition also said the voter turnout of Christians will be reduced if polling is held on Maundy Thursday. 

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