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BJP candidate 'targets' Muslim women wearing burquas, or with headscarves

Counterview Desk 

Telangana for Peace and Unity (TPU), claiming to be an independent forum of concerned citizens of the State working towards peace, communal harmony and constitutional values, in a representation to the Chief Electoral Officer, Telangana, has said that Madhavi Latha, the Bharatiya Janata Party MP candidate in Hyderabad, has been intimidating voters and disrupting harmony at polling booths.
It said, "Madhavi Latha was only targeting Muslim women who were wearing their burquas and had their headscarves, which was clearly intentioned not only to disrupt the maintenance of communal harmony, but also committed a deliberate and malicious act to outrage the religious feelings of the Muslim women punishable under Section 295A."

Text:

We the undersigned are members of Telangana for Peace and Unity (TPU) – an independent forum of concerned citizens of Telangana working towards peace, communal harmony and constitutional values. We are committed to fair and free conduct of the elections in our country, which includes the right to vote of all voters, in an atmosphere free from fear.
We are filing the present complaint against the Bharatiya Janata Party and their MP candidate from Hyderabad, Madhavi Latha for intimidating voters. 
 As has been reported widely in social and mainstream media, on 13th May, 2024 (date of polling for Telangana), Madhavi Latha demanded that women wearing hijab / burqa remove their veil or headscarves and took their identity cards to ‘verify’ their identities. 
In the videos, Madhavi is seen questioning their identities saying “this says you are 38, remove it”, “yeh kaun hai, aap kaun hai” “doosra aadhaar card hai?”, and questioning their identities. 
Due to such behaviour, the voter turnout of muslim women voters was potentially adversely impacted for the rest of the day, even as the Election Commission had been putting out campaigns to improve turnout.
Madhavi is reported to have justified her actions by stating: 
“I am a candidate. As per law, the candidate has the right to check the ID cards without the facemasks. I am not a man, I am a woman and with a lot of humbleness, I have only requested them - can I please see and verify with the ID cards? If somebody wants to make a big issue out of it, that means they are scared.”
However, the justification is liable to be dismissed as, per the Code of Conduct Rules, 1961 under the Representation of People Act, 1951 (“RP Act, 1951”) in Rule 35 “Identification of electors” in sub-rule (3), the Presiding officer or an authorized poll officer will check the identities of voters as against ID acts supplied to voters. 
Further, the Presiding Officer in sub-rule (1) is specifically empowered to employ such persons at polling stations to help in the identification of electors. Per Rule 36, it is only the polling agent who may challenge the identity of a person claiming to be a particular voter, in a manner set out in the rule. 
The “safeguards against personation” provided in Rule 37 are also to be carried out by the Presiding Officer or the polling officer. Thus, there is no justification in law, whatsoever, for Madhavi Latha to intimidate voters, demand that they unveil themselves, take their ID cards or ask personal questions of their personal information to establish their identities.
It has also been reported that a case has been registered against Madhavi Latha at the Malakpet Police Station (FIR No. 186/2024) under Sections 171 C, 186 and 505 (1) (c) IPC a/w Section 132 of the RP Act, 1951.
However, it is pertinent to note that Madhavi Latha has also committed the offence of disorderly conduct which is punishable under Section 131 of the RP Act, 1951 for acting in a disorderly manner at the polling station and causing annoyance to persons visiting the polling stations. 
Further, she forced the women to unveil themselves under the garb of ‘checking their identities’, in front of other men as well, despite their wishes, which is an intrusion upon the privacy of the women, punishable under Section 509 IPC.
Madhavi Latha forced women to unveil themselves under the garb of checking their identities in front of other men
It is evident from the reports that Madhavi Latha was only targeting Muslim women who were wearing their burquas and had their headscarves, which was clearly intentioned not only to disrupt the maintenance of communal harmony, punishable per Section 153A(1)(b) IPC, but also committed a deliberate and malicious act to outrage the religious feelings of the Muslim women punishable under Section 295A. 
Thus, the police must take immediate action to ensure that the relevant provisions of law are immediately added to the FIR against Madhavi Latha and fair investigation is conducted. Concerns regarding the free and safe voting by veiled women was brought to your attention by civil society groups vide Complaint dated 11.05.2024.
In the light of the above, we urge you to take immediate and strict legal action against Madhavi Latha as well as the Bharatiya Janata Party. 
We also request you to take cognizance of and inquire into other speeches and actions of Madhavi Latha, that have been disruptive of communal harmony and violated both the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) and laws of the land, in the past many months.
As you are aware, in order for our electoral democracy to flourish, voters must be able to vote free from intimidation from candidates, which the Election Commission is tasked with securing. 
We demand that the Election Commission take immediate preventive and punitive steps to ensure that such incidents are prevented and do not recur in the remaining phases of elections.
Looking forward to your immediate intervention and action.
---
Click here for signatories

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