Muslims in Gurugram woke up to a tense Friday with all attention directed towards the issue of offering “namaz” in open spaces.
“Eight to 10 men came and asked us to leave. We have been reading namaz here for the last two years. We are not disturbing anyone,” said a disgruntled resident of Jharsa village, who was among the faithful, offering namaz at a plot near Cyber Park. He, along with others, had to reportedly run away as the yells of the slogans like ‘Jai Shree Ram’ and ‘Radhe Radhe’ approached.
Right wing organisations – The so-called ‘protectors’
Controversy erupted two weeks ago when six men disrupted Friday prayers at a vacant plot in Gurugram’s Sector 53 on April 20. A video of the incident went viral on social media, and an FIR was registered against them on charges of hurting religious sentiments, disturbing religious worship and criminal intimidation under the Indian Penal Code; albeit a bail was granted soon.
A week later, with the police deployed nearby, Muslims offered namaz at the Sector 53 ground. On April 30, several Hindu organizations, led by Sanyukt Hindu Sangharsh Samiti, staged a demonstration in Gurugram demanding a city-wide ban on prayers by the Muslims in open spaces.
The protest witnessed participation from members of 12 Hindu outfits, including the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Akhil Bharatiya Hindu Kranti Dal, Swadeshi Jagran Manch, Shiv Sena, Bajrang Dal, Hindu Jagran Manch, Bharat Bachao Abhiyan and Gurugram Sanskritik Gaurav Samiti.
The protestors demanded that namaz should be allowed only in areas with over 50 per cent Muslims .
Presently, there are 22 mosques and about 106 open spaces in Gurugram, where namaz is offered.
A letter addressed to Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar, was submitted to Deputy Commissioner Vinay Pratap Singh, in which arguments were presented for the remonstration.
Argument 1: Muslims are trying to occupy land illegally
“For the last one-and-a-half months, a group of men have been reading namaz on the land of Wazirabad, Gurgaon, with the intention of occupying it illegally,” the outfits alleged in the letter.
The act of disrupting a namaz congregation under a baseless pretense with no evidence is unconstitutional. Incidents, where Friday prayers were being used as means to occupy land illegally by the Muslims, have almost never been reported in the past.
The argument is ludicrous for another reason. The angered residents of Wazirabad and Kanhai villages had insisted that they would organize a ‘havan’ to make sure that the namaz was not offered on May 4. This eventually led the Haryana Urban Development Authority (HUDA) to erect iron boards, announcing that the land belongs to them and that trespassing is not allowed. The decision was declared as a ‘victory’ by Rajeev Mittal, coordinator of the Akhil Bharatiya Hindu Kranti Dal.
Moreover, it fails to justify the protests and harassment of Muslims at other spots, which witnessed protests by right wing outfits – emphasising that prior permission from the concerned authorities were not sought.
A report in The Indian Express quoted Wajid Khan, who heads the Nehru Yuva Sangathan Welfare Society Charitable Trust. He says, “At the spot near Sahara Mall, first the police did not let us offer namaz. When we finally reached an understanding with them, a group of men came, and told us to leave. When a man tried to take a photo, they grabbed his phone and broke it.”
Argument 2: A potential threat to the girls and women of the village
The letter goes on to state: “Rohingyas and Bangladeshis residing in Gurgaon should also be identified and marked. Permission should not be given to read namaz in Hindu colonies, sectors and neighborhoods.”
In an attempt to buttress this opposition, Gurugram Shiv Sena president Gautam Saini said, “Crimes against women are on the rise across the country, and it is difficult to establish the identity of these men offering namaz in large numbers, near the village every Friday. It is not known whether they are Rohingyas, Bangladeshis or Mewatis. It is a potential threat to the girls and women of the village.”
However, he didn’t mention anything about how not allowing Muslims to offer namaz in open spaces in Hindu neighborhoods will help in reducing crimes against women or in identifying foreign beings.
Argument 3: Worshippers chant anti-India and pro-Pakistan slogans
With no proof of any kind to provide some substance to the allegation, the letter goes on to assert that the environment is being ruined by chanting of slogans like ‘Pakistan zindabad’ and “Hindustan murdabad’.
“We don’t even talk to each other when reading the namaz; chanting slogans is out of the question. These are just false allegations,” said Wajid Khan, while countering this allegation.
Administration is silent
From allowing a bizarre event , which poses a threat to environment to allowing fringe groups to cause communal tensions , several cases in recent times have raised questions over administration’s silence in matters involving a group of people performing religious activities.
However, this time, the inaction of the administration is haunting for Muslim groups who are being denied their fundamental rights. We, taking pride in our secular society, for years have respected the practice of offering namaz in open spaces, and it is once again being cast upon us, the responsibility to maintain the essence of multiculturalism in India.