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Namaz in Public Places: Civil Society bats for rights of Religious Minorities

Sabrangindia 09 May 2018
On Tuesday, May 8, several prominent citizens, including former civil servants, historians, labour rights activists, filmmakers and Muslim leaders visited Divisional Commissioner (Gurugram) D. Suresh to resolve the issue of Namaz in public places. A two-page memorandum signed by more than one hundred citizens was submitted to Suresh. It outlined four demands, including the need to reinforce ties between residents, and provide sufficient space for reading namaz, particularly with Ramzan approaching.

Namaz
 
The memorandum also called for the administration to protect namaz reading at existing locations. In the meeting, the citizens highlighted that inadequate number of mosques and the Muslim community’s trepidation. Suresh said the administration would be more watchful and firm on those causing trouble. He appealed to Muslims for restraint, and said that those suspected of causing trouble were being identified and informed regarding freedom of religion laws. Currently, there are reportedly 22 mosques and around 106 open spaces in Gurugram where namaz is offered.
 
Haryana CM adds fuel to fire
On May 6, Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar stirred up a hornet’s nest by saying "namaz should be read in a masjid or an idgah, and if short of space they (Muslims) should read it in their private spaces." Khattar added that there was "no problem if there is no objection from the public, but if a group or a person objects, one has to take note." He claimed that "incidents of namaz being offered in the open have increased".
 
His remarks came in wake of Hindutva groups disrupting namaz prayers in Gurugram (Gurgaon) on Friday, May 4, which in turn followed the disruption of prayers in Gurugram’s Sector 53 on April 20. Khattar’s comment was therefore viewed as having been made in support of these attempts to prevent minorities from practicing their religion. Khattar later clarified that he hadn’t "spoken about stopping anyone. Maintaining law and order is the duty of the police and the administration". 
 
What happened on May 4
By 1.30pm on May 4, members of the Sanyukt Hindu Sangharsh Samiti said they had stopped namaz from being held in ten open areas. The Samiti is an umbrella group that includes local chapters of 12 Hindutva groups, such as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), the Bajrang Dal, the Akhil Bharatiya Hindu Kranti Dal, and the Hindu Jagran Manch, according to its members. 
 
Rajeev Mittal, the Akhil Bharatiya Hindu Kranti Dal’s national coordinator, told Scroll, "Muslims have to take permission of the administration to pray in open spaces," adding, "Members of Sanyukt Hindu Sangharsh Samiti have today [Friday] interfered in 10 cases where Muslims were found preparing before the namaaz. We did not let that happen. But no law and order issues were reported. Our demand was clear – get permission from the authorities." The Bajrang Dal’s district president, Abhishek Gaur told Scroll that his group’s members were "looking out for open space namaaz today and they have been asked to stop the Muslims whenever they spot any without getting into any law and order trouble." 
 
Wajid Khan, head of the Nehru Yuva Sangathan Welfare Society Charitable Trust told the Indian Express that the police had asked the faithful not to read namaz at 34 places in a meeting on the previous day, and that they agreed to stop prayers at three places–"the plot in Sector 53, at Sikanderpur and Atul Kataria Chowk, where namaz gatherings cause traffic congestion". However, Hindu group members stopped namaz at three places near Gurugram’s Cyber Park, a plot near Sahara Mall, and another place near IFFCO Chowk. Khan claimed, "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," adding, "Even at IFFCO Chowk, they chanted slogans and asked us to leave." 
 
Ravinder Kumar, PRO, Gurgaon Police, said, "We had directed all station house officers to deploy police personnel at certain spots to ensure there was no breach of law and order. We have not received any complaints so far". In a seeming contradiction, Deputy Commissioner Vinay Pratap Singh said, "Adequate security arrangements were made at all spots. Attempts to disrupt prayers were handled effectively by the administration." 
 
Following this incident, the district administration has ordered the securing of public land where namaz is read, and asked the Waqf Board to pinpoint areas where it can be offered. 
 
Disruption of prayers on April 20
The disruptions on May 4 came two weeks after namaz prayers were disrupted in Gurugram’s Sector 53 on April 20, where several hundred Muslim men had congregated to observe namaz in a field that is owned by Haryana’s government. Hindu villagers from nearby Kanhai and Wazirabad interrupted the prayers with chants of "Jai Sri Ram". A video of this was uploaded to social media. Six people were arrested for hurting religious sentiments, and then later released on bail. A notice has now been put up at this plot, saying the land "has been acquired by HUDA," the Haryana Urban Development Authority. 
 
On Monday, April 30, multiple groups, under the aegis of the Sanyukt Hindu Sanghar Samiti, held a protest in Gurugram, demanding that the case against these six people be dropped. The demonstrators submitted a letter, addressed to the Haryana CM, to Deputy Commissioner Vinay Pratap Singh. The letter, obtained by the Indian Express, alleged, "For the last one-and-a-half months, a group of men have been reading namaz on the land of Wazirabad, Gurugram, with the intention of occupying it illegally. The environment there is being ruined by chanting slogans of ‘Pakistan zindabad’ and “Hindustan murdabad’". It added, "When some patriotic youth stopped them from doing this, police conducted a one-sided investigation. Does chanting ‘Vande Matram’ and ‘Jai Shri Ram’ come in the ambit of offence that the youth were arrested?" The letter also stated that "Rohingyas and Bangladeshis residing in Gurugram should also be identified and marked. Permission should not be given to read namaz in Hindu colonies, sectors and neighbourhoods. Permission should only be given in those places where the strength of this population is more than 50 per cent, otherwise there will continue to be a possibility of peace being obstructed." 
 
Gurugram Shiv Sena president Gautam Saini told Newsclick, "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." 
 
Those who have been coming to the area to observe read namaz for the past ten years refuted the letter’s claims. The above mentioned Wajid Khan, a complainant in the case, had then told the Indian Express, "We don’t even talk to each other when reading the namaz; chanting slogans is out of the question. These are just false allegations".

Namaz in Public Places: Civil Society bats for rights of Religious Minorities

On Tuesday, May 8, several prominent citizens, including former civil servants, historians, labour rights activists, filmmakers and Muslim leaders visited Divisional Commissioner (Gurugram) D. Suresh to resolve the issue of Namaz in public places. A two-page memorandum signed by more than one hundred citizens was submitted to Suresh. It outlined four demands, including the need to reinforce ties between residents, and provide sufficient space for reading namaz, particularly with Ramzan approaching.

Namaz
 
The memorandum also called for the administration to protect namaz reading at existing locations. In the meeting, the citizens highlighted that inadequate number of mosques and the Muslim community’s trepidation. Suresh said the administration would be more watchful and firm on those causing trouble. He appealed to Muslims for restraint, and said that those suspected of causing trouble were being identified and informed regarding freedom of religion laws. Currently, there are reportedly 22 mosques and around 106 open spaces in Gurugram where namaz is offered.
 
Haryana CM adds fuel to fire
On May 6, Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar stirred up a hornet’s nest by saying "namaz should be read in a masjid or an idgah, and if short of space they (Muslims) should read it in their private spaces." Khattar added that there was "no problem if there is no objection from the public, but if a group or a person objects, one has to take note." He claimed that "incidents of namaz being offered in the open have increased".
 
His remarks came in wake of Hindutva groups disrupting namaz prayers in Gurugram (Gurgaon) on Friday, May 4, which in turn followed the disruption of prayers in Gurugram’s Sector 53 on April 20. Khattar’s comment was therefore viewed as having been made in support of these attempts to prevent minorities from practicing their religion. Khattar later clarified that he hadn’t "spoken about stopping anyone. Maintaining law and order is the duty of the police and the administration". 
 
What happened on May 4
By 1.30pm on May 4, members of the Sanyukt Hindu Sangharsh Samiti said they had stopped namaz from being held in ten open areas. The Samiti is an umbrella group that includes local chapters of 12 Hindutva groups, such as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), the Bajrang Dal, the Akhil Bharatiya Hindu Kranti Dal, and the Hindu Jagran Manch, according to its members. 
 
Rajeev Mittal, the Akhil Bharatiya Hindu Kranti Dal’s national coordinator, told Scroll, "Muslims have to take permission of the administration to pray in open spaces," adding, "Members of Sanyukt Hindu Sangharsh Samiti have today [Friday] interfered in 10 cases where Muslims were found preparing before the namaaz. We did not let that happen. But no law and order issues were reported. Our demand was clear – get permission from the authorities." The Bajrang Dal’s district president, Abhishek Gaur told Scroll that his group’s members were "looking out for open space namaaz today and they have been asked to stop the Muslims whenever they spot any without getting into any law and order trouble." 
 
Wajid Khan, head of the Nehru Yuva Sangathan Welfare Society Charitable Trust told the Indian Express that the police had asked the faithful not to read namaz at 34 places in a meeting on the previous day, and that they agreed to stop prayers at three places–"the plot in Sector 53, at Sikanderpur and Atul Kataria Chowk, where namaz gatherings cause traffic congestion". However, Hindu group members stopped namaz at three places near Gurugram’s Cyber Park, a plot near Sahara Mall, and another place near IFFCO Chowk. Khan claimed, "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," adding, "Even at IFFCO Chowk, they chanted slogans and asked us to leave." 
 
Ravinder Kumar, PRO, Gurgaon Police, said, "We had directed all station house officers to deploy police personnel at certain spots to ensure there was no breach of law and order. We have not received any complaints so far". In a seeming contradiction, Deputy Commissioner Vinay Pratap Singh said, "Adequate security arrangements were made at all spots. Attempts to disrupt prayers were handled effectively by the administration." 
 
Following this incident, the district administration has ordered the securing of public land where namaz is read, and asked the Waqf Board to pinpoint areas where it can be offered. 
 
Disruption of prayers on April 20
The disruptions on May 4 came two weeks after namaz prayers were disrupted in Gurugram’s Sector 53 on April 20, where several hundred Muslim men had congregated to observe namaz in a field that is owned by Haryana’s government. Hindu villagers from nearby Kanhai and Wazirabad interrupted the prayers with chants of "Jai Sri Ram". A video of this was uploaded to social media. Six people were arrested for hurting religious sentiments, and then later released on bail. A notice has now been put up at this plot, saying the land "has been acquired by HUDA," the Haryana Urban Development Authority. 
 
On Monday, April 30, multiple groups, under the aegis of the Sanyukt Hindu Sanghar Samiti, held a protest in Gurugram, demanding that the case against these six people be dropped. The demonstrators submitted a letter, addressed to the Haryana CM, to Deputy Commissioner Vinay Pratap Singh. The letter, obtained by the Indian Express, alleged, "For the last one-and-a-half months, a group of men have been reading namaz on the land of Wazirabad, Gurugram, with the intention of occupying it illegally. The environment there is being ruined by chanting slogans of ‘Pakistan zindabad’ and “Hindustan murdabad’". It added, "When some patriotic youth stopped them from doing this, police conducted a one-sided investigation. Does chanting ‘Vande Matram’ and ‘Jai Shri Ram’ come in the ambit of offence that the youth were arrested?" The letter also stated that "Rohingyas and Bangladeshis residing in Gurugram should also be identified and marked. Permission should not be given to read namaz in Hindu colonies, sectors and neighbourhoods. Permission should only be given in those places where the strength of this population is more than 50 per cent, otherwise there will continue to be a possibility of peace being obstructed." 
 
Gurugram Shiv Sena president Gautam Saini told Newsclick, "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." 
 
Those who have been coming to the area to observe read namaz for the past ten years refuted the letter’s claims. The above mentioned Wajid Khan, a complainant in the case, had then told the Indian Express, "We don’t even talk to each other when reading the namaz; chanting slogans is out of the question. These are just false allegations".

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