This time they have mobilised local residents and raised the bogey of threat to women safety from congregating Muslims; police refute their claim as baseless
Zafar Aafaq | Clarion India
NEW DELHI – For a month now, every Friday as dozens of Muslims gather for the congregational prayers near a parking lot in Gurugram, Haryana, a group of Hindu nationalists led by Dinesh Bharti of a Hindutva outfit called Bharat Mata Vahini come and start shouting slogans in an attempt to disrupt the prayer. They demand a “ban on namaaz in open spaces”.
Last Friday (October 15), Bharti, apart from his associates, was also joined by members of a Resident Welfare Association (RWA) who assembled near the prayer spot with posters and loudspeakers chanting Hindu Bhajans and shouting slogans against namaaz (prayer).
The protests have forced police to beef up security presence and place barricades to thwart the march of these men and women and thereby avoid any communal conflagration.
The Hindu right-wing group and the residents cite “security risk” due to Muslims who come from other places to offer congregational prayers. They also use the bogey of increasing Muslim population in the area and claim that the crimes have also gone up.
“We wrote a letter to the administration asking that they should be shifted to a residential area or they should go and offer namaz in a mosque,” said Sunil Yadav.
“The problem is after they offer their namaz they roam around in sectors; robbery incidents have gone up. Women who go out on the road to pick up children from school are also affected by seeing them (Muslims who come for namaz). Who are these people, where have they come from?” he asked.
But the police have refuted such claims as baseless saying that the protests are communal. “The allegations against any kind of security risk for women are completely baseless and false and an attempt to disrupt a peaceful atmosphere,” Aman Yadav, Assistant Commissioner of Police Gurugram, told reporters on October 15.
The permission to hold prayers in the designated open spaces in Gurugram was granted in 2018 when similar protests had been staged by Bharti and his supporters against Friday prayers in the open. The area does not have the required number of mosques to accommodate all which is forcing Muslims to offer namaz in open spaces. The spots were designated by the administration following a mutual consensus among communities. “We had demanded more spots but eventually 37 spots were identified and designated for holding congregational prayers,” said Altaf Ahmad, a community activist with civil society forum Gurgoan Ekta Manch.
For a year everything ran smoothly. Then Covid-19 pandemic struck bringing life to a halt including congregational prayers.
This year in March when the situation eased off the namaaz was revived in open spaces but Bharti and his men resorted to old tactics and started disrupting the prayer. On 16 April 2021, police arrested Bharti from Sector 46 where he had arrived to disrupt the prayer. However, he was released only the next day.
The congregational prayers once again took a pause in April when a brutal second wave of the pandemic hit the country.
Friday prayers could be revived in August. Bharti and his men again came into action. On September 24, they staged protests against the prayers. The following week, on October 1, they again tried to disrupt the prayers. This prompted Gurgaon Ekta Manch to write a letter to the administration seeking action against the miscreants. A delegation of Manch also met the Deputy Commissioner of Police and raised their concerns over threats to namaaz.
“This is creating anxiety among Muslims with regards to their safety and security. There is no place for such behaviour in a secular and democratic country like ours. We believe that an FIR has already been filed against the leaders of Bharat Mata Vahini in the past, and we request appropriate legal action as per CrPC be taken in order to protect our Constitutional values, as well as to ensure there is no breakdown in law and order,” the citizens forum demanded.
But the protestors did not budge and continued for two more Fridays and last Friday they also mobilised local residents to oppose the namaaz.
Muslims say they are being suppressed and marginalised. “In a country founded by Gandhi who spoke about common heritage and where the Constitution says everyone has the freedom to practice his religion, people are not being allowed to read namaz prayers. What kind of nation has this become?” Mohammad Adeeb, former Member of Parliament, told reporters.
Altaf, the co-founder of the Ekta Manch said that It was time for the larger society across all faiths to come together and put their voices out that it is not in the interest of the country to question the nationality of one community.
Supreme Court lawyer M.R. Shamshad said it cannot be decided by the majority in an area who should be allowed to practice religion. “That is against the constitutional principles,” he said.
Meanwhile, on October 18, the Resident Welfare Association of Sector 47 deferred the protests after assurances of a possible solution from the administration.