Hindu groups continue to disrupt Muslim prayers in Gurgaon, on New Delhi outskirts

Dec 7, 2021: According to a report by Al Jazeera News, for more than two months now, right-wing Hindu groups have been protesting against Friday prayers in Muslim public places in Gurugram – less than an hour outside the Indian capital, New Delhi – stirring anger and restlessness among the religious minority.

Last Friday, protesters parked about a dozen trucks at one of the places of worship in Sector 37 of Gurugram, popularly known as Gurgaon in the northern state of Haryana, under governance of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party.

As a group of Muslims arrived for the weekly congregational prayers, a mob of Hindu men began chanting religious slogans, including “Hail Lord Ram, kill worshipers,” and said prayers would not be allowed. All this in the presence of heavy police security. Gurguram, home to 1.1 million people, according to the 2011 census, is a financial and technological hub with offices for several multinational companies.

Less than 5% of its population is Muslim.

Faced with a shortage of mosques, Muslims in Gurgaon have been offering Friday prayers in parks and open spaces for years with the proper approval of the authorities. About 100 such sites were allocated for this purpose.

In the recent past however, persistent protests by Hindu groups have disrupted the Muslim prayers, prompting city officials to withdraw permission from most of the sites.

In a video that went viral last Friday, a Hindu watchman named Dinesh Bharti was seen abusing a Muslim imam, identified as Shehzad Khan, and saying in Hindi: “There will be no namaz here (there will be no prayers).”

He was dragged away by police and later arrested on charges of inciting and disturbing public order. Since mid-September, right-wing Hindu groups under the banner of Sanikat Hindu Sangharsh Samiti (Joint Hindu Struggle Committee) have been disrupting Friday prayers throughout the village, once spreading cow dung in one place and sometimes holding Hindu prayers instead.

The spokesman of the Hindu group claims they have no problem with namaz being offered in mosques, madrassas or waqf properties. They are merely opposed to public spaces being used for the purpose of namaz.

On the other hand, Muslims say they have been praying in public spaces for years because of an “insufficient” number of mosques in the city.

According to Altaf Ahmad, the co-founder of Gurgaoon Muslim council, there were at least 108 open spaces in the city where Muslims prayed until three years ago. After the first instance of disruption came in May 2018, the number of sites for Friday prayers got reduced to 37.

Talking to Al Jazeera News, Mufti Mohammad Saleem, president of the local chapter of Jamiat Ulema E-Hind, a leading organisation of Islamic scholars, said that “namaz has not been happening even at those 20 designated sites because members of the right-wing groups have been coming there, blocking the sites or disrupting it”.

In October, powerful Indian Home Minister Amit Shah accused the main opposition party, the Congress, of pursuing a “politics of appeasement” by allowing Muslims to pray in the streets. “Earlier, when I came here during the Congress rule, some people told me that the government had allowed prayers on the highways on Fridays. The Congress only works satisfactorily and there is no welfare for the people.”

Constant obstruction by Hindu groups has become a source of concern for Muslims in Gurgaon. Saleem said the city administration should “take the matter seriously” and prevent groups from blocking further sites.

“We are avoiding any confrontation with these groups. We have asked our people not to engage in any verbal spat or any confrontation with them,” he said.

“If the administration stops them before reaching a prayer site, there would be no conflict.”

Last month, the Gurguram administration revoked permission from eight of the 37 designated public places for prayers, citing “objections” from residents of the area.

Yash Garg, deputy police commissioner of Gurugram, told Al Jazeera News that Muslims have no “written permission” to pray in these 37 places, and that this is being done only through “inter-communal understanding” in 2018. ۔ “There is no official permission because it is not a matter of rights in a public place,” Garg said. “Police have always been on site. Those who were trying to disrupt have been arrested.”

Muslim groups want the opposition political parties to raise the issue in the ongoing session of Parliament.

At the end of the Friday prayers last week, imam Shehzad Khan prayed for communal harmony between Hindus and Muslims.

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