Issue Beyond Namaz: Right-Wing Body On Row Over Prayers In Open Spaces In Gurugram

In the last two weeks, several Right-wing groups have been trying to stop Friday prayers in Gurgaon, alleging that Friday prayers were being offered in public places with the intention of encroaching on land near mosques

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Friday prayers were peacefully offered in Gurugram today.

gurugram:  The conflict over offering namaz in Gurugram may have been triggered off by the use of public spaces with the alleged intention of encroaching on land near mosques, but going by the list of demands put forth by the Sanyukt Hindu Sangharsh Samiti, their protest goes well beyond civic issues, and targets the economic and social activities of Muslims in Gurugram.

In the last two weeks, several Right-wing groups have been trying to stop Friday prayers in Gurugram, alleging that Friday prayers were being offered in public places with the intention of encroaching on land near mosques.

Disruptions were reported from Wazirabad, Atul Kataria Chowk, Cyber Park, Bakhtawar Chowk and at South City.

Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar had also said that it wasn't right to pray in open spaces. But clarified he wasn't trying to stop anyone from offering prayers.

"If there is shortage of places for offering namaz, it should be done in personal spaces, inside homes," Mr Khattar added.

However, a nine-point letter sent by the samiti to the administration on the issue begins by listing some of the "illegal activities carried out by the Muslim community" in Gurugram.
It talks about the core ideological issues that have been part of the Hindutva agenda of recent years - the high rate of growth of the Muslim population and the threat of illegal migrations by Bangladeshis and Rohingyas.

NDTV interviewed some of the leaders of this coalition of 22 Right-wing groups which include well-known outfits such as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), Bajrang Dal, Hindu Jagran Manch and lesser-known ones like the Kranti Dal and the Gou Raksha Dal Haryana.   

At the small office of the Hindu Kranti Dal, a 20-year-old organisation that claims to work towards "awakening Hindu society" and "fighting to protect it from evils", Rajiv Mittal, its president, pulls out a saffron scarf to wrap around his head before coming in front of the camera, and then proceeds to read out the list of their demands. "First of all, the Muslim community should not be allowed to offer namaz in public disputed sites," he said.

Bangladeshi migrants and Rohingya be identified and not be allowed to encroach upon land in Gurugram, are among the samiti's other demand.

Mr Mittal continues to read out the list of demands which target almost every aspect of the lives of Muslims in Gurugram. When asked to explain the demands, Mahavir Prasad, convenor of the samiti, sitting in the ABVP office said, "Two years ago, the Muslim population here was two lakhs, but today it is around nine lakhs. These are not locals Muslims, they have not been identified."

When asked why despite a long presence of Muslims in the area, the namaz has suddenly become an issue, he said, "It is not about namaz. It's a sensitive issue linked to national security. If there are four lakh illegal Rohingya and Bangladeshis here and the government is not doing anything, the administration has been silent, we can't just sit at home wearing bangles."

Mr Prasad also views namaz or huge gathering of Muslims as their "shakti pradarshan" or a display of strength that "needs to be monitored".

Therefore, point number eight in their charter asks the administration to identify not more than five places where Muslims can pray, and also to prescribe the timing and duration of Friday prayers. It also demands to be made aware of the schedule.

He added, "We have allowed this Friday to pass off peacefully as the administration has assured us it will act on our demands. But if it doesn't, we will escalate our agitation."

Dharmendra Yadav, head of the Gou Raksha Dal Haryana, told NDTV, that the issue isn't about namaz but the "bad elements who were raising anti-national slogans such as 'Pakistan Zindabad'".

Mr Yadav, who is proud of his "achievements", said, "I don't want to boast but from Gurugram to Mewat, I have managed to get more than 400 cases filed against Muslims for cow smuggling. Do you remember when two Muslim men were forced to eat cow dung? Guess who was behind it? The BBC, Al-Jazeera have made documentaries on my work and I'm on TV debates often." 

He then pointed to a Scorpio car, with a BJP flag fluttering on its bonnet, and said, "That's the vehicle I've used to track down the smugglers, it's taken two bullets."

How is all this related to offering prayers on Friday, we ask, but his response makes no mention of namaz. "At a time when the country is rapidly progressing, these people want to hollow out the country. Look at what they did in Aligarh Muslim University (AMU)... putting up Jinnah's photograph and chanting slogans against the country," he said.

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In contrast to the aggressive assertion of the Hindutva groups, the leaders of the Muslim community, mostly maulanas (priests), were too scared to come in front of the camera.

"The atmosphere in Gurugram reeks of fear. There are very few mosques while the numbers of Muslims, especially poor labourers, run into thousands. It's become difficult for us to offer Friday namaz. But we want to forget everything and move on. We have met the administration and discussed the issue with them. Let us see what happens in the future," Maulana Rizwan Saqlaiin told NDTV.

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