For a "mass gathering to offer namaz" at a house "without prior permission", a police case has been registered against 26 Muslims at Dulhepur village in Uttar Pradesh's Moradabad district.
The village does not have a mosque, and some residents have objected to gatherings for namaz, even if inside homes. Police cited "objections from neighbours" and booked the namazis under Indian Penal Code's Section 505-2 — technically speaking, for mischievous statements in a gathering performing religious worship.
"By reading the namaz in a gathering, these people are spreading hatred and enmity among people," says the FIR registered on a complaint by local resident Chandra Pal Singh on August 24. Sixteen of the people have been named, while 10 others remain unidentified, all reported to be locals.
Visuals of people praying "in large numbers" in the compound of the house have gone viral.
There are angry reactions on social media, alleging bias and lack of logic. "I'm sure if one of the neighbours had a hawan with 26 friends and relatives that would be perfectly acceptable. It's not the 'mass gathering' that is the problem; it's the offering of namaz," tweeted Omar Abdullah, former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir.
But police are now looking to arrest the accused. "Searches are on for those who attended the gathering," said district police in-charge Sandeep Kumar Meena.
People objecting to namaz have made news at different places in recent months. There were angry protests by locals, led by right-wing outfits, in Gurgaon some months ago against namaz by groups of area factory workers. The namaz was held at open spaces designated by the local administration, but that was stopped, citing traffic obstructions and law and order. Hindu prayers were later held at some of the sites as a counter.
Recently, namaz by staff at a mall in Bhopal led to some Bajrang Dal men protesting by reading the Hanuman Chalisa. A similar incident at a mall in Lucknow took place some weeks ago. Both malls later banned all religious activities.