On August 28, the Moradabad Police in Uttar Pradesh initiated a case against the owners of two houses, both Muslim men, after a complaint was registered that a large group of Muslims gathered there to offer namaz.
After media carried reports that 26 Muslims were booked in the case under section 505-2 (statement leading to public mischief in an assembly engaged in the performance of religious worship) of the Indian Penal Code, several politicians including National Conference leader Omar Abdullah and All India Majlis-E-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) president Asaduddin Owaisi reacted, calling it 'injustice'.
"Offering namaz on the road is a problem, and now doing so inside one's own home has also become objectionable? Does one go and tell people of other religions not to worship their deities? … The Supreme Court has said that namaz can be offered anywhere," Owaisi said during a press conference.
Sanjeev Kumar, the Public Relations Officer, of the Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) of Muradabad district confirmed to BOOM that a case was registered against 26 Muslims based on a complaint filed by a local Hindu – Chandra Pal Singh.
He added that no arrests were made in connection with the case.
"The incident took place on August 24 at Dulhepur village which comes under police station Chhajlet. Chandra Pal Singh had filed a complaint that a group of Muslim men gathered at a Muslim home to offer namaz," he said.
According to Kumar, Singh's complaint was based on a video that had gone viral in the village in which a group of Muslims were offering namaz in the courtyard of a Muslim house.
What Happened After 26 Muslim Men Were Booked For Namaz?
While there were no arrests made, a case was registered against the homeowners and the other men who had reportedly gathered there to pray. The police had said the owners of the house were absconding.
When BOOM reached out to the Moradabad police, they said following a "thorough investigation", they found that the video provided by the complainant is "fudged" and was shot months ago.
"It was an old video shot by a local where a group of Muslims was offering namaz. Back then Hindus had raised objections about namaz in the area. After rounds of talks between the groups, both – Hindus and Muslims had agreed that no religious gatherings will be conducted in the village," Kumar told BOOM.
He added that the police have now expunged the case as no unlawful activity was found in the matter.
When asked why police registered a case against people offering namaz at home, the official said, "An individual can offer namaz at home, but a group of people cannot offer namaz at anyone's home."
Bringing up the recent Lucknow's Lulu Mall incident where four men were arrested for offering namaz in the shopping complex, Kumar said that the court order, in that case, says that a group of people cannot offer namaz at home.
"There is a clause in the ruling that a group of people cannot offer namaz even at home," he told BOOM.
BOOM spoke to advocate Zeeshan Alvi who was representing the group of Muslims arrested in the Lullu mall case to ask him if such a clause was passed by the court. "To my best knowledge, there was no such oral statement or any written order by the court in the Lullu mall case. I was representing the case and no such statements were made by the court stating that Muslims shouldn't be allowed to offer namaz in personal or in public spaces," he said.
No Masjid In The Village
Dulhepur is a small hamlet in the northern area of Moradabad district in Uttar Pradesh. Muslims make up forty percent of the total population in the village. The majority of them are involved in agricultural activities.
One of the men booked in the FIR, Hakam Ali, 43, a resident of Dulhepur village said that the Muslims have been offering namaz at homes of Muslim men because the village does not have a mosque. "We have been offering namaz at Muslim homes since 1980," he said.
He said that sometimes they go to a nearby village for Friday prayers but most of the time, they would prefer to offer it in someone's courtyard in their own village.
The practice was going peacefully until June this year after one of Ali's neighbours, Dinesh Kumar, filmed them while they were offering namaz in his courtyard.
"It was not the first time we were offering namaz there. But, after he shot us offering namaz he shared the video in the village and soon it became a fuss," recalled Ali.
The Hindus in the village had called the police and discussed the matter with them. They have raised objections to the Muslims' gatherings for namaz. Following the dispute, police had directed Muslims to refrain from offering prayers in groups– not even in any personal spaces.
"They (Hindus) told police that they don't want them to offer namaz in groups because it is hurting their religious sentiments. They have warned Muslims of communal tensions if they won't stop the practice. Since then, we are not allowed to offer namaz in groups," the resident of Dulhepur said.
'Right-wing Hindu Groups Fanning Hatred'
Another local Muslim wishing anonymity told BOOM that they have raised this issue with Sub District Magistrate and member legislative assembly several times but their pleas have remained unaddressed.
He added that it is a group of people from the Bajrang dal outfit in the village who have raised objections to namaz. "Otherwise, there was no tension or dispute within communities. Now, after their objection, majority of the Hindus are supporting them," he said.
Taking a brief pause, he said that as a practising Muslim, he feels dejected and helpless in the situation.
Many times, he and some villagers of Dulhepur walk to nearby villages to offer namaz in gatherings. "Namaz in gatherings is obligatory," he explained.
Last year, right-wing Hindu groups barred Muslims in Gurgoan, a satellite city on the outskirts of Delhi from offering Friday prayers at the places identified by authorities during the Congress regime.
In July, at least seven Muslim men were arrested by Uttar Pradesh police in Lucknow after a video purportedly showed Muslims offering namaz in a mall. The arrests were made after Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath had directed authorities to "act tough" against elements "hell-bent on vitiating the atmosphere" of Uttar Pradesh.
Ali and the other Muslim men in the neighbourhood feel that being disallowed from practicing their religion is a part of a "bigger conspiracy" by right-wing Hindu groups with the backing of the current government aimed to suppress minorities.
"We are feeling helpless and no one is listening to our woes. The situation in our village has turned worse than in Kashmir," he said.
"We were living peacefully in our village and there was good harmony between the communities but past few months. Now it's no longer that. There is a sense of hatred among Hindus against us. Some groups are purposely fanning hatred between the two communities," Ali added.
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