'Aim Was To Stop Namaz': Gurgaon Protests Force Muslims To Abandon Prayer Sites
For months, protests in Gurgaon attempted to disrupt the congregational prayers of Muslims, every Friday. BOOM visited the spot to find out the reality.
Gurgaon: Cow dung cakes aligned in rows cover the patch of land that was until two weeks back a spot for Muslims to offer Friday congregational prayers in Sector 12, Gurgaon, Haryana. Last Friday, the Sanyukt Hindu Sangharsh Samiti, a Hindu nationalist groups, organised a Govardhan Puja, thus taking over the spot and forcing them to abandon it.
BOOM visited the spot on November 12, a week after the Govardhan Puja to find out what is happening on the ground.
"Our aim was to get Namaz stopped here and we have succeeded. We will make this a sports ground and we will welcome everyone to play," a man who had gathered along with others at the spot on Friday, November 12, told BOOM. He called himself Praveen Hindustani.
"The claims of Muslims that this is a designated site for Namaz are false. They have no documents to prove that the administration allotted them land to hold prayers in open," he said.
Meanwhile, scores of men and women, some of them who were arrested a fortnight ago, assembled in a park in Sarhol village shouted slogans of 'Jai Shree Ram' and 'Bharat Mata ki jai' in an attempt to disrupt the Namaz, forcing Muslims to hold prayers at an alternate site. The protest was organised by an outfit called 'Manavta Sangathan'.
For nearly two months, since September 17, every Friday, a group of Hindu nationalists gather near the state vigilance office in sector 47 of Gurgaon and shout slogans in an attempt to disrupt the congregational prayers of Muslims. The group, led by Dinesh Bharti of Bharat Mata Vahini, demand a ban on Namaz in open space. They say that Muslims holding Namaz in open spaces is a ploy to conduct "land Jihad" — a conspiracy theory that assumes Muslims are taking over the lands of Hindus.
On one Friday (October 15), some local Hindu residents associated with the Resident Welfare Association also joined the protests opposing Namaz. They carried banners which read 'Open namaz band karo', 'Offer namaz in mosques'. There were sloganeerings and bhajans too. The police had to thwart their advance; the prayer spot was shifted 100 metres away.
The residents said that Muslims from far away come to the site and allege that they roam around and indulge in crimes like robbery and women's harassment. They said they fear that there is a "rising Muslim population" in Gurgoan. The police, however, called the allegations 'false'.
"The allegations against any kind of security risk for women are completely baseless, false and an attempt to disrupt a peaceful atmosphere, " Aman Yadav, Assistant Commissioner of Police for Gurugram, told reporters.
But the protests have since intensified, expanded and gained some success.
When Did The Protests Against Namaz Begin In Gurgaon?
The controversy around Namaz in the open goes back to 2018 when similar protests were staged by Bharti and his supporters. The administration then designated 37 spots for Muslims to offer Namaz.
A copy of the document showing the designated Namaz sites is in the possession of BOOM. However, we have not been able to confirm the veracity of the document. Dr Yash Garg, Deputy Commissioner, Gurugram, did not respond to our repeated phone calls.
Muslims say they are forced to offer Namaz in the open due to a lack of mosques in the area. For more than a year, the prayers were conducted without any issues. Then the pandemic struck in March 2020, bringing everything to a halt, including congregational prayers.
This year, in March, when Namaz was revived, Bharti again showed up. He was apprehended on April 16, 2021, from Sector 46, where he had attempted to disrupt the prayer.
As the country was again caught up in another wave of COVID-19, Namaz was halted again until August.
A month into the routine, Bharti again resorted to old tactics. This time, he got more people and unknown outfits to join him.
The disruption attempts by Hindutva supporters have prompted Gurgaon Ekta Manch, a civil society forum, to approach the administration for security measures for Muslims and Namaz.
While residents in sector 47 agreed to stall protests, another protest sprang up in sector 12 on October 22, when Bajrang Dal supporters stormed the site while Namaz was going on. A video surfaced on social media showing them shouting 'Jai Shri Ram' and 'Bharat Mata ki Jai' as the police watched. They claimed that outsiders like Rohingyas and Bangladeshis came to Gurgaon for Namaz and warned of an "unfortunate incident" if Namaz was not stopped.
The following Friday, on October 29, when the protestors made an attempt to disrupt Namaz, the police swung into action and detained 25 of them.
But on November 3, after meeting with members of Hindutva groups, the administration cancelled permission for Namaz at 8 of the 37 designated sites. In a statement issued to the press, the authorities said the decision was taken after "objection from local residents and resident welfare associations".
The district administration, in the meantime, also constituted a committee to hold talks with members of both the Hindu and Muslim communities to resolve the impasse. Meanwhile, some Muslims accused that activists associated with the minority wing of the Rashriya Swayamsevak Sangh are representing the community to build a consensus and arrive at a solution favourable to the Hindutva groups.
"People associated with Muslim Rashtriya Manchwere were the so called representatives of Muslims in Gurgaon and then conveniently the number of places where Juma Namaz was happening was reduced," alleged Altaf Ahmad, Co-founder of Gurgaon Muslim Council. "The match has been fixed," he said.
On November 5, a day after Diwali, Sanyukt Hindu Sangharsh Samiti, a congregation of many Hindutva outfits, organised Govardhan Puja at the site of Namaz in sector 12. The event was attended by Kapil Mishra, who addressed the crowd amidst chants of 'Jai Shri Ram'. Mishra was all praise for the people of Gurgaon who opposed Namaz, saying they have "shown the entire country how it is done — to fight for rights. This is not only a problem in Gurugram; roads are blocked in other cities as well."
He claimed that Muslims do not have documentation proving that the administration had designated 37 sites. Mishra invoked Shaheen Bagh, where Muslim women blocked a highway for months (December 2019–March 2020) during a countrywide protest movement against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). "They blocked Shaheen Bagh. Did CAA go back?" Mishra asked. The event was also reportedly marked by genocidal slogans like "Goli maro saalon ko, Hindu ke gadaaron ko".
The SHO of Sec-14, Satyender, told BOOM that the police has not come across videos or complaints of hate slogans raised at the event. "We will definitely take action if we get such a complaint," he said.
Govardhan Puja forced Muslims to skip prayers at three sites—Sector 12, Sector 47, and Sector 18.
"On the above mentioned 3 sites, Govardhan Puja was happening; hence we voluntarily stepped back as the same was advised by police forces on the ground," Altaf said.
"We do not want any clash," said Maulana Haris Khan, an Imam who would lead prayers at Sector-47 site. "We have decided not to offer Namaz at the site and we will find an alternative space somewhere."
On November 8, a delegation of Muslims met Deputy Commissioner Dr. Yash Garg and discussed the concerns of the community. They demanded action against those who made provocative speeches at Govardhan Puja. They were refused an appointment to meet the Chief Minister who visited Gurgaon on November 10.
"Unless we get land allocated for building multiple mosques in Gurgaon, the problem of Muslims reading Juma Namaz in the open will not be solved," said Altaf.
Zafar Aafaq is a freelance journalist based in New Delhi.
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