Attacks on Muslims

Fear as the key

Print edition : July 06, 2018

Muslim community members offer namaz with police protection in Gurugram on April 27. Photo: Manoj Kumar

A series of attacks were made on mosques and Friday prayer congregations in open spaces in Haryana and Uttar Pradesh apparently to instil fear in the Muslim community.

Haryana continues to be the laboratory of the “hate Muslim-hate mosques” propaganda. Living up to its ugly image, the State reported a fresh round of trouble over a mosque in Karnal this Ramzan. A little-known mosque in Newal village became the hotspot of communal strife when the taravi prayer (special prayers conducted in the evening during Ramzan) was going on. A group of young men barged into the mosque and started beating up the devotees who had gathered for the prayers. The assailants cut off the electricity wires, tried to grab the microphones and loudspeakers, and threatened the devotees with dire consequences if they continued with their prayers in the mosque.

According to an eyewitness, the devotees were beaten up without any provocation. The idea seemed to be to instil fear. This was not the first such instance as similar cases have been reported from other parts of the State. Though a case was registered on charges of voluntarily causing hurt, criminal intimidation, and rioting, the local police described the incident as only a “minor altercation”. No arrests were made. Indeed, the Karnal incident was merely the latest in a series of incidents in the State which first reported trouble over Friday prayers in Gurugram in April this year when a handful of right-wing activists shouted “Jai Shri Ram” even as Muslims were gathering to offer Friday prayers in an open space. Violence was avoided as the namazis dispersed peacefully. Though a case was registered against six men, some local Hindu organisations stepped in, demanding a complete ban on namaz in public places.

They alleged that Bangladeshis had infiltrated the State and were using these congregations for their own ulterior motives. In a letter to the police, the local unit of the Shiv Sena submitted: “Rohingyas and Bangladeshis staying in Gurugram should be identified and marked. Permission should not be given to read namaz in Hindu colonies, sectors and neighbourhoods. Permission should only be given in those places where the strength of this population is more than 50 per cent, otherwise there will continue to be a possibility of peace being obstructed.”

Even as Muslims, backed by some local residents, argued that there were not enough mosques in the town, the administration clamped down on Friday prayers in public spaces without giving alternative sites. The township, which had a little more than a hundred sites used for Friday prayers by local residents and executives working in MNCs in the vicinity, brought the number down to 23. This truce lasted until mid May when activists of Hindutva outfits disrupted prayers in places like IFFCO Chowk, Udyog Vihar, Leisure Valley Park and Mall Mile on MG Road. Many devotees on their way back from offering prayers discovered that the panes of their cars had been damaged or their bike tyres flattened. Some reported music systems missing from their cars and helmets from their bikes.

No alternative places

At another place, a group of corporate executives prayed amidst heavy security cover. It left a lot of Muslims fuming. “For years we have said our prayers peacefully. Nobody has encroached upon even an inch of land. No permanent construction has been made. In fact, most of us do our ablutions in our offices before heading for prayers. At the site, too, only prayer mats are spread, which are rolled up as soon as the namaz is done,” said a vice president of a foreign bank who has been working in Gurugram for a decade. He said that the biggest problem was a lack of mosques for a burgeoning population, alleging that the administration was not being proactive in allotting plots of land for construction of mosques. Hence, there was not much of an alternative to praying in open spaces.

Wherever prayers were disrupted by right-wing activists, they resorted to chanting “Jai Shri Ram” and “Vande Mataram”. At some places where the Muslims stayed on to complete their prayers, they rounded off their congregation by singing “Sare jahan se achha”. The singing of the song penned by Muhammad Iqbal was their attempt to tell the attackers that this land belonged to them too. It made for a pathetic sight as peaceful devotees tried to prove their patriotism to miscreants and lumpen elements.

Later, writing about the incident, the noted academic and critic Apoorvanand said: “Nationalism was never so vulgar, so demeaning. Never before has one felt so alienated from what the country has become today. It is a matter of collective shame for all of us that last Friday’s namaz was performed in Gurgaon under heavy police bandobast, involving 76 police officers.”

However, Haryana is not the only State where prayers in the month of Ramzan were disrupted. In neighbouring Uttar Pradesh, things are no better. It was reported by a section of the media that tension prevailed in the Muslim-dominated area of Siddharth Nagar district following the sealing of a mosque and a madrasa, said to be running without the required legal formalities. The action to seal the premises came following a complaint by a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MLA, Shyam Dhani, who claimed that permission had been granted only for building a house on the piece of land, not a mosque. The plot owner denied the allegation, arguing that a madrasa affiliated to the Uttar Pradesh Board was functioning on the ground floor of the premises and that a room was being constructed for students to offer prayers on the first floor. The police, meanwhile, registered a first information report (FIR) against the building owner under the Indian Penal Code Sections 295, 295A and 420.

The owner contested that the map for the construction was cleared in November last year and decided to seek legal relief. In Sambhal, Uttar Pradesh, the scene was repeated. Here too, the story worked along similar lines. Tension prevailed in Nehta village after the police stopped the renovation of a room allegedly being used as a mosque and a madrasa. The police also arrested 14 Muslim youths said to be involved in the construction. The action came following a complaint that a mosque was being renovated in Nehta without the requisite permission from the district administration.

These incidents in Siddharth Nagar and Sambhal came on the heels of mosques in Noida facing the ire of local residents. Sometime back, loudspeakers were removed from a couple of mosques in Khoda while others were asked to lower the volume. A mosque in Chhaprauli village in Noida’s Sector 135 was vandalised after local residents raised objections to Friday prayers there. They did not leave the cemetery untouched either, objecting to prayers there too. Less than a year ago, another mosque in Noida, the Chataiwali Masjid, witnessed vandalism when the local branch of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) decided to raise a podium for pooja on an adjacent piece of land. Incidentally, the Noida administration claimed that both the mosque and the podium were on a piece of land belonging to the Noida Authority.

Lost amidst these reports was a shocking incident of an overnight transformation of a Tughlak era tomb into a temple in New Delhi’s Safdarjang area. Originally called Gumti Tomb, the small domed structure was turned into a Shiv Bhola temple and given a coat of whitewash and saffron, with idols placed inside. Though no pooja was allowed to be carried out there as the media reported the tomb’s transformation, attempts to restore the tomb have run into bureaucratic red-tapism. Incidentally, according to the 2010 notification by Delhi's Urban State Department, the Gumti Tomb was one of the 767 heritage sites, and had received grade-1 listing.

However, it is not all gloom and doom. Gurugram hosted an inter-faith iftar this Ramzan wherein people from all faiths participated. Hosted largely by the Gurgaon Nagrik Ekta Manch, a town residents initiative, the community iftar was an attempt at taking back the social space ceded to the Sanyukt Hindu Sangharsh Samiti that had protested against namaz in open spaces. Among those who attended was Yashpal Saxena, father of Ankit Saxena, who was recently killed in Delhi, allegedly by the family of his Muslim girlfriend.