For more than two months now, Hindu vigilantes have tried to stop the minority community from offering their prayers outside Indian capital
For more than two months now, right-wing Hindu groups have been protesting against Muslims offering Friday prayers in public spaces in Gurugram – less than an hour outside the Indian capital New Delhi – causing outrage and anxiety among the minority.
Last Friday, the demonstrators parked nearly a dozen trucks at one of the prayer sites in Sector 37 of Gurugram, which is better known by its older name Gurgaon, in the northern state of Haryana, which is governed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
As a group of Muslims arrived for the weekly congregational prayers, a crowd of Hindu men began shouting religious slogans, including Hail Lord Ram, heckling the worshippers, and saying the prayers would not be allowed – all in the presence of heavy police security.
Gurugram, home to 1.1 million people, according to the 2011 census, is a financial and technology hub where numerous multinational companies have their offices. Less than 5 percent of its residents are Muslim.
Faced with a shortage of mosques, Gurugram’s Muslims had been offering their Friday prayers in parks and on empty lots for years with due approval from the authorities. About 100 such sites were earmarked for the purpose.
But persistent protests by Hindu groups have disrupted the prayers in recent months, prompting city officials to withdraw permission from most of the sites.
‘No prayers here’
In a video that went viral last Friday, a Hindu vigilante named Dinesh Bharti was seen heckling a Muslim imam, identified as Shehzad Khan, saying in Hindi: “Namaz nahi hogi yahan (There won’t be any prayers here).” He was dragged away by the police and reportedly arrested later for instigation and disturbance of public peace.
Indian media reports said Bharti had been arrested on similar charges earlier as well.
Since mid-September, right-wing Hindu groups under the banner of Sanyukt Hindu Sangharsh Samiti (Joint Hindu Struggle Committee) have been disrupting Friday prayers across Gurugram, once by spreading cow dung over a site and at times by holding Hindu prayers instead.
“We are not against namaz (prayer) but we are against namaz being offered in public places,” Rajiv Mittal, spokesman of the umbrella group, told Al Jazeera.
“We have no problem with Muslims offering namaz in mosques, madrasas (religious schools) or on Waqf land or properties. We also have no problem if namaz is offered at anyone’s private property.”
Waqf refers to endowments made by a Muslim to a religious, educational or charitable cause.
Mittal said his organisation will not allow any prayers in public spaces in Gurgaon next Friday.
“We have given our ultimatum to the administration that we will not allow namaz [in the open] anywhere [in Gurugram] on December 10,”.
However, Muslims say they have been praying in public spaces for years because of an “insufficient” number of mosques in the city.
“We are praying in open spaces because of compulsion, not because of choice,” Altaf Ahmad, co-founder of Gurgaon Muslim Council, told journalist.