“Namaz khuda ki ibadat hai; hum kisi se ladai nahi karna chahte [offering namaz is about worshipping god; we don’t want to fight with anyone],” says Imtiaz Ali, a resident of Sector 54, Gurgaon.
Imtiaz has come to a parking lot in Sector 47 — a designated namaz spot since 2018 — to offer Friday prayers along with other members of the Muslim community. “We are peace loving people of the country, we just want to read the namaz and go — but the people protesting against this are making it political,” he says.
A few minutes into our conversation, it becomes difficult to hear what Ali has to say as chants of ‘Open Namaz Band Karo’ drown out his voice. The protests grow louder as a group of men and women armed with signboards, loudspeakers and mics make their way towards the namaz spot. Many of them are residents of the Sector, although the had members from the Hindu vigilante group Bharat Mata Vahini show up and lead the disruptions. They have been gathering every Friday at the namaz spot for the past few weeks, right in time for prayers.
Preparations for namaz begins at 12:40 pm.
“Check their ID cards, who knows where they come from,” says BS Yadav, a resident protester of Sector 47. “I heard there was a terrorist living in Delhi who just got caught after 15 years. These people can also all be terrorists. Why aren’t their IDs being checked?”
One of the young protestors, Khushi Chadhaury, is a 24-year-old school teacher at a local school. She says she feels unsafe owing to Muslims turning up for namaz on Fridays. Khushi says, “Doing something like this, in an open area, that too in a ‘society’ – it’s not a village or some place you can do anything without permission – and they are doing it in an illegal way.”
She adds: “Because of the Muslim people roaming around the Sector, it is very uncomfortable for us to live over here. We don’t mind if they just do namaz and go but they are roaming in the Sector, peeping into people’s houses.” Chaudhary says she doesn’t mind turning up for protests every Friday if the prayers continue.
Ravinder Kumar, the joint secretary of Residents Welfare Association of Sector 47, says, “We just want these people to go where they came from – do namaz in your house, mosque, or workplace, not in our area,” he says. “They are outsiders — we don’t know them, where they’ve come from and which country they belong to, and what they intend to do.”
Despite attempts by the residents, Muslims gathered to offer Friday prayers in Sector 47 were able to do so 150 meters away from the designated spot with the police forming a barricade of sorts around them.
In 2018, right-wing groups members of the Hindutva group Sanyukt Hindu Sangharsh Samiti — an umbrella body of local units of 12 Hindutva groups such as Bajrang Dal and Vishwa Hindu Parishad — had multiple namaz spots in open spaces in Gurgaon. There were 150 namaz such spots back then. At least six people were arrested and after multiple rounds of negotiations, the local Gurgaon administration marked out 37 places, including mosques, as designated namaz areas in Gurgaon. The Sector 47 parking lot over which protests have erupted is one such spot where Muslims have conducted Friday prayers for three years now, albeit under police watch. But this year, since April, another round of protests led by Dinesh Bharti, a member of right-wing group Bharat Mata Vahini, have sparked tensions. Earlier this year, Bharti was for disrupting namaz and creating communal tensions. In August, he was detained while on his way to the Jantar Mantar where anti-Muslim slogans were chanted — Bharti had in fact this detail.
Following last week’s escalations, Dinesh Yadav, the SHO of Sadar police station, called for a meeting between Bharti, some members of the Muslim community, resident welfare association members, local residents, and some members of the police force.
According to Altaf Ahmed, co-founder of citizen’s forum Gurgaon Nagrik Ekta Manch, a suggestion was made to shift the namaz to Sector 37, but this was rejected by the Muslim community members since it was inconvinenent and far for the people.
“We’re asked why don’t we just pray at home. We do. Five times a day for the whole week, we pray at home,” says Ahmed, pointing out that praying in congregation is reserved for Eids and Fridays, as dedicated by the religion.
Ahmed has been staying in Gurgaon for the last fifteen years. He says that of late, he is consumed with a sense of fear over what could conspire on Fridays. “The Muslim community in the past few years has been under tremendous pressure; the young generation, especially, are being put under pressure to justify or hide their identities,” he says.
“The namaz spot in Sector 47 is important since it was made a designated spot in May 2018 by the administration itself after removing places where we could offer jumma namaz from Sector 40, 45, 46, 38, 39 and 37. There are only two mosques in Gurgaon so everyone can’t congregate there for Friday prayers,” he added, explaining how over the last few years, they’ve had to constantly compromise on the spots where they can offer prayers, and are made to prove their nationality as their very identity as Indians is questioned.
The Gurgaon Nagrik Ekta Manch to the Haryana police commissioner on September 30, urging action against disruption of namaz and attempts to disturb communal harmony in Gurgaon. It has accused Bharat Mata Vahini of being the main instigators.
Protesters attempt to go closer to the namaz spot.
According to ACP Aman Yadav of Sadar police station, Gurgaon, after 2018, namaz was going on peacefully until recently, when the objections started again. There were over 30 police officials deployed this Friday, which he said was a “preventive” measure.
“Even if one wrong person comes and spoils the situation, it can escalate. Today, protests took place peacefully,” he tells Newslaundry. “The protesters showed a list today that said the permission given in 2018 was just for a day here. They have never said anything about this before. We will check this and get clarity about the same.”
A few minutes before the namaz began at 1:15 pm, protesters turned up with loudspeakers, singing Hindu devotional songs, chanting patriotic slogans, and shouting “Jai Shri Ram”.