Thursday, January 27

New City, Old Schism: Hindu Groups Attack Gurgaon’s Muslim Prayer Places | India

ORUntil a few weeks ago, no one had given much thought to parking outside the sector 37 police station in Gurgaon, a satellite city of India’s capital Delhi. But in recent Fridays, the dusty, trash-strewn concrete stain has turned into a religious battlefield.

This week, as a Hindu nationalist mob gathered their usual saffron, the roars of their distinctive slogans “Jai Shri Ram“(Hail, Lord Ram) and” Hail the homeland “filled the air. Then a cry rang out: “The Muslims are here.” And the mob began to charge.

For more than a decade, this car park has been one of hundreds of sites that Muslims in Gurgaon have been using as a makeshift prayer ground on Fridays, their designated day of congregational prayer, to jumma namaz. Usually these prayers are held in mosques, but Gurgaon, a city that emerged in the 1990s from the bush outside Delhi to serve India’s new middle class, has a severe shortage, with around of 13 to serve a city of more than 1.5 million. people. Attempts to build more mosques in the area, including on Muslim-owned land, have met with resistance and hostility.

Instead, the thousands of Muslim workers who have flocked to this sprawling metropolis to do construction work on Gurgaon’s corporate skyscrapers and luxurious high-rise apartments found another option. Unable to travel miles to a mosque to offer prayer, they began to pray in empty parcels of land. They even asked the administration for permission, and by 2018 the Muslim community received permission to pray outdoors at 108 locations in the district.

“People are forced to pray outside because we have no other choice,” said Altaf Ahmad, co-founder of the Gurgaon Muslim council.

Police stand guard as devotees walk to offer Friday prayers in Gurgaon.
Police stand guard as devotees walk to offer Friday prayers in Gurgaon. Photograph: Manoj Kumar / AFP / Getty

But in 2018, rumors of discontent began, when Hindu vigilante groups realized that Muslims were praying on public land. They began to hold protests, sometimes with more than 100 people, interrupting dozens of Friday prayers and fracturing the modern metropolis along a millennial schism.

In response, the Gurgaon administration reduced the number of prayer sites 108-37, much to the dismay of Muslim leaders who felt the administration was giving in to fanatical demands. “They told us it was temporary and just to defuse the situation,” Ahmad said. But this year, after a hiatus due to Covid, the objections returned in force.


Every Friday for months, members of Hindu self-defense groups along with local residents have been gathering, occasionally armed with axes and wooden sticks, at the sites of prayer to try to prevent them from happening. Slogans including “shoot traitors” have been shouted and Hindu prayers and songs have been read to try to drown out the Qur’an. readings. Cow dung has been placed on the sites and the police have had to regularly contain the mob to prayer I could go on

Last month, an umbrella organization of Hindu groups called Sanyukt Hindu Sangharsh Samiti told police that they were ready to use weapons and go to jail if the prayer did not stop.

At the forefront of the fight is Dinesh Thakur, who goes by the name Dinesh Bharti, a nod to his devotion to Bharat, sense indian mother. Thakur, who has created his own one-man Hindu nationalist army called Bharat Mata Vahini, has been arrested more than 10 times and arrested and charged three times for his communal actions.

On Friday, Thakur ran up to Shehzad Khan, the Muslim leader who was there to lead the prayer, and began to confront him, getting within inches of his face and shouting “no prayer here ”, until he was dragged away by five policemen. As the Muslims quietly entered the area to prayerWith their heads bowed and clutching their prayer mats, a line of armed police arrested the Hindu nationalist mob. Seven were detained by the police.

“Conducting prayer in the open air is the jihad land, ”Thakur said before being arrested. “It is an international conspiracy. They do prayer outside, then they build a shrine, then they build a mosque and then inside the mosque they are harboring terrorists and weapons and they are a threat to the nation. I will not stop my fight until this becomes illegal. “

Residents have joined the protests, including Ravinder Kumar, 45, a software engineer and deputy secretary of the Gurgaon Sector 47 Resident Welfare Association. “So many unknown people came here for prayerand it created an atmosphere of fear, “said Kumar. “Afterward, they roam our park and we are concerned that they might be here for theft. A few days ago, the police confiscated an AK47 rifle from a Muslim in Gurgaon. We don’t want such things in our area. “

Kumar admitted that so far no one who attended Friday prayer had committed any crime.

For the Muslim community, praying in the few remaining public places has become a statement of their rights in society. The number of public places where Muslims can pray in Gurgaon has recently dropped back to 20 and, due to continued protests, is likely to be further reduced. Mufti Mohammad Saleem Qasmi, president of the Muslim organization Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind, said they would continue to celebrate Friday’s prayer in these spaces, as it was a question of justice.

Friday as the screams of “Jai Shri Ram”It rang and the police stopped the protesters with batons, about 50 Muslims sat side by side in the direction of Mecca and bowed their heads to the ground. Khan then led a prayer for Hindu-Muslim harmony. “Muslims are both Indian and Hindu citizens. Our ancestors have also sacrificed for this country, ”he said. “Guide us, Hindu and Muslim brothers, to remain united in a bond of brotherhood.”

Washi Ahmer, 25, was one of those who came to pray. “We are not afraid but what is happening is not right,” he said. “We have been praying here for 10 to 12 years but all this protest is new. They want to divide the nation. They have a problem with our existence. “

The events in Gurgaon reflect the divisions between Hindus and Muslims that have opened up across India since the Hindu nationalist party Bharatiya Janata gained power in 2014. The BJP has been accused of fanning the flames of communal tensions and allowing the persecution of Muslims, an accusation he denies.

“When this first happened in 2018, it hurt a lot,” Ahmad said. “But there has been so much pressure on Muslims since then that now I have become numb. I don’t feel that pain anymore. “

To enhance community harmony, last Friday the Sikh community stepped in and offered their five gurdwaras in Gurgaon as spaces for prayer. But this further exacerbated the problem. Several people protested a gurdwara with banners and handed out leaflets asking how Sikhs could allow Muslims to enter their place of worship when the Mughals killed their ninth Sikh guru.

In the end, in the name of security, no Muslim prayed in the gurdwara. Daya Singh, 72, a member of the Gurudwara Shri Guru Singh Sabha committee, said: “We know this is not really about prayerIt’s all part of the plan to alienate Muslims. “

The Gurgaon administration says it has solved the problem. “We are committed to preserving community harmony and law and order in the area,” said Gurgaon Deputy Commissioner Dr. Yash Garg. “Prayer now it is offered peacefully. This problem is caused only by the fringe elements on both sides. This is a free country for all religions, the Muslim community can build another mosque if they want. “

Additional reporting by Vandana K

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