Offering of Jumma Namaz at an open commercial space in upscale Sector 47 here near Bakhtawar Chowk has been in the eye of controversy for almost a month now. The protests by the local residents have been growing with each passing Friday and the administration’s efforts to find an amicable solution by bringing both parties to a negotiation table have proved to be futile so far.
Several local residents, including women, assembled at the site for a Jumma Namaz this past Friday as well pre-empting the Namazis, chanting Hanuman Chalisa and playing bhajans on a hand-held portable music system. Holding placards against Namaz in the open, they soon began to march towards the Namazis, but the police, deployed at the site, hurriedly intervened to stop them.
The protesters then turned to the local news channels and print media journalists at the site accusing the police and the administration of taking sides and vowed to return again next Friday in greater strength.
Gathering of ‘outsiders’
Spearheading the protests, local councillor Kuldeep Yadav argued that the residents were not against any religion, but opposed to the gathering of ‘outsiders’ in their residential area. He also argued that the site was earmarked for a market and the same should be constructed at the earliest. Sector 47 RWA president Sunil Yadav, holding a bunch of papers, claimed that the permission to hold Jumaa Namaaz at the said ground was granted only for a day in 2018, and it was being continued illegally. He also objected to the fact that the administration designated the place for holding Namaz without the consent of the local residents.
A few protesters also alleged that the identity of the Namazis was not known and they posed a “security threat”.
In two rounds of meetings held between the two parties with the initiative of the administration and the police this past week, the local residents have demanded that the place of Namaz be shifted outside Sector 47 and suggested an open space near Subhash Chowk as an alternate.
Altaf Ahmad, part of the talks on behalf of his community, said the site was designated by the administration for holding Namaz and shifting to another place without a valid reason made little sense. “The locals have no valid reason in asking us to shift to another place. And it is not going to help in any way because the protests are not about the place but are aimed at the community itself. The local authorities had designated 30-odd places for Namaz after protests by a few Hindu groups against Namaz in the open in 2018. But there were renewed protests since March this year led by Dinesh Bharti, head of Bharat Mata Vahini. He succeeded in stopping Jumma Namaaz at Sector 39, 40 and 43 during March and April. The community registered an FIR against him on April 16, however he remains undeterred,” said Mr. Ahmad, also co-founder, Gurgaon Nagrik Ekta Manch, a civil society group working for communal harmony in the city.
Part of a “bigger conspiracy”
He alleged that the protests at Sector 47 for the past one month was not a case in isolation, but a part of a “bigger conspiracy”. Mr. Kuldeep Yadav, however, refuted the allegations saying that they had nothing to do with the protests against Namaz elsewhere in the city.
Aman Yadav, ACP, Sadar Bazar, said efforts were on to find a solution and two rounds of meetings were already held. Mr. Yadav told the media that there was neither any ‘information’ nor any “formal complaint” of eve-teasing or any crime at this site. He said fake news was being spread through social media to vitiate the atmosphere and action had been taken against such people in the past.
Ritu Raj, Shiv Sena spokesperson, Haryana, said the administration had in 2018 agreed to gradually bring down the number of designated Namaz places and remove parks and public places from the list, but it was not done. Countering his claims, Mr. Ahmad said the administration had in 2018 brought down the number of open places for Namaz to 30-odd, including three mosques, from around 100 earlier. “In fact, the administration had assured us in 2018 that the list of Jumma places can be increased once the dust settles and the negotiators gave into the request of the administration,” he claimed.
Deputy Leader of the Congress Legislative Party and Nuh MLA Aftab Ahmed also wrote to Chief Minister Manohar Lal earlier this month seeking his intervention in the matter and direction to the local authorities to deal strictly with the troublemakers disrupting the Friday prayers. The former Haryana Transport Minister, in his letter, said such incidents had been on the rise in the State for the past few years.
Lack of mosques to cater to the growing Muslim population, both residential and floating, especially in New Gurugram, adds another dimension to the problem.
Thanks to growing job opportunities, both for high-skill and low-skill jobs in the Millennium City, the Muslim population has increased over the past decade and is estimated to be around five lakhs. But there are only two mosques — Anjuman Jama Masjid, Sector 57 and Rajiv Chowk Masjid — in New Gurugram to cater to the growing population. While the capacity of Anjuman Masjid is just 400, the Rajiv Chowk Masjid is under litigation and further construction is not permitted.
“The Muslim community applied for mosques at three separate sites in Sector 43, 50 and 52 in 2016, however, after the interviewing process was completed, the administration rejected all our applications and gave the earnest money back to us. We have again applied in October,” said Mr. Ahmad.
Individual leaders driven
One of the members of the Gurgaon Nagrik Ekta Manch said the series of events over the past few years including the protests against the Jumma Namaz in open in 2018, targeting of meat shops during Navaratri, and more recently a public meeting in Patadui targeting the minority community and now the renewed protests seemed connected and aim to keep the issue on the boil.
“Most of these incidents are individual leaders driven...there are people who want to become leaders through it. But there also seems a tactic support from behind. To me, these are small experiments to see the kind of impact these create. If it works and gets attention, it gets more support. While the incidents in 2018 were held in the run-up to the Lok Sabha and the Vidhan Sabha elections, these protests now are happening at a time when the farmers protests are going on at the Delhi borders,” said the member, not willing to be identified.