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India: BJP controlled Haryana state bans Friday prayers

31st Dec 2021
India: BJP controlled Haryana state bans  Friday prayers

The state of Haryana, India with district boundaries (WikiCommons)

Sajeda Haider

India’s incumbent Hindu nationalist party has stepped up its anti-Muslim campaign, this time targeting congregational Friday prayer in a city just southwest of New Delhi. Chief Minister of Haryana State, Manohar Lal Khattar, has warned that prayers in open spaces in Gurgaon City would “not be tolerated”.

The lack of mosques in the city means congregational Friday and Eid prayers were held in 106 open spaces, mostly parks or undeveloped local government land. Muslims had obtained local administration permissions to hold Friday prayers at these sites, braving the scorching summer heat and the freezing winter cold.

However, in 2018, after protests by far-right groups affiliated to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its ideological fountainhead the RSS, the number of open prayer sites earmarked by the administration was whittled down to just 37.

As the protests continued at the end of November 2021, the sites were reduced further to 29 before they were banned completely at the beginning of December.
Protesters disrupted Friday prayers using loudspeakers to play Hindu songs or perform Hindu puja (worship) rituals.

Hate speeches delivered by far-right leaders led to violent incidents and police were called in to protect Muslims from intimidation, but more often than not, the police – following the orders of their political masters – did nothing.

Mohammed Adeeb, a former MP, recently petitioned the Supreme Court to start contempt proceedings against Haryana’s Chief Secretary and police chief for allowing far-right groups to deliver ‘hate speeches’ and disrupt Friday prayers.

The BJP/RSS would like to bar mosques from reciting the adhan (call to prayers) over loudspeakers citing sound pollution, but Hindu temples are permitted to ring bells twice a day or during festival use loudspeakers for devotional music.

The BJP/RSS have also objected to the overflow of Muslim worshippers on to pavements outside smaller mosques on Friday afternoons, complaining it hindered traffic, but have no issue with Hindu temples which are often built on main thoroughfares or even roundabouts hindering traffic twice a day.

Ever since Narendra Modi first became Prime Minister in 2014, the BJP has been aggressively pursuing its anti-Muslim agenda in BJP-ruled states to the fullest, and the prayer ban is seen as an extension of that policy.

Omar Abdullah, former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, India’s only Muslim-dominated state or union territory, condemned Khattar’s ban, arguing that it was explicitly targeted at Muslims.

“I would have accepted it had this ban been on every religion, but by this pick and choose, it is clear that the target is one particular religion which is not allowed by the Constitution of this country,” said Abdullah.

He has been joined in the condemnation by India’s Communist Party of India-Marxists (CPM) accusing the BJP of trying to convert the country into an RSS Sakh [Centre].

“Haryana Chief Minister used such objectionable language to deny people their constitutional right to pray. It is not a question about minorities but the constitution of India,” said Brinda Karat, CPM politburo member.

Worshippers complain that local governments’ refusal to grant land permits for mosques has forced them to pray in public spaces.

“Muslims of Gurgaon are forced to offer the Jumma namaz in the open as the Haryana Shehri Vikas Pradhikaran (Town Planning Department) has not allocated land to us for mosques. All our applications get rejected, including our latest application submitted in October 2021,” said Altaf Ahmad of the Gurugram Muslim Council.

The BJP has been in power in Haryana since 2014. “The town planning department has allocated space for 42 or more Hindu temples and 18 or more Sikh gurdwaras; however, only one piece of land in Sector 57 was given by the state government to build a mosque”, complained Ahmad.

In Gurgaon, only two of the 26 Muslim institutions facilitating prayers are in the newer part of the city, where all of the factories and offices are located, which means there is no place for Muslim workers to perform Friday prayers during their lunch break.

“Now, as the Chief Minister has said that the approved open-air sites need to be reworked between the administration and the Muslim community, we request him to instruct the Town Planning Department to allocate us land in multiple sectors to build multi-storey mosques. That shall be the end of the Jumma namaz row,” said Ahmad.

However, the issue is unlikely to go away that easily. Following in the footsteps of Khattar, two BJP legislators in Bihar have demanded a ban on prayers in public places.
BJP’s Muslim prayer ban in Haryana is seen as a test case, both legally and politically – if successful, it will implement it in all states where it is in power.

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