New Delhi: On Friday, as a group of Muslims reached a ground at Sector 37 of Gurugram to offer their namaz, like they usually do, they were greeted by trucks parked in an attempt to block the ground. As they prepared to sit down, they were interrupted by a crowd of Hindu activists and loud chants of ‘Jai Shri Ram’.
In a purported video of the incident doing rounds on social media, Dinesh Bharti, founder of a local Hindu group Bharat Mata Vahini, can be seen heckling a Muslim cleric, saying “namaz yaha nahi hoga (there will be no namaz here)”.
Such disruptions have grown increasingly common in Gurugram, where the allotted spaces for namaz have declined over a period of time.
Bharti’s protest Friday was ‘well-planned’, with WhatsApp messages sent to mobilise people. Even as a Muslim group reached the spot to show solidarity with the people offering prayers, its leader Haji Shahzah Khan was “accosted” by Bharti.
The incident took place within a stone’s throw from the Sector 37 police station. The police eventually dispersed the protestors, and arrested Bharti for disturbance to public peace, Subhash Boken, the public relations officer (PRO) for the Gurugram Police told ThePrint.
A Muslim cleric present at the spot told ThePrint there was heavy police presence since it was outside the police station. “They got the trucks removed, but before we could sit to do our prayer a huge crowd of members of Hindu groups surrounded us and started chanting ‘Jai Shri Ram’,” the cleric said on condition of anonymity.
Namaz disruption becoming regular event in Gurugram
The ground at Sector 37 is one of the 37 plots allotted by the Gurugram administration for offering namaz to locals in 2018. Earlier, the administration had demarcated 108 plots where Muslims could offer namaz in the open. However, the list was chopped down to 37 after complaints against Muslims offering namaz in the open.
Over the past nine months, protests against namaz even at these 37 plots have increased in frequency with several Hindu groups such as the Vishva Hindu Parishad, Bajrang Dal Sanyukt Hindu Sangharsh Samiti and Bharti’s Bharat Mata Vahini raising objections.
Bharti, whose organisation describes itself as “a vehicle against different forms of ‘jihad’”, is known to be a common fixture at most of them.
In September, the protests first made headlines as members of the Sector 47 Residents’ Welfare Association also raised objections to namaz being offered in the open.
WhatsApp messages to mobilise support
Friday’s protest was ‘well-planned’, with Bharti circulating a WhatsApp message to convey his intentions of disrupting the namaz at the Sector 37 ground and mobilising support for the same.
“There is no permission for open namaz by the Gurugram administration and the government has also accepted this…this is the time to stop open namaz otherwise this practise will spread through the country and the country will be speedily Islamicised,” Bharti’s WhatsApp message, which ThePrint has accessed, said. In the message, he listed the time and venue for the protest.
“Jis bharat mata ki god mein janm liya hain, uska karz utarane ka samay aa gaya hain,” Bharti said in his message. (It is time to pay back the country in whose lap you were born.)
Following the disruption, he was arrested and will now have to appear “in front of a judge for bail”.
“Bharti has been arrested for a fourth time and is in police custody for now. We have charged him with IPC sections 107 (instigation) and 151 (disturbance of public peace), as preventive action. Although these charges are bailable in nature we refused to accept the bail and have sent the matter to the district’s court. He will have to appear in front of a judge for bail,” Gurugram Police PRO Subhash Boken said.
‘Was scared for my life’
Speaking to ThePrint, Haji Shahzah Khan, a person seen with Bharti in the purported video, said he was “scared for my life when Bharti accosted me and started screaming that I couldn’t read namaz there”.
Khan is a resident of Sector 106 in Gurugram and heads a residents’ collective called Muslim Ekta Manch. Khan had heard about the planned protest and said he was present at the Sector 37 ground to “show solidarity to Muslim brothers being harassed”.
“Members of these Hindu groups had reached the ground even before we reached there at 11 am. The police should have dispersed them instead of letting them create such a spectacle. We are going to meet the district magistrate in three days’ time and shall submit a written statement of our grievances to him,” he added.
Khan alleged that the anti-namaz protests have increased because of the upcoming assembly polls to five states, especially Uttar Pradesh.
“We all know UP elections are around the corner. They are doing this to divide people and garner Hindu votes by polarising people,” he added.