All Indian communities should remember that their religious rituals—a part of their fundamental rights—come with a corresponding duty.
While its order was recently modified, police in Uttar Pradesh’s Noida deserves a pat on the back for its bold step in preventing Friday prayers held at public parks without proper permissions. As expected, the order to industrial units in Sector 58, Noida sparked a debate, but one hoped that the move would lead to a course correction – and curb many of the ills arising from such anomalies.
Noida police’s notice to industrial units within its jurisdiction said they must inform employees that they must avoid using public parks in their vicinity for religious purposes. It specifically referred to Friday prayers. The notice created a stir, with political parties and leaders promptly jumping on the bandwagon and effectively turning it into a controversy. The district magistrate and police later said that firms were not liable for public namaz by staff after the backlash.
Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Ajay Pal Sharma had supported the order to disallow Friday prayers in the park as not being discriminatory against any particular community. He clarified that the permission to hold namaz was not granted by the district magistrate and that the police officials were merely conveying the decision to those who had congregated at the park: “As per the Supreme Court order in 2009, to hold any religious ceremony in public place, it is essential to seek permission from the police and administration. There was no mala fide intention in the notice and the police officers were doing their duty, following the orders of the SC.”
Also read: The namaz and its significance to the Muslim community
Gautam Buddh Nagar district magistrate BN Singh while upholding the order concurred with the action of the police saying they were doing their duty.
While the order prohibited any religious activity at public parks, it did not discriminate among religions nor did it favour one religious activity over another. The order further stated that the Friday prayers are being offered without permission, in spite of the SHO specifically objecting to such activity.
All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) chief Asaduddin Owaisi lashed out at Noida police and accused them of hypocrisy. Now, if the police issues a letter in the course of performing its duty in maintaining law and order, is it hypocrisy?
India is probably the only non-Islamic country where not only Muslims but also any other religious denomination can carry out their respective religious activity anywhere with, or many a time without, permission. Many instances of Friday namaz being offered on railway platforms, busy streets, airports and public parks have been reported. Such congregations greatly obstruct ordinary activities, and the free movement of people and vehicles. But owing to the secular nature of the majority of citizens, such congregations have been tolerated and, many a time, facilitated.
It is nobody’s argument that there should be a blanket ban on Friday prayers. It cannot be sanctioned by the government, the courts or any other authority. It is a fundamental right enshrined in the Constitution. But all communities should remember that their religious rituals—a part of their rights—come with a corresponding duty.
Unfortunately, we have practically no institution that teaches civic duties and courtesies to citizens. The civics class in schools is generally dismissed as unnecessary and considered expendable. Many of our cities do not even have a provision for open parks where children can play or senior citizens can move around.
Our city planners pass building plans but seem to be lacking knowledge about free spaces and footpaths. Many of our footpaths are either illegally occupied by vendors or unusable. The same is true for places of worship. If the authorities do not want citizens to construct illegal structures as per their convenience, they must provide such avenues.
Also read: Politics over namaz inside historic Taj mosque likely to survive beyond 2019
The issue of using (or misusing) public places for religious activity is not limited to just one community or to the Friday prayers. Overnight jagrans or the construction of shamianas also require police permission— usually accompanied by a fee, however nominal.
Industrial parks and units should follow international norms and provide separate areas for prayer along the lines of airports, which have segregated areas for smoking et al.
Given the tendency among a section of the business community to look at these facilities as a drain on investments, the government can consider tax rebates on such provisions and make them mandatory in building laws.
In any case, accusing the police of discriminating against a particular community and functioning with mala fide intention will only result in lowering its morale and directly interfere in its duties. While political parties should strictly desist from using this as an electoral issue to reach out to their vote banks, community leaders should also educate the faithful that religious freedom and duties as citizens are two sides of the same coin.
The author is former editor of ‘Organiser’.
It might have been nice if the author had offered his thoughts about Shaakha meetings held in public parks.
Being a responsible citizen of this country I completely agree with the views…but like to contradict as people from all faith be it Hindu, Muslims, Christians, Sikh all use public places if and when required and disrupt the commuters…and encroch on public land to build temples as it becomes source of income..law of the land had to be for everyone…
Muslims all over the country pray in amazing and interesting places. And some of them are simply cute. When the time for salat (the ritual prayer of Muslims, performed five times daily in a set form, one of the Five Pillars of Islam and in particular on Friday noon, comes, no matter where they are, they bow their heads in adoration To Allah. Some of them are in places of hardship or discomfort, and some in surroundings that are beautiful, stark or strange. Regardless, they give Allah His due, not minding their circumstances. The roads, parks and streets fill up with the neatly lined row of people ready to pray.
Once on the day of Id-ul Fitr, as Muslim worshippers spilled out of a mosque to offer namaaz in the streets, Dom Moraes, a noted writer and son of Frank Moraes, a prominent editor proceeded to walk through the serried ranks of namaazis to get to his house in Mumbai (then Bombay). He was badly roughed up. Writing his obit in The Guardian (U.K.0 Alam Brownjohn recalled, “Then our muttered, the three-cornered conversation was interrupted by a high-pitched voice in the street outside. The Muslim owner of a house opposite had set up a mosque in his garage, and scores of worshippers assembled at prayer times, blocking the carriageway. Dom suddenly animated again, describing how he had been, one day, shepherding his elderly father-in-law, expressed impatience at the obstruction, and received menacing messages.” Dom also recalled his ordeal while walking nonchalantly through the ranks of namazis on a road.
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