Last Friday some Hindutva groups prevented namaz prayers of Muslims at three public places in Gurugram, the centre of hi-tech business in Haryana. The police did their duty in a routine manner and arrested six members of the groups on the charge of ‘disturbing namaz’. However, the Hindutva groups, agitating for a prohibition on namaz in public places in Gurugram under the banner of Samyukt Hindu Sangharsh Samiti, got a booster from none other than Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar, who said, “Namaz should be offered at designated places such as mosque and Idgah. If there is shortage of place for namaz, it should be offered in a private place. Namaz prayers are not the kind of prayers that should be offered at public places.” Khattar had thus publicly accepted the demand of the Hindutva groups that namaz in public places should be prohibited.
On the face of it, the Haryana Chief Minister’s stance looks very rational. Why should namaz be held in a park or a square or an empty public plot? That is what was happening at Gurugram: Muslims had started gathering every Friday at the Cyber Park, IFFCO Chowk and a plot adjacent to a mall. These congregations were certainly improper, as public places such as a park or square is not meant for religious congregations that are best held in mosques, temples or churches. That said, the Haryana Chief Minister must not make the prohibition applicable only to Muslims. Would the Hindutva groups have prevented, with the same indignation and vehemence, religious congregations of a Hindu sect at the Cyber Park, IFFCO Chowk and the mall-side plot? Certainly not. However Chief Minister Khattar must be non-partisan. He should not restrict himself to advising Muslims not to offer namaz at public places. He should ask followers of all religions and sects not to organize gatherings at public places such as parks.
In the early 1990s, after the demolition of the Babri mosque, religious congregations became a means of showing strength in Mumbai. The Shiv Sena started organizing ‘maha aartis’ at temples in order to make a Hindu show of strength versus the large gatherings at mosques for Friday prayers. The Sena leaders publicly declared that if the Muslim congregation at mosques on Fridays could be allowed to spill over to the roads and public space, the Hindus would also do it during maha aartis. The Hindutva groups objecting to namaz prayers in public places at Gurugram are also seeing the congregations in terms of ‘show of strength’ by Muslims. Their view is coloured by their deep prejudices against Muslims. These prejudices have their origin in the anger against the politics of Muslim League that led to the partition of the country in 1947. Every large gathering of Muslims, with or without reason, scrapes the raw part of still-unhealed trauma of Partition in the minds of the average Hindu. This is the fear the Hindutva groups at Gurugram are feeding upon.
Their fear that Muslims are gathering in public places at Gurugram to show their strength or plan an attack on Hindus may be unfounded. Those who are planning an attack on a community do not meet and discuss how to do it in a public place. As for the show of strength, this perception might have had some validity if there were communal riots in Gurugram or simmering communal tensions. Show of strength is a kind of proud and intimidating exhibition that is usually resorted to by communities or groups in a state of conflict. The maha aartis started by the Shiv Sena in the early 1990s were a show of strength. Muslims of Mumbai too made their own shows of strength. Whereas in the Gurugram case, it might just be a simple problem of Muslims working in the various offices in the city not finding a mosque to go to for Friday prayers. It has been a trend in every community with the growth of modernity that for every ten persons becoming irreligious there are ten others who are becoming over-religious. Muslims are no exception.
The Muslims who were going to public places for Friday namaz at Gurugram must find more suitable places for their congregations. However, it is very important for the Haryana Chief Minister to stop congregations or meetings or camps or sermons of followers of all religions and sects in the public places of his state. Otherwise, the Muslims of Gurugram who follow his advice and go to a mosque or private place for Friday prayers would see him as an unjust and partisan Chief Minister.