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Freedom Of Religion And Offering Of Namaz In Public Places

Freedom Of Religion And Offering Of Namaz In Public Places

India is a pluralistic country with most of the religions flourishing here. Muslims are the second largest religious community and have been living here for nearly twelve centuries. Their practice of religion has been an integral and acceptable part of our society.

It is in this light that the notice issued by Sector 58 Station House Officer (SHO) Pankaj Rai earlier this month came as a surprise. The notice was issued to the managers of the companies in Noida area. It stated that the Sector 58 park of the Noida Authority was "not permitted to be used for religious gatherings, including the Friday namaz".

"It is often seen that Muslim employees of your companies gather in large number in the park despite being advised against doing so and despite the city magistrate denying their request for permission to use it for offering namaz." It went on to say that "Therefore, it is expected of you to inform your Muslim employees at your level and if they still assemble at the park, then it would be considered that you have not informed them and held as the responsibility of the individual company,”

The namaz in the said park has been going on from last several years. It seems that preceding this some Bajarng Dal worker had gone and taken a video and complained about the Namaz being held there. Similarly nearly six months ago in Gurgaon, now Gurugram, those offering Namaz were attacked and dispersed. The Harayana minster accused that the Muslims are trying to congregate in public places and offer Namaz  to  pursue  land Jihad. This new word has been coined as a most baseless and derogatory word. One knows from long time there are places where namaz has been offered in public places peacefully without any land grab, this is just a matter of one’s religious practice.

To accuse that those congregations lead to disturbance is unwarranted as namaz prayer is done peacefully and people disperse after the prayer. Why in public places and not the mosque? The prayer is offered at particular time, especially Friday prayer is most important for Muslims. If the mosque is far away, during the office hours they are not able to travel that far so this congregating at a nearby park to offer the same.

Our public places have been part of collective religious practices since long time. There are many festivals which use public space, Durga Puja, Ganpati festival and more such are being added by new ones’ like Hanuman Jayanti, Hindu new year and Ram Navami. Tragically in some festival the procession are taken out with people flashing swords, trident etc. One does not know in case of the said order in Noida whether the instructions came from top or seeing the policies from top police issued this circular was dished out. In Bulandshahr district Nayabans village there are reports of some Muslims are leaving the village, one of them complaining about  not  being able to offer the prayer there. We also have on record, the police administration showering petals and flowers on Kanwadias. There is ample news off and on about Kanwadias creating nuisance on the streets in public places.

While Namaz is a peaceful assembly, there are times when we have witnessed the Arti’s (Invocation prayer by Hindus) have been misused to intensify communal atmosphere. In the wake of Mumbai violence of 1992-93, the reports point out that between 26-12- 1992 to 5-1-1993 35 Maha Artis were organized. Many a times these were followed  by  communal violence and exodus of Muslims from the area. The atmosphere being created in UP, Haryana and other places is very disturbing. A new dimension is being added to the insecurity of Muslim minorities in India.

At another level we also see that the attacks on Christian’s prayer meetings, Carol singers and pastors have gone up during last couple of years. In the data collected by Open Doors about safety of Christians worldwide, in the  league table of countries where  the  practice of the faith is a high-risk activity, as per this organization’s monitoring, India has risen to No 15 on the 2017 World Watch List, up from 31 four years ago.

 We know that Indian Constitutions  Article 25   states that all persons are “equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right to freely profess, practice and propagate (their) religion”. But if there is a popular and justified demand for a religious activity, “a practical officer should facilitate it because it fundamental right to pray”. What is expected of the state-administration is to provide safety, security in the practice of one’s religion. At the same time to ensure that practice of one community does not come to intimidate and oppress the other. The practice has to be peaceful and aimed at preserving harmony. The places for Friday Namaz can easily be permitted as it is an activity lasting hardly lesser than half an hour.

In one of the recent judgment the Supreme Court Recently, the Supreme Court gave the verdict that there is no need to revisit a 1994 HC judgment which held that “(Mosque) is not an essential part of the practice of the religion of Islam and namaz (prayer) by Muslims can be offered anywhere,  even  in open.” So we are double bind. The Court recognizes the prayers in the open ground and the state administration is presenting the Namaz prayers as being a source of disharmony.

 At yet another level we see so many of RSS shakhas in public places. These are not religious activities; here the shakha baudhhiks do spread Hindu nationalist ideology. We need to propagate the message of harmony to all the communities. The freedom of religion, the right to prayer is part of civic values, which are part of our Constitution. We need to promote peace and amity and uphold the core values of freedom of religion for all the communities.

(Published on 7th January 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 02)