Gurugram, 19 November: From as early as 10 am, mediapersons began streaming into Gurudwara Shri Guru Singh Sabha in Sadar Bazar area of Gurugram.
Two days earlier, the gurudwara committee president Sherdil Singh Sandhu had announced in the media that Muslims were welcome in the gurudwara premises to offer group prayers on Fridays.
The offer made international headlines as residents and Hindu groups in Haryana’s Gurugram district have been obstructing group namaz on Fridays in open spaces.
They have been calling it "encroachment of public land" and demanding that such prayers be held in mosques or closed spaces only.
The gurudwara is located in the busy Sadar Bazar market that sees heavy traffic. There is little space to park vehicles.
On 19 November, the gurudwara was jam-packed and the road outside was choked on account of Gurpurab — one of the most important festivals of Sikhs as it marks the birthday of Guru Nanak.
Much to the disappointment of camerapersons, no namazis were in sight. As the day progressed, it became clear that Muslims would not be offering prayers inside the gurudwara.
Sandhu and the gurudwara management had made a U-turn on the offer.
Two days after telling the media that he was inviting Muslims for group namaz in the gurudwara premises to “save the country”, Sherdil Singh Sandhu now told them that ‘his intention was not to offer space in gurudwaras to Muslims’.
“This is not possible in any way,” Hindustan Times quoted him as saying.
“We have clarified to Muslims that we cannot give them space,” The Times of India quoted him as saying. Sandhu told the newspaper that his statement was opposed by other sabha (gurudwara committee) members.
This correspondent could not reach Sandhu, but met other committee members. One of them, who did not wish to be quoted, said: “we will be sending out a press release soon”, and affirmed that Sandhu’s proposal was merely “his personal opinion”.
Members of a Sikh organisation called Jhatka Certification Authority had come from New Delhi to talk to the management.
When the men came out of the meeting room, they told a few mediapersons present that it had been mutually decided that the “maryada” (honour) of the gurudwara will not be violated.
Ravi Ranjan Singh, chairman of the organisation, told this correspondent that while no one is prohibited from entering the gurudwara irrespective of religion, caste and creed, namaz inside the premises is an entirely different issue.
“The management has assured us that the maryada will not be violated…Everyone is welcome inside as long as he or she is within the gurudwara maryada,” Ravi Ranjan, flanked by two men, said.
Amid religious activities such as kirtan, and partaking of langar and prasad, several devotees this correspondent spoke to, rubbished the offer of gurudwara space to namazis.
Joginder Singh, who had travelled about 30 minutes to reach the gurudwara from his residence by car, said the place was meant only for Gurbani (recital of Sikh holy text, Guru Granth Sahib).
Singh politely turned down the request to click a picture, saying he had trimmed his beard and thus was not in proper ‘Sikh maryada’.
Gagandeep Singh, a man in his 20s, said the matter had been “resolved” and there was no need to comment on the offer anymore.
A woman, Prabhjot Kaur, said though she did not know about any such offer as she had not been following the news, she did not understand why anyone would make such an offer.
“Then what are mosques for?” she calmly said.
A sewadar at the gurudwara gate, who was helping distribute free water bottles to devotees, said that he failed to understand why would namazis offer prayers inside the gurudwara when there was a mosque nearby.
The Sadar Bazar Jama Masjid, as it is called, is walking distance from the gurudwara.
The controversy over namaz in Gurugram began in 2018 and continues till date.
Hindu outfits, supported in their demands by residents in several localities, have publicly declared their intention that they would not allow group namaz on Fridays on any public land.
The Friday prayer is one of the most important weekly ritual of Muslims around the world as it is believed that Quran has mentioned Friday as the ‘day of congregation’.
While women are prohibited from such congregations (a fatwa by Darul Uloom Deoband says “jamah is not for women” and “it is better for women to offer salah in their homes”), Muslim men gather in mosques or at their workplaces.
In recent times, such congregations held in public parks, roads and railway tracks have triggered outrage from commuters, residents and Hindu outfits.
In communally sensitive areas, there is often heavy police deployment outside mosques on Fridays.
In 2018, residents of Wazirabad village under sector 53 opposed ‘encroachment’ of vacant public land when hundreds of Muslims began gathering at a spot on Fridays. Residents were soon joined by Hindu groups.
On one occasion, a group of half-a-dozen activists disrupted the prayers, demanding that namazis go to a mosque instead.
The police arrested the activists, who later got bail.
When Muslims gathered at the spot the next week amid police deployment, residents declared that they would begin organising havan at the spot from then on.
The Haryana government then put up a board that the property belonged to the government. The Friday prayers at the site then stopped.
After this “success”, activists formed an outfit to stop all such congregations on public land. They called themselves Samyukt Hindu Sangharsh Samiti.
A member of the outfit, who introduces himself as ‘Amit Hindu’, told this correspondent on 19 November that the outfit had “succeeded” in bringing “more than 100 such congregations down to less than 20”.
“Even these 20 will be eventually stopped. Gurugram will not see even one Friday congregation on public land,” he said.
He said that the outfit‘s slogan was — “Khule mein namaz band karo”.
This correspondent met Amit at a vacant plot overlooking a busy traffic route in sector 12A, which residents and activists had covered with cow dung cakes last week. They had also announced in the media that they would be building a volleyball court for children to play.
The route is lined with furniture and automobile repair shops, many of them run by Muslims. However, no shop owner or manager agreed to give a statement or get photographed. One Mohammad Firoz bitterly asked, “Do you think this [namaz] should even be an issue?”
The plot in question is currently a dump for furniture shops. A part of it is used for parking. There was significant police deployment here on 19 November, with more than 10 women cops.
“We are here because protesters include women,” a woman cop said.
Pramila Chahar, whose house is a two-minute walk from the plot, said she was supporting the outfit because she had been “illegally detained” two weeks earlier for merely being a spectator.
“I had come to the spot to see what was happening. But the police took me to the police station as they were picking up all Hindus from the spot, just so that Muslims were not interrupted.”
“There was no woman police officer. The men grabbed us, held us inappropriately and pushed us inside their vehicle as if we were criminals. When asked, they asked ‘upar se order hain’ (we have orders from above). It was then and there that I decided that I will not stop till we catch this uparwala who is giving orders to arrest Hindus for no reason,” she said.
A resident, Himanshu Agarwal, who was also sitting with the group, said that “it is not very difficult to understand that namaz should be read inside mosques”.
When asked about the plan of the volleyball court, Amit and Himanshu said that they had arranged for a truck full of sand, but the local administration had halted the transportation citing prohibitions due to pollution.
“We will get the court built here, but that’s besides the point. The issue is that this space cannot be used for religious purposes by any one community. Muslims are not prohibited here. Any Muslim child can come here and play cricket,” said Amit.
He said that he was one of the persons arrested during the Wazirabad protest and has been a regular at the police station since then.
While Himashu said he was a trader by profession, Amit said he was a full-time Hindu activist.
“What do I do, you ask? Well, I save dharma. My whole is about that,” he said.
When asked about his motive, Himanshu said he was "saving Gurugram".
Policemen deployed at the spot declined to speak. Vendors at the plot declined to speak too, saying they knew nothing about the issue.
At sector 47, where residents have been staging aggressive protests against congregations in a public park, and even entering into heated spats with the police, paramilitary forces were deployed on 19 November.
No protester or namazi, however, was seen at the spot.
Swati Goel Sharma is a senior editor at Swarajya. She tweets at @swati_gs.
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