A Hindutva mob on Monday stopped Muslims in Uttarakhand’s Haldwani from offering namaz and attacked an Imam.
The disruption took place around 8.30 pm in Sarna Kothi, an area dominated by Hindus.
Zafar Siddique, a lawyer, told Scroll that around 50 to 60 men from Hindutva organisation Bajrang Dal disrupted Taraweeh – special Ramzan prayers held at night during which long portions of the Quran are read by the congregation.
Siddique, who owns the building where the prayers were being held, said that the mob slapped the Imam and assaulted another worshipper, who suffered injuries. “They tried to attack me as well but someone told them that I am a lawyer and then they backed off,” he said.
He claimed that police officials were present during the attack and accused the administration of supporting the mob, which was led by local Hindutva leader Mukesh Bhat.
Nanital Senior Superintendent of Police Pankaj Bhatt told Scroll that a case has been filed against those who opposed the prayers under Indian Penal Code Sections 147 (rioting), 323 (voluntarily causing hurt) and 506 (criminal intimidation) based on a complaint from Muslims.
“We have done medical [medico-legal formalities] of the injured and preserved the CCTV footage and further action will be taken accordingly,” Bhatt said.
A Haldwani resident said that after the news of the attack spread in the city, a crowd of Muslims gathered outside the police station and held a demonstration.
A day before the ruckus, the local police had called Siddique on the phone and said that the authorities had received complaints about the prayers. He was asked to meet the superintendent of police.
Subsequently, the city magistrate sealed three rooms of the building owned by Siddique, alleging that the structure is built on “nazul land”, Bhatt said.
Nazul land is a type of property whose ownership has reverted to the state (in instances such as an owner dying without any legal heirs), which it can then lease out.
But Siddique contested the claims, saying that Muslims in the locality have been holding prayers on the premises for the last 20 years. “The basement is a prayer hall where we have been holding namaz throughout the year,” the lawyer added.
Five years ago too, Siddique said, some people had objected to namaz but the police intervened and ensured that the prayers continued without any problems. He said that the authorities have allowed them to use one room for namaz.
Targeting Muslim prayers
Since the beginning of Ramzan last month, this is the fourth reported incident of namaz being stopped.
On March 24, a group of Bajrang Dal members had stormed the basement of a commercial building in Moradabad, where around two dozen Muslims had gathered for Taraweeh prayers. The mob was led by the group’s state president Rohan Saxena.
The Bajrang Dal filed a complaint after which the police asked the Muslims of the area to offer prayers in their homes or religious places, a police statement said.
The police also issued a notice to Zakir Hussain, who had organised the prayer meeting in his warehouse, asking why he should not be penalised with a fine of Rs 5 lakh “for disturbing the peace” in the area.
On the same day, residents of Ecociti Apartment in Noida’s Sector 137 called the police, objecting to namaz being held in the apartment complex. A team from the Sector 142 police station arrived and stopped the prayers.
On March 26, Muslims in Supertech Eco-village II apartment complex in Greater Noida could not offer namaz after around 60-70 Hindu residents opposed it. They claimed that “outsiders” praying at the society was a security risk.