Muslim worshipers under pressure in India


Published on: Amended:

Gurgaon (India) (AFP) – Dinesh Bharti walks on Fridays with other activists, heckling and harassing praying Muslims outside Gurgaon, the latest hotspot of sectarian tensions under India’s nationalist Hindu government.

Muslims praying in the open “are creating problems in the country and around the world,” said the stocky Hindu man in his forties, with a red tilak on his forehead designating him as a staunch member of the majority Indian religion.

The election of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014 emboldened extremist groups who view India as a Hindu nation and its Muslim minority of 200 million as potentially dangerous outsiders.

Gurgaon is a modern satellite city of the capital New Delhi. About 500,000 Muslims live there, have migrated to the region to work or work there during the day.

The city has 15 mosques for them, but the local government has refused permission to build more, even as the number of Hindu temples has increased.

This forced the community to hold Friday afternoon prayers – the most important of the week for Muslims – in open spaces.

In recent years, Hindu groups have sprayed cow dung on Islamic prayer sites and branded worshipers as terrorists and Pakistanis – referring to India’s predominantly Muslim neighbor and rival.

The election of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014 emboldened extremist groups who view India as a Hindu nation and its Muslim minority of 200 million as potentially dangerous foreigners Sajjad HUSSAIN AFP / File

The local government, meanwhile, has steadily reduced the number of approved outdoor worship sites.

‘No longer tolerated’

Earlier this month, the chief minister of Haryana state, a member of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata party, said open-air prayers in Gurgaon “will no longer be tolerated”.

Undermining their argument that religion can only be practiced indoors, Hindu groups celebrated last Friday by setting up a makeshift temple and community kitchen to feed hundreds as devotional music blared.


In recent years, Hindu groups have sprayed cow dung on Islamic prayer sites and branded worshipers as terrorists and Pakistanis - referring to India's predominantly Muslim neighbor and rival.
In recent years, Hindu groups have sprayed cow dung on Islamic prayer sites and branded worshipers as terrorists and Pakistanis – referring to India’s predominantly Muslim neighbor and rival. Sajjad HUSSAIN AFP / File

Across the city, hundreds of Muslims lined up to take turns at one of the six places of prayer still available.

At another site, Muslims were heckled and forced to chant slogans such as “Hail Lord Ram” – a Hindu deity – which proliferated under Modi among his followers.

“If the government does not find a solution to the problem (…) it will become more complicated and more serious,” Sabir Qasmi, a Muslim cleric present at the prayer meeting, told AFP.

The line lasts for life

Modi is a longtime member of the hard-line Hindu nationalist group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

He was briefly excluded from the United States due to religious riots in Gujarat in 2002 while he was chief minister of state.

Since coming to power, a series of lynchings of Muslims by Hindu mobs for the purported protection of cows – a sacred animal to many Hindus – and other heinous crimes have sowed fear and despair in the community.

Several states have passed legislation criminalizing conversion to Christianity and Islam, including through marriage – or “love jihad” as it is called by supporters of the Hindu hard line.


Several states have passed legislation criminalizing conversion to Christianity and Islam, including through marriage - or "love jihad" as the Hindu hardliners call it
Several states have passed legislation criminalizing conversion to Christianity and Islam, including through marriage – or “loving jihad” as hardliners call it. Sajjad HUSSAIN AFP / File

This week, a video emerged of a recent rally of right-wing Hindu groups in which some delegates called for the killing of Muslims, according to reports.

Hindu protesters in Gurgaon say open-air prayers pose a “safety” risk, cause traffic problems and prevent children from playing cricket.

But critics say the real reason is simply that Muslims have no place in Modi’s intolerant new India, where Hindu fanatics dictate government policy.

Arati R. Jerath, a political commentator, said that there is a program to convert India from a pluralist and secular nation into a “Hindu country”.

“Whether it’s economic spaces or spaces for worship, or spaces for food and customs or anything with a Muslim identity, that’s going to be part of the project,” Jerath told AFP.

“It is not necessarily a government sponsored project, but certainly a project of supporters of this government, who (…) obtain the tacit support of the government.”

On Sunday, the head of a Hindu coordination group offered a solution: Muslims should convert.

“They will have their temples to pray and this (prayer) problem will end,” said Mahaveer Bhardwaj, president of Sanyukt Sangharsh Samiti.


Comments are closed.