The Shiv Sena has warned Muslim youth not to participate in festivities — particularly the dancing — during the nine days of Navratri.
“We may allow Muslims as onlookers, but on the dance floor, strictly not. That is forbidden in Hindu custom,” declared a statement in the party mouthpiece Saamna on Monday.
The statement was released by former Member of Parliament and Sena district chief Pradeep Jaiswal. Most dandiya-garba organisers in Aurangabad — a city of 2.5 million, 35 per cent Muslim — said they would ignore the declaration.
But Jaiswal is adamant. “How can you allow mutton-eating youth inside a temple during such a holy period?” he told HT, when asked to explain the logic of the ban.
“This is not the party’s stand, it is Jaiswal’s individual opinion,” Saamna executive editor and Member of Parliament Sanjay Raut said in Mumbai. “We are not against all Muslims, only against those who don’t love India and obey the laws of the country.”
Aurangabad deputy commissioner K.G. Patil told HT that the police could not interfere in the matter. “The events may be public in nature, but they are organised by private associations who may exercise discretion while admitting participants,” he said.
Only the Mahalaxmi temple and the Gujarati school in Aurangabad host the traditional Gujarati garba. Revellers arrive barefoot in ethnic costumes and dance to religious music. There are seldom non-Gujaratis here, let alone Muslims.
Muslims do, however, participate in the more modern disco-garba — now also called the digital garba — influenced heavily by Bollywood. The crowd is multi-religious, and it’s hard to find space to dance.
“We do try to do a quick screening right at the entrance gate of the garba ground, but it is not to set the Muslims apart from the Hindus,” said Nilesh Kapadia of the Gujarati Community Youth Forum, which encourages the traditional garba.
“It is just a way to keep out unwanted troublesome elements away from the area to give girls a sense of security.''
Kapadia said while he was particular that participants follow a “code of conduct” so religious sentiments were not offended, he would not count religion as a criterion for admission to the garbas.
The Sena's statement has surprised the city, coming soon after the city celebrated the 10-day-long Ganesh festival with enthusiastic Muslim participation. Jaiswal himself commands a following among Muslims.
However, observers “political compulsions” may be subsuming the personal relationships developed among Muslims by a man who in 1993 was Asia’s youngest Mayor. The Nationalist Congress Party has made inroads in Marathwada — at the Sena’s expense.
In later years, Jaiswal’s successor as mayor, Rashid Mamu, a devout Muslim, performed the aarti at Ganesh mandals. He was invited to the ceremony all over the town, with no objections from either Hindus or Muslims.
Mamu — on pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia — told HT on phone: “Jaiswal's statement is very disturbing.''
Another extremely popular figure at cultural fests is Imtiaz Jaleel, who always did the rounds of every garba ground in town.
“I enjoyed the garba, and it never occurred to me it was an exclusively Hindu festival,” said Jaleel, now a television reporter in Pune. It was “sad”, he mused, that the Sena was trying to push politics into religion through “a door that is meant to welcome people from other religions, not turn them away”.