Muslims who returned to Purola told not to hold Eid gatherings even at home
The communal flare up started with the attempt to abduct a minor girl on May 27.
Days after Muslim families of the Uttarakhand town of Purola began returning to their homes and opening their businesses — they fled in early June in the wake of threats from right-wing Hindu groups — they have been instructed by the same groups and also local market associations to not congregate for Eid ul-Zuha, even inside a home.
The festival falls on June 29.
The communal flare up started with the attempt to abduct a minor girl on May 27, but despite one of the two accused being Hindu and arrests being made the very next day, right-wing groups led a protest in Purola , identified (and marked) shops owned and leased by Muslims, and even vandalised some of the outlets. Over the following five days, more violence followed, and posters asking Muslim traders and families to leave began cropping up around town. The state government seemed to agree with the right-wing groups with the chief minister speaking about a conspiracy to occupy land. There was a plan to hold a Hindu mahapanchayat on June 15, which was then stayed by the Uttarakhand High Court, but most of the 40-45 Muslim families chose to leave, taking shelter with relatives in Dehradun or in parts of western Uttar Pradesh.
On Monday, HT reported that at least 20 families had chosen to return and resume their businesses. But on Wednesday, Virendra Rawat, working president of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) said that they had demanded that namaaz not happen, even inside the private confines of their homes, because it is “provocative” for them. Rawat said, “Our view is that namaz congregation shouldn’t happen even at home. We raised our objections at different forums. They [Muslims] have agreed to it. It is provocative for our community and can disturb the peace here. They have a hidden intention.”
66-year-old Balle Khan, who moved to Purola in 1978 from Uttar Pradesh’s Bijnor said that every year, he organises gatherings of between 70-80 locals in his home, to offer namaaz during Eid. This year however, the community has taken a collective decision to avoid conducting the prayers. Khan’s 40-year-old son Mohammed Ashraf said, “When a protest march was carried out by right-wing organisations on May 29, we heard that one of the reasons for targeting us was that we organise namaz gatherings during Eid festival at our home. The same objection was raised in a meeting with the district magistrate (DM) before the proposed mahapanchayat on June 15. That’s why we have decided not to organise gatherings at our homes this time.”
Another Muslim family, that did not want to be identified , said that the only reason they had agreed to do this was the fear of another outbreak of violence. “Even though we know no law restricts us from offering namaz inside our homes, we fear that it would trigger communal tension. We will become targets again. At the end of the day, we have to live here for the rest of life. We can’t take such a risk,” the man of the house said.
The market associations agree with the Hindu groups.
Brij Mohan Chauhan, president of Purola Vyapar Mandal, said, “Locals raised their voices against a gathering for namaz at Balle Khan’s house. When unidentified people come there to offer namaz, it can lead to any situation and threaten religious harmony.”
The episode shows that communal tensions are still simmering in Purola. The administration must redouble its efforts to safeguard the constitutional rights of all its citizens, bolster the law-and-order machinery and forestall any future efforts to drive a wedge between communities.
SMA Kazmi, Dehradun-based political analyst, said, “Article 25 of the Constitution guarantees freedom of religion to all persons in India. Why should anybody have a problem if anybody offers namaz within the walls of their house? It’s another attempt to pressurise Muslims living in Purola for decades (to leave) and a clear targeting of the community They have decided not to congregate for Eid namaz out of fear.”
The police insist that the decision was voluntary.
Ashok Chakravarty, Station House Officer (SHO) at Purola Police Station said, “We organised a peace meeting on Wednesday to ensure peace and harmony during Eid ul-Zuha. It was their (Muslims) own decision to not organise any gathering for Eid at home.”