Noida namaz row: Muslim workers say park was a convenient place to offer prayers
Noida Muslim employees working at offices in Noida’s Sector 58 on Tuesday said it was convenience that led them to offer namaz at a public park in the area.
Police had on Monday issued a notice to companies in the industrial hub, asking them to stop their Muslim employees from offering namaz at the park.
Even as the district magistrate and senior superintendent of police said the police’s move was not discriminatory towards any religion, the matter assumed a political twist with the Samajwadi Party alleging government officials were helping the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to create an atmosphere of divide and rule before the 2019 general elections.
On Monday, a letter written by Pankaj Rai, station house officer of the Sector 58 police station, to companies located in the sector surfaced. The letter said it was the responsibility of the companies to inform their Muslim employees not to offer namaz in the sector 58 public park, failing which they would be held “liable” for the violation.
Sector 58 is lined with offices of BPOs, IT firms and export-import companies where thousands of people work.
The workers said that for the past five years, the public park in the middle of Sector 58 is visited by over 300 men every afternoon to offer namaz. On Fridays, over 800 people turn up for the ‘juma ki namaz’.
“The nearest mosques from my office are in Khoda and Labour chowk. These are usually congested and to offer namaz, one has to climb on the rooftop. The namaz usually lasts for 15-30 minutes. But travelling to and from the mosque takes more than an hour’s time. No company allows this kind of break during work hours and so I had been offering namaz in the park, which saves time,” Taqweem Ahmed, a quality analyst in a firm, said.
Similarly, 41-year-old Sadre Alam, a native of Araria in Bihar, said there are risks in offering namaz in the congested masjid at Khoda in Ghaziabad.
“If 500 more people decide to offer namaz on the rooftop of the congested masjid, it can cause a stampede. The park has an open space where we can offer namaz peacefully,” Alam who works in a sewing factory said.
“We have been offering namaz here for the past two months but if the administration has asked us to not to, we have to respect the decision. It takes quite a lot of time to reach the masjid in Khoda and that is why we prefer the park,” Mohammad Naseem, a native of Bhagalpur in Bihar, who works in a sewing factory, said.
Political parties criticised the Noida Police letter. They said a dialogue with Muslim workers was needed instead of an obscure order.
“This is pure politicisation of the police and the administrative machinery and unfortunately, officials are helping the ruling party create an atmosphere of divide just before the 2019 general elections. The BJP has not done anything worthwhile in Noida when it comes to development. Therefore, they have resorted to such tactics with help of the police,” Surendra Singh Nagar, Member of Parliament, GB Nagar, said.
Responding to allegations of the discriminatory tone of the police notice, district magistrate BN Singh said, “I beg to differ because at the beginning of the notice, it has been stated that no permission has been granted by the administration to hold any sort of religious gathering.”