By Syed Ali Mujtaba
Gurugram now is a bubbling Satellite City that continuously remains in news for denial to Muslims to offer Friday prayers in open space there. There are various layers of this problem that needs to be understood along with the changing dynamics of the place that has transformed itself into a millennium city.
Ever since the Delhi urban planners decided to develop Gurugram, a satellite city, the development work of the village called Gurgawan started with a breath neck pace. The frantic pace of development completely changed the face of this small town. There are a few things that started happening simultaneously. The property boom brought in real estate mafias when the landowners started selling their property to these real estate sharks. As a result, major construction work started taking place and suddenly Gurugram started dotting with high-rise buildings.
Another facet of Gurugram was that in spite of the richness of the local people they remain uneducated, unskilled with patriarchic makeup. Most of the youngsters remain jobless and survive on their sold properties. They remain idle and their minds became devils workshop. The sudden richness combined with money and politics changed the political outlook of the people. They started getting attracted to the militant ideology of the Hindu religion. Slowly they transformed Gurugram into a hotbed of Hindu religious fundamentalism. So the unprecedented urban growth of Gurugram brought in its wake many problems that are interrelated to each other.
Another facet of the gigantic development of Gurugram was that the real estate boom brought companies and companies brought in laborers. Most of the laborers came from the poor states of India, like West Bengal, Bihar, Orissa, and Assam, etc. The migration of the laborers which earlier was a trickle became an exodus due to the construction boom. Thousands migrated to Gurugram to eke out a living. The migrant laborers started living in tenements in the backyards of shopping malls, gated colonies, and private townships, etc. This urban feature was seen across the newly developed sectors of Gurugram.
Most of the people that lived there provided services to the residents. They worked as maids, cooks, drivers, security guards construction workers, ordinary laborers, etc. Almost 99 percent of maids and cooks who worked in the Hindu households in Gurugram are Bengali Muslims who go by Hindu names.
These migrant workers brought in their religion and that became a sore point in the developmental landscape of Gurugram. Many Hindus saw the utility of the migrant laborers but they refuse to accommodate their religion in the expanding space of the new city.
It’s estimated there could be more than 100,000 Muslims that are new settlers in Gurugram. The arrival of Muslim migrant laborers has changed the social dynamics of the place. The rising number of Muslim migrants left the native Hindus panicky. The religion of the migrant workers clashed with the Hindutva ideology with the neo bourgeoisie living in Gurugram. Some locals say that they can accommodate the workers but not their religion. Such petty prejudices are at the heart of the problem that remains buried under the cosmopolitan façade of the Gurugram?.
Gurugram being a Hindu-dominated society, when they see a large number of Muslims gathering to offer Friday afternoon prayers at the empty places becomes abnormally panicky. This makes the highly charged Hindu youth come out in open with communal intent to stop the Muslims from praying in the open space.
The level of communalism that prevails in Gurugram can be ascertained by the fact that an ‘All India Saints Council’ has built an army of 15,000 young boys who are trained to “to live for Hindus and to die for Hindus.” They are the ones who at a drop of a hat, are ready to outrage the religious feelings of the Muslims and with criminal intent disturb the Muslim worship praying in open.
There are many who ask the question, where is the cosmopolitan culture of an international city called Gurugram? How come a place that thrives on migrant workers has no place for them to perform their religious duties? Why the urban planners did not provide enough space for them to build Mosques so that they can call upon their religious obligations.
What’s apparent that the planners of the millennium city never had in mind for others while they were planning this megacity? The prime face they were building a place exclusively for Hindus and that’s very apparent. Hindu festivals are publicly celebrated; pujas and cultural performances are held in an organized manner. In comparison, there is no place for Muslims to perform their religious activities. This is quite in contrast to the cities developed in the gulf region where every religion is accommodated in the urban planning.
The urban planners who planned Gurugram never thought that there will be people other than Hindus who will occupy this place. They never planned for buildings places of worship to be used by other religions. If the town planners had left some space for the Muslims to construct their place of worship, this situation may have never developed.
It needs to be remembered that Muslims daily five times prayers can be performed anywhere but congregational prayers on Fridays have to be held together. They cannot forgo this idea as to its part of their religious testament.
In the case of Gurugram Muslim worshipers want to pray in the vicinity of their workplaces so that they can quickly return to their workplace. This is being denied to them. The district administration had earlier approved 73 public- sites for their congregational prayers; they later reduced it to 37. Further, they reduced it to 29, and now there is none.
This leaves Muslims to pray at the unfinished mosque in Sector 57 where even four shifts cannot accommodate them all. According to an estimate, there are about 50,000 Muslims that come out to pray every Friday, but there are no mosques that can accommodate them all.
Gurugram is home to 1.1 million people; and according to the 2011 census, less than 5 percent of them are Muslims. There are 22 mosques in Gurugram out of the ten are in the old city. These mosques are too far from the Muslim migrant laborers that live in the other end of the city. This makes them head for the nearest empty spaces like open grounds, parks, pavement, parking lots, to offer prayers. They want to pray there because they want to utilize their lunch break time and return to work quickly.
Muslim worshipers say that they are praying in the open not by choice but out of compulsion. There is no mosque near their vicinity where they can go and peacefully pray. Some are ready to purchase the land and construct their house of worship but they say the government has put the condition that a new mosque can be built only on the basis of the percentage of the Muslim population living in a particular area. This is religious discrimination and infringement of their fundamental right.
Muslims in Gurugram are seeking legal remedies to resolve the problem. What sounds to reason is that the government should understand the nature of the problem and assign some land where the Muslim community can build their place of worship. However, what appears the current stalemate is likely to continue, till the courts give the direction to resolve this problem?
Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org