Noida notice: Assault on freedom of worship or action against land encroachment?

A recent notice by the police administration to private companies situated around sector 58 of Noida, has caused much furore. The notice states that the companies would be held liable if their employees are found offering namaz at public grounds. This notice had to be served, after police received complaints about devotees occupying the public grounds for hours on Fridays.

Many have alleged this move of the administration to be targeting Muslims alone. Some even tried to project this as an assault on the right to worship of Muslims. So much so that BSP supremo Mayawati went to the extent of calling the notice “arbitrary and highly irresponsible.”

Amid the ongoing controversy, a recent ground report by Swarajya makes several shocking revelations about land encroachment that is going on in Noida from years, in the name of prayers.

From as early as 10 am or 11 am, carpets and chairs begin to be brought into the park, along with at least two water tankers. Other arrangements like loudspeakers are made. The namazis — an estimated 1,000-1,500 of them — begin arriving from 1 pm on foot, in cars and on two-wheelers; the vehicles are parked inside the ground. By 1.30 pm, the namaz starts. It is organised in batches, each session lasting around 15-20 minutes, the report reads.

A security guard posted in the building right opposite the park told Swarajya, “it doesn’t stop at that. A biryani seller also parks his thela [cart] here. It’s obviously good business for him. But this means the whole thing goes on till 3 pm to 4 pm at least. A lot of mess is left behind.”

The report, records the reactions of both, those in support and opposed to the move.
The local Hindus fear that the grounds where thousands of people are gathering on Fridays, would eventually get occupied and turned into some religious structure.

To justify their fears, the locals have cited several examples from their surrounding areas. These include “an illegal mosque in Gejha village, a street between Sector 8 and 9 that is used for Friday congregations, an under construction illegal mosque in Chhaprauli-Mangrauli villages, an under construction illegal mosque in Sector 78, an illegal mazar [tomb] at Sector 39 Shashikant Chowk, illegal mazars in Sector 99 and Sector 54 Khargosh Park, and a huge plot of land in Sector 62 green belt, where a big tomb has been constructed illegally”.

Here it must be noted that installing loudspeakers and other equipments is equal to temporary constriction. However a 2009 verdict by the Supreme Court, clearly forbids any religious construction at public places without due permission. Hence the move should been seen purely from a legal viewpoint. Recently, the administration also stopped a Hindu religious event that was taking place at a public place in Noida Sector 37, without due permission.

The report further says that a person in condition of anonymity alleged that the tomb situated in Sector 62 has been a matter of long dispute, because the place earlier housed a shrine of the Jaatav community. “They [Muslims] simply hijacked the plot. In 2014, the two communities came to blows. But the then Samajwadi dispensation sided with them,” the anonymous person said.

On the other hand Muslim community seems divided on the matter. While some have completely opposed the new move, others don’t have much problems but suggested that the administration is not as strict when it comes to right-wing orgnizations such as RSS or Bajrang Dal.