Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar’s advice to Muslims of his State to offer namaz (salah) at places specifically designated for the purpose like mosques and Idgahs rather than open fields and roadsides is welcome. However, partly valid questions have been raised as to why similar restrictions are not imposed on Hindu practices. The questions are only partly valid because no province of India has witnessed police discrimination in treating the annual pilgrimage of the Kanwariyas and the yearly Muharram tazias. When the complaint is about noise, local governments in India look the other way, be it an arbitrary jagaran late in the night, an organised namaz five times a day or a shabad kirtan in the neighbourhood gurudwara round the clock. The peculiarly secular India thus treats faiths with equanimity, apathetic to the excesses of all, even when the religious practices throw routine city life out of gear. The differentiator here is why hitherto empty plots of land have been suddenly discovered as places of mass prayers. And then these Friday congregations turn into a daily affair. This indicates a motive to throw the weight of a community around, intimidating citizens of other faiths while underscoring the presence of one. It is judicious on the part of any administration to nip the problem in the bud before the deliberately begun practice runs long enough to be passed off as a ‘culture’, which the state must grin and bear with.
As more and more parks meant for sporting activities, recreation and relaxation of children, youth and the elderly turn into virtual idgahs, the discomfiture they cause to the residents lead to a decline in the real estate value of the neighbourhood, as the inconvenienced gradually sell off their houses, shops and offices in the area to settle in relatively eventless environs. These localities with altered demographics are then identified for vote-banking. That brand of politics has not helped the Muslim citizens of the country in the least. Such areas finally turn into pockets where basic amenities and infrastructure reach the last or do not reach at all. Consider the living conditions of Okhla Gaon, Jamia Nagar, Timarpur, Usmanpur, Seelampur, etc of Delhi. Sample Nagpada, Byculla, Mazgaon, Mahim, Bharat Nagar, Behrampada, Jogeshwari, Millat Nagar, Kurla, Sonapur-Bhandup, Govandi, Cheeta Camp and Kidwai Nagar of Mumbai. Think of Kidderpore, Metiabruz, Garden Reach, Park Circus, Ripon Street, Topsia, Pilkhana, Bhootbagan and Rajabazar of Kolkata. Haryana is no different. A comparison between Mewat and Gurgaon or that between Nuh and Rohtak is a case in point.
The problem is less with police indifference to processions, loudspeakers and even encroachment of land by permanent religious structures and more with the lack of political will to check the nuisance. The finer point as to what religious event is annual, weekly or daily is lost on the people, finally leading to subjective judgements on what faith is more benign. Government should be seen to be coming down heavily on all instances of transgressions by religions in town planning and a healthy urban life. India is not secular in practice less due to the absence of a uniform civil code and more due to the everyday menace of loud, overbearing and indulgent religions, which an average citizen must brave day in and day out while commuting between home and office. The States need no-nonsense chief ministers of the kind Narendra Modi used to be in Gujarat who dared to raze more than a hundred places of worship in one go in Surat in 2008, regardless of the religions those structures represented, because they were found to be violating different civic laws. When the chief executive of a State is seen to be so driven by conviction, people appreciate it, and there is no political price to be paid as a consequence. Not only ML Khattar of Haryana but also Mamata Banerjee of West Bengal may like to note.