14–09–2018, Mumbai, India: I’m not afraid of Gurgaon, I just don’t want to be there.
Good Morning Everyone. It’s the Friday Post on a calm Friday morning. I, on the other hand, am not quite. Work took me to Gurgaon (now Gurugram) this week. A part of the National Capital Region, Gurgaon is a satellite town of Delhi. In the 1970s, Maruti set up a factory here and kickstarted the city’s journey towards prosperity. Today, it is home to a large number of MNCs and Indian firms. It is also a hub for IT and analytics companies. Gurgaon regularly features in the news for its crimes, especially those that take place against women. Today’s piece is neither about its economic prosperity nor about the crimes against women that take place here; today’s piece is about how Gurgaon makes me feel unsafe as an Indian Muslim.
Why Gurgaon is tough for Muslims
Two dark days and a generalisation
Gurgaon as a city scares me. As I mentioned earlier, it is considered unsafe for women because a large number of incidents of assault or harassment of women are reported from here. It is also a city that I now consider unsafe for Muslims. Recently, two incidents occurred which made me feel this way — Muslims offering their Friday prayers in an open ground were attacked on the 20th of April in one incident and a Muslim youth was attacked and his beard shaved off in another incident on the 31st July.
Am I generalising in haste? Maybe.
Two incidents might be too small a sample size to call a city unsafe for an entire segment of the population. So I guess I will let my initial reaction subside for the sake of statistics. Instead, I will talk about why Muslims pray in the open and why this is a bigger nuisance for us than it is for others for whatever inconceivable reason they may consider it one.
The Muslim Prayer and Friday
Muslims are required by Islamic law to pray five times a day. A large number of Muslims don’t. Reasons could be numerous but we are not concerned about them for the purpose of this piece. Friday is considered a special day in Islam and the afternoon prayer on Friday is considered full of blessings and very special. Hence, many Muslims who don’t pray regularly try not to miss at least the Friday prayers.
Regular daily prayers, though advised in a mosque, can also be offered in our homes or other convenient places. However, for the Friday prayers, there has to a congregation of people praying. Else, the prayer is not considered a Friday prayer. Hence, there is a time and a place allotted for people to gather so that they can fulfil an element of their faith.
These beliefs lead to the number of people in a Friday prayer swelling way beyond that in regular prayers. In cities without an adequate number of mosques, this leads to people having to pray in grounds and open spaces. Quite often, even mosques do not have the capacity to sustain the number of devotees and hence we have to line up along roadsides to pray.
The Case with Gurgaon
The case with Gurgaon is a special one. For a city so vast, it has only 22 mosques. These combined would have a capacity close to 10,000 only. The largest of these is entangled in legal disputes and the authorities seem to be in no mood to allow new mosques to come up. In such a scenario, these open spaces come as relief. At least one can pray in such a place and return to their daily life. However, with the growing threats posed by some groups and their implicit endorsement by the chief minister of Haryana, it seems Muslims might have to face a lot of trouble in fulfilling such basic obligations of theirs in their country.
It’s not easy you know
The “Ground” Reality
While the growing cacophony around this subject would have you believe that Muslims are praying in the open to encroach government property and they enjoy this apparent show of strength, the truth is very different. The truth is that praying in the open is not easy or desirable. Many people have to leave their comfortable working places and sometimes skip lunch in order to pray on Friday. Quite often, there is not enough water to perform one’s ablutions before prayers. There is a paucity of prayer mats which means we often end up standing on a thin plastic sheet on a ground hot enough to burn the soles of our feet. None of this, I repeat, none of this is pleasant.
It is not fun to pray in the sweltering heat on a dusty piece of land or on the side of a road with a thin piece of plastic spread beneath your feet. It is not fun to travel miles before reaching an excuse of a praying space which has almost always not enough space. It is not fun to rush back to our offices or workplaces and also miss maybe our lunches. Yet, we do it and it’s a personal choice. We do not ask for any special favours to be bestowed on us for this.
Questions, Questions, and Islamophobia
This becomes a bigger problem when people start coming to beat you up while you’re trying to pray with all the above problems already weighing you down. The general objections people raise to us praying in such places is that why should we be allowed to pray in the open. My question is why not? What disservice does it do to anyone if a place that is lying waste gets used for an hour a week? The answer that we get in return is that it is just a method of land encroachment and this is how Muslims spread their religion. I really don’t know how to answer this except calling it Islamophobia.
The Tales of a few Cities
When I compare this with Calcutta, Hyderabad, and Mumbai, I realise the difference. To pray in Gurgaon, I travel 6–7 kilometres and have to squeeze in between a sea of humanity on a dusty ground or someone’s mat. (In adversity, people share — most locals bring mats from their homes and try and accommodate as many people as they can.) Now, they do it constantly under the risk that someone might attack them. In Mumbai, there’s a Lord Ganesh idol and gate dedicated to him right outside the entrance to the mosque I pray in. In Hyderabad, there was a Lord Shiv temple 10 metres away from our mosque. People never felt threatened or scared by one another.
I really don’t know if this comes across as a rant. More importantly, I don’t care today. It’s something that has been bearing on my mind for some time now and I just wanted to say it. I have. I don’t feel any better. I hope I do. I hope things get better too. Till then, live long and prosper!
The author is a routine Engineer-MBA with a nine-to-undefined job and lives under the illusion that he can write. He also blogs here.