Moradabad Namaz Row: Fear, Restrictions, and an Expunged FIR
What was the case? Why is there rising apprehension in a small village in western UP? Here’s what we found out.
Video Editor: Purnendu Pritam
Camera: Ribhu Chatterjee, Parth Goel
The national limelight fell briefly on a small village by the name of Dulhepur in Uttar Pradesh’s Moradabad, when a First Information Report (FIR) was registered on 24 August against 26 men for allegedly offering “collective namaz in public.”
However, a viral video, which was shot on Friday, 3 June, showed that the men were actually offering namaz at someone’s private residence, in a chabutra, where buffaloes were tied and dung cakes were piled up in a corner.
And though this is not the first-time protests have erupted against namaz, it was seemingly the first time that men were booked for offering namaz at home.
SSP Moradabad, Hemant Kutiyal, told The Quint that “the FIR had nothing to do with the video and it was mistakenly correlated by the media.”
Due to the said correlation, the FIR garnered condemnation from various sections of the society asking why it was wrong to offer prayers at home. Comparisons with practices from other religions were quick to surface as well.
On 30 August, the police expunged the FIR, saying that they didn’t find enough evidence of the complainant’s claims (namaz being offered in public). Notably, the chabutra is in public view, but it is a private property.
So, what was the case? Why is there rising apprehension in a small village? Here’s what we found out.
THE VIRAL VIDEO – A TIMELINE OF EVENTS
Wahid Ali, 38, was one of the men named in the FIR. Son of the former village pradhan, Ali is a respected man in the village and the owner of the house where the juma namaz was offered on 3 June.
Speaking to The Quint, Ali said, “We have been offering namaz since the 80s. Before that, our grandfather used to lead the prayer. I don’t know why they started having a problem with us. On 3 June, Station Officer (SO) Chhajlet visited us in the morning, and told us that there is a complaint against us saying that we are bringing in a new practice. We told them that we have no conflict with anyone, you ask the complainants. Then two-three youths, wearing red scarves, got up and said that they won’t allow us to read namaz collectively.”
“Later that day, when we offered namaz at 1 pm, our video was made and was made to go viral. The SO came again at 4 pm and told us that we are committing an offence. We were then asked to visit the SDM and explain our side. The next day, men from both the sides visited the SDM. When we visited him, CO madam Saloni Agrawal was with him. She right away ordered us that collective namaz will not be allowed.”Ali
On being asked whether they were doing something new, Ali denied.
“We have been doing this for ages. However, she asked us not to argue. We told her that we will follow their instructions. The SO told us that we should either reach a settlement or not offer the namaz. We were scared of a case being registered on us so we stopped. When we reached back, we tried discussing it with the other side but they did not engage with us.”
Ali told The Quint that surety was then taken from both the sides in the presence of the police to make sure that the communal harmony is not spoilt. They were also told that justice will be done and that they need not worry.
However, nearly two months after the temporary agreement in the village, after the video went viral, the complaint was turned into an FIR.
Ali said, “On 26 August, through Dainik Jagran newspaper, we find out that an FIR has been registered against us. We reached out to the SO. We told them that the video is from 3 June and not from 24 august. Police officials have been present outside our house since June, so how could have we offered namaz?”
The Quint also spoke to other locals aware of the matter.
Omraj Singh Hari, a 45-year-old farmer, said, “Everything was peaceful, but then the Muslim side started reading namaz together at the baithak. A complaint was filed on this. If another religion starts a new practice, then tensions could rise in the village, which no one wants.”
He claimed that namaz was not offered together earlier.
“They did not misbehave or anything like that but we have apprehension of this new practice. If they get together today, what is stopping them from installing loudspeakers, or building a mosque? There were also some people who, on being told to stop, said that they won’t and that we can try to stop them,” Hari added.
On being asked about the expunged FIR, Hari said that it is good that “no one from our village went to jail, but the administration has to see why they registered the FIR in the first place and then removed it.”
Ali, who is treated as a mukhiya in the village, said that two-three youths have a problem with him since he has scolded them on occasions when they caused some trouble in the village. He also said that “these youths have recently joined Bajrang Dal and want to show their power and show that we are nothing.”
However, Hari Singh refuted this allegation.
“There is no personal enmity. This dispute has no involvement of Bajrang Dal or VHP. There is no such involvement in our village,” he added.
The Quint enquired from SSP Moradabad Kutiyal if there was involvement of any right-wing organisation but could not get an answer.
Stating his views, Dinesh Kumar, an 18-year-old student, said, “When 10-20 people offered namaz together, we said that they should do it at their homes. If they want to ready collectively, they should go to the masjid.”
Notably, there is no mosque in the village. Moreover, juma namaz is led by someone who has knowledge of Islamic practices. Ali said that this is why they have to offer prayers together.
PAST UNITY IN THE VILLAGE
Speaking on the communal harmony that has so far existed in Dulhepur, Hari Singh said, “We just want peace, like before. Our village is small.”
Further speaking on Ali and others with him, Singh said, “The village respects them a lot. No development would have happened without them. It’s unfortunate that this dispute has happened. We are a very united village.”
Ali, who confirmed the peaceful environment of the village, said, “We (complainants and us) used to sit together. On Eid we used to have sewaiyaan together. We used to even share beedis, gutka together. There was no communal tension here and neither will we let anything happen further.”
POLICE’S U-TURN ON THE FIR
“The police are supposed to file the FIR when there is a complaint,” SSP Moradabad Hemant Kutiyal answered on being asked why the FIR was registered in the first place.
The Quint then asked why it was wrong to offer namaz in a private residence. To this, Kutiyal explained, “The FIR has nothing to do with the viral video. Tensions have been rising over this. However, when we investigated, we found out that their claims were baseless and so we expunged the FIR. We investigate based on facts and as per law.”
Notably, collective namaz has not been offered since 3 June, and hence “peace” has been maintained. Ali said that they will speak to the administration and try to get their age-old practice started once again.
However, the question that still remains is why, even in a small village, where the population proportion of the two sides is similar, fear of the other is on the rise.
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