Members of the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) harassed Muslim pilgrims in Uttar Pradesh's Shahajanapur and sent them to the local police station for allegedly offering namaz on the roadside.
The incident took place on 11 September but came to light after videos surfaced on social media on 13 September. The group from West Bengal was on its way to Rajasthan’s Ajmer Sharif.
The travellers were made to apologise and a couple of them were compelled to hold their ears and do sit-ups, the video further revealed.
"Eighteen people who were on their way to Ajmer were brought to the Tilhar police station on Sunday night on a complaint that they were offering namaz on the roadside," Additional Superintendent of Police Sanjeev Vajpayee told news agency PTI.
"They were released after tendering an apology in writing and being issued a challan," he added.
The pilgrims had stopped their bus at a roadside eatery where the VHP men confronted the travellers and accused them of breaking the law.
The police fined the driver for carrying excess passengers and allowed the bus to leave thereafter.
Meanwhile, local VHP leader Rajesh Awasthi, who reported the matter to police, said, that he warned the Muslim pilgrims that they were in Yogi Adityanath-ruled Uttar Pradesh, where offering "namaz in the open is prohibited."
Not an Isolated Incident
This is however, not an isolated incident.
Besides Lucknow's Lulu Mall Namaz controversy that happened in July , a First Information Report (FIR) was registered as recently as on 24 August against 26 men for allegedly offering “collective namaz" in public.
The FIR was later expunged when it was revealed that the men were offering namaz at someone's private residence.
In another case, police launched a probe against a group in Prayagraj on 22 July for offering namaz at the railway station. Superintendent of Police (Railways) Siddharth Shankar Meena had said that a "probe has been started into the matter and action will be taken according to the facts that will come out in the investigation."
Lulu Mall Controversy
In July, Uttar Pradesh Police lodged an FIR against a group of unidentified men who allegedly offered "unauthorised namaz" at the just-opened Lulu Mall in Lucknow.
Reacting to this, Hindutva groups sought permission to recite the Hanuman Chalisa there.
Six Muslim men, who were later released on bail, were arrested in connection with the case, after Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath directed the administration to act tough against elements “hell-bent on vitiating the atmosphere” in the state.
However, later CCTV footage shared by the Lulu Mall management revealed that the group of men were in the mall just to pray and film it.
Footage showed eight men entering the mall and going straight to pray. First, they went to the basement, then to the ground floor followed by the first floor but were stopped by the security guards.
On the second floor, six of them started praying while the other two were busy recording videos and taking photographs, the CCTV footage showed.
These men completed the prayer in 18 seconds flat.
After offering a 'hurried' namaz and filming it, they left the mall without any attempt to linger around.
Additional Deputy Commissioner of Police (South) Rajesh Kumar Shrivastava, who saw the footage said that the men had no clue about how namaz is offered.
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