In the diverse culture of our country, it has been a policy to accommodate multiple religious beliefs. As India rapidly transforms – its public places have become the testing grounds for its famed multiculturalism – as to what is acceptable and unacceptable public behavior.
But in what can be termed as a colonial diktat, a Station House Officer of the Noida police issued a circular informing multinational companies in Sector-58 to ensure that their employees do not offer Friday prayers in a community park. The notice forewarns the companies that they will be held liable for any violation by their employees.
The circular is an outrageous violation of every law of the land. After the notice created a furore the administration went into damage-control mode and said that the notice is not religion specific.
As per reports the Friday prayer in the said mosque was being conducted for years and had never ever caused any law and order problem. The only reason that the park was being used for prayer is that with an increasing number of offices, the community mosque is space-starved.
On one hand, the Supreme Court says that Namaz can be offered in open and Mosque is not an essential part of Islam on other hand the SHO of Sector 58 P.S. states that a company will be criminally liable if its Muslim employee offer Prayer in a community park.
For a resident of Noida, a casual observation might reveal that every morning the parks are filled with people swearing allegiance to a saffron flag and taking an oath to transform our Secular Socialist Republic into a theocratic Hindu State. Interestingly enough, the Police do not consider this to be a threat to law and order but a Friday namaz is considered so.
The circular that Noida police issued is by its very nature communal and blatant misuse of police power. It mentions only Muslim employees. It does not prohibit a Hindu employee from offering prayer. In fact, there is no law in India that prevents a peaceful gathering in a public park. The SHO had not invoked section 144 of CrPC that prevents a gathering of more than 5 persons and even the same cannot be religion specific.
The circular introduces vicarious liability in Criminal law. Vicarious liability is an exception in Criminal law. A company cannot be prosecuted for a crime of its employee and in the present case by offering prayer, a crime is not even being committed.
In the larger picture, this move is an attempt to further discourage employment of Muslims which is already abysmally low, by placing vicarious criminal liability on the company.
A secular nation should not encourage public display of religion but the operation of Secularism cannot be partisan. If Police allow, nay promotes, religious activities of one religion, it cannot misuse its power to prevent another religious group from performing its mandatory religious obligations. In 2000, the then BJP led UP government passed a controversial Regulation of Public Religious Buildings and Places Bill restricting construction of mosques. Even today, getting permission to construct a mosque in UP is way more difficult than getting permission for a gun license.
This circular highlights a general policy of discrimination against Muslims that is being practiced by the State government. It showcases the brazenness in declaring the country’s largest minority – second class citizens. It also highlights the problem of Police Raj which appears to be visibly anti-Muslim and considers even a peaceful congregation of Muslims as a problem to law and order. This presumption is based only on prejudice and does not derive its authority from factual data.
There is no doubt that public areas are cornerstones of urban life and hence should not be used for religious activity that might be detrimental to public safety and health hazards. However, rules need to be the same for all religions. A state cannot prosecute people for offering Namaz while the same rules are ignored and even flouted during Ganeshotsav or Dusshera.
The constitution provides an equal right for profession and propagation of all religions without discrimination. The diktat of the SHO is in contravention of law and is a misuse of the authority vested in the office.
Hastily drafted circulars such as these will add to the burden of the test of India’s already threatened multiculturalism. The turmoil and unease is a reflection of powerful headwinds, especially in places with a significant number of Muslim populations congregate be it the Bhopal Ijtama or the Friday prayers. The Muslim community is not even asking for specific places to be designated to pray but for the right to pray and the guarantee to profess their faith within the guarantees of the Constitution of India.
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