A 'Heckler's Veto': No Legal Basis For Police Stopping A Muslim Man Praying With Friends & Family At His Godown In Uttar Pradesh

12 Apr 2023 9 min read  Share

When a Muslim man invited his relatives and neighbours for Taraweeh, a prayer offered in the holy month of Ramzan, a Hindu extremist filed a police complaint and a magistrate asked why action should not be taken against them for 'disturbing the peace'. Supreme Court advocate Shahrukh Alam explained why there was no legal ground for the complaint or show cause notice.

Rashtriya Bajrang Dal's Meerut zone chief Rohan Saxena addressing media on the night of 25 March 2023 about his objection to the Taraweeh being organised at Zakir Hussain's house in Moradabad/ SCREENGRAB FROM TWITTER

Delhi: On 26 March 2023, a video of Rashtriya Bajrang Dal’s Meerut zone chief Rohan Saxena, where he was heard opposing the Taraweeh namaz held at Zakir Hussain’s property in the Lajpat Nagar area of Moradabad city in western Uttar Pradesh, went viral on Twitter. 

“In the Lajpat Nagar near Rastogi inter college, there is a personal property of a man named Zakir, in which he called members of the Muslim community and established a new tradition by reading namaz. Locals and the workers of Rashtriya Bajrang Dal have together opposed this. We will not let any new tradition be established. We have maintained from the beginning that action should be taken against those who disrupt peace in the city. Not only in Lajpat Nagar, Moradabad or Uttar Pradesh, we will not let a new tradition be established in the whole country,” Saxena says in the video.

Taraweeh prayer is a special prayer Muslims perform in the month of Ramzan. After the “Isha” (Night) prayer, it can be performed at home, alone, in a congregation, or at a mosque.

Taraweeh prayers are not a new tradition.

They have been offered for 17 centuries and are especially meant for those not proficient in Arabic, said Rana Safvi, a writer with expertise in religious affairs. The reason Taraweeh prayers are offered together is that Muslims want to complete a full Quran during Ramzan. "One chapter a day is read by the imam, and the rest follow," said Safvi.

In the video, Saxena said, “Local police have done videography and interrogation on the spot. We have talked to them. FIR will be registered against those who have established new traditions. Rashtriya Bajrang Dal will hold protests.”

On 26 March 2023, the Uttar Pradesh police tweeted, “In Katghar police station’s Lajpat Nagar area, Zakir Iron Store’s owner Zakir Hussain had organized Taraweeh with 25-30 people at his godown on the third day of Ramzan on 25 March 2023. The local police reached the spot when they were informed of the protest by the locals of this Hindu majority/mixed population area. After completing the Taraweeh on 25 March in the police presence, directions were given to the people present to perform Taraweeh from now on at the designated religious places or at their own homes. House owner Zakir Hussain has submitted his written agreement to this. Local police are taking necessary preventive action keeping in mind the security.”

That same day, the court of additional city magistrate, Moradabad, issued a show cause notice under section 111 of the CrPC (Code of Criminal Procedure), 1973 to Zakir Hussain and nine others who were part of the Taraweeh asking them why they should not be ordered to execute a personal bond of Rs. 5 lakhs each with or without two sureties to maintain peace for six months under section 107 (security for keeping the peace in other cases) and 116 (inquiry as to truth of information) of the CrPC.

“Information was received that in Zakir Hussain’s godown some people were reading Taraweeh. In the surroundings some people can gather anytime and disturb the peace of the area. It is apprehensive that you might disturb peace and therefore in my opinion there are enough grounds to take action against you,” the notice said.


‘Who Will Disrupt The Peace?’ 

Calling it a “heckler’s veto”, Supreme Court advocate Shahrukh Alam said, “Some years ago, they would have come up with an explanation for such an action. But now the very act of reading namaz even inside someone’s own house might provoke people. The very existence (of Muslims) is provoking people.”

On the “peace disruption” argument used in the notice, Alam said, “Why is this notice served to Zakir Hussain? Who will disrupt peace? The other party will disrupt peace. But even that responsibility is fixed on Hussain. It’s like saying ‘please don’t do something that will make the other person do something wrong’. Earlier, this responsibility of the wrong done by someone else was fixed on women that they have provoked the perpetrators by their clothes or by mere existence.”

“The blame of violence has shifted from the actual perpetrators to apparently those who cause them to do violence,” said Alam.

Article 14 called the station house officer (SHO) of Katghar police station who said he could not speak on the matter and suggested trying the circle officer (CO). 

CO Katghar, Shailja Mishra, told us to talk with the SHO, adding, “Official statement has been given on this matter. I can’t talk so many times on this matter.”

When Article 14 called the senior superintendent of police (SSP) of Moradabad, Hemraj Meena, to ask why legal action was taken against Hussain, his public relations officer (PRO) asked us to contact the social media cell of police in Moradabad.

The social media cell told Article-14, “The action has been taken for disruption of peace under sections 107 and 116 of the CrPC. Both parties have been bound in this so that they don’t disrupt peace in the future.”

Advocate Alam asked, “Why were notices served to both parties in this case when one party is a bully, and the other was just reading Namaz inside his home? This action to disrupt peace should have been taken against only one party. It’s like when there is an eve teasing, and the girl is also scolded for going out after the evening along with the eve teasers.”


A Shrinking Space For Namaz

This is not the first occasion when the Uttar Pradesh police in Moradabad have taken action against people offering namaz inside homes. 

In August 2022, the police booked 26 Muslims for “assembling at the house of two locals without any notice and offering prayers” despite the “objections from neighbours belonging to another community”. 

An FIR was registered under section 505 (2) (statement conducting to public mischief) of Indian Penal Code, 1860  against 16 identified and 10 unidentified persons on the complaint of a local resident Chandra Pal Singh. Later, the police expunged the case as the allegations could not be proven.

Last month, residents objected to namaz being offered at one society in Greater Noida, and one in Noida. 

On 24 March 2023, in Supertech Ecociti in Noida sector 137, 8-10 people from the society stopped Taraweeh being performed at a small party hall on the first floor of the society. Police later came and asked the faithful to take permission for holding Taraweeh since Section 144 CrPC, prohibiting the gathering of four or more people, was in place in Gautam Buddh Nagar district during March for the festival season. 

In a second incident, which  took place at Supertech Eco Village-2 in Greater Noida on 27 March 2023, people from the society objected to Muslims coming from other societies to offer namaz in a vacant room on the third floor above the commercial market of the society. After the objection, Muslims decided not to offer namaz at this place, according to the police.

Advocate Alam called such arbitrary enforcement of section 144 CrPC "unconstitutional" and said, "Even when section 144 is in place, to my mind, it does not apply to qualified public places like a restaurant, mall, or a society. These people had taken permission from the society to read Taraweeh. You can't stop people from gathering at qualified public places. Are you also going to ask people not to eat in a group of more than five at a restaurant?"

A Different Narrative 

On 27 March 2023, SSP Meena said in a press release that the issue related to a property dispute and action had been taken against both sides.

“In Katghar police station’s area, people registered an objection that some people have invited people from outside in their home to read Taraweeh. When I sent the area’s officer then it was found that no such thing had happened. Later it was found that there was a dispute over the house in question, that’s why there was an issue there. For this, action has been taken against both sides. One person from one side has been bound by a Rs 20 lakhs bond. People from the other side have also been bound with a bond.”

Advocate Alam pointed out that this holds “no legal bearing at all” since, she said, “Zakir Hussain and others have been served show cause notice for disruption of peace by reading Taraweeh. When Taraweeh is mentioned in the show cause notice, they will have to respond to the magistrate about Taraweeh.”

This alleged property dispute was not mentioned in the show cause notice served to Hussain and nine others by the additional city magistrate, Moradabad. It only mentioned Taraweeh being performed at Hussain’s godown and an apprehension of disruption of peace by them.

Speaking to Article 14, Hussain said  the property where they were reading Taraweeh was his.

Sounding distressed, Hussain said that he had furnished the bond and did not want to comment any more on the matter.

The alleged property dispute was not mentioned by those protesting against Hussain. 


Protest Against Namaz 

Saxena, whose video objecting to Taraweeh being performed at Hussain’s godown went viral, said in the video that Hussain and other Muslims were reading namaz at Hussain’s “personal property”, and that was their objection.

Saxena's Facebook post from 25 March also said that "a man named Zakir invited 50-60 Muslims at his own home and established a new tradition by reading namaz, and if action is not taken against them then Rashtriya Bajrang Dal will get on streets for demonstrations for which only the administration will be responsible."

Speaking to Article 14, Saxena confirmed that the locals and Rashtriya Bajrang Dal gathered on 25 March to protest against the namaz

Recalling the events of that day, Saxena said, “Local people informed me that there is a namaz going on. When I went there, they were reading Taraweeh, and the police were already there. I told the police that this is a new tradition being established, and an FIR should be filed against those who are establishing this.”

When asked what problem the local people were facing that day, Saxena said, “The problem is that this is a new tradition. It (Taraweeh) should not be read. That’s it.”

On being asked what the problem is if people read namaz at home, Saxena said, “If namaz is being read in homes, then what is the need for mosques.”

“Whatever they were doing, it was related to their religion, and we asked the police to investigate and file FIR if necessary,” he said. 

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(Kaushik Raj is a freelance journalist and poet based in Delhi)