Noida district magistrate retracts namaaz diktat after backlash, says 'cos not liable for religious beliefs of employees'

After the Noida police on Tuesday issued a notice to companies telling them to keep their employees from praying namaz in public parks, the district administration got into a damage control mode and said on Wednesday that companies will not be held liable if their employees offer prayers at public parks in the city.

News18 quoted district magistrate BN Singh as saying: "Companies and business houses are not liable for employees' religious beliefs and prayers. The district administration will talk to the companies and clear their doubts."

Representational image. PTI

Representational image. PTI

When asked about the directive and why it was issued in the first place, Singh said that the people seeking to pray in the park did not have the relevant permissions, including that of the relevant land-owning agency. And since there was no issuance of a no objection certificate (NOC), permission was not granted.

Trying to mitigate the damage caused by the random order, Singh also told News18 that the directive was not designed for one particular community. Referring to a 2009 Supreme Court order which prohibited religious activities without the requisite go-ahead, he said: "This is applicable for all religions. This is not a mala fide directive; this is a bona fide process."

"If they had permission from police and authority, they would be allowed to continue such activity," he added.

District magistrate flip-flops on issue

Singh's statements are in stark contrast to the directive issued on Tuesday, where the police warned the companies that if their instructions are not followed, they will be "held accountable." The notice, issued by the police of Noida's Sector 58, also clarified that Muslim employees should be asked to offer Friday prayers in mosques or on the premises of the company.

The statement read: "Thus, it is expected from you that you at your level inform your Muslim employees to not come to the park to offer Namaaz. If employees of your company come to the park, it will be assumed that you have not informed your employees and your company will be held liable."

The man overseeing the weekly namaaz prayers in the park, Adil Rashid, also refuted Singh's claims that permission was not taken, and told CNN-News18 that he had filed a written request for the same five years ago.

"I gave the Noida administration a letter on 4 April, 2013. Weekly prayers have been going on since then, and nobody has objected until now," he said. He said that even Muslim policemen from the area came and offered prayers with them, and that the Noida administration has also gave water to those offering prayer in the park.

The stir that sparked the case

According to Rashid, a man came to him on 7 December, 2018 and "began arguing, saying that we do not have permission to pray here."

The man claimed he had shut down Islamic activities in other areas of Noida as well. “He said he had stopped namaaz in Sector 16 and he had gotten the loudspeakers taken down from Medina Masjid in Khoda colony as well. He made a video of us and said he would make it viral. He was trying to show us in a bad light,” Rashid said.

He was allegedly from the Bajrang Dal, News18 reported.

As per the report, Rashid wrote to Singh's office as well as the Noida police, seeking permission to pray and for security. Nauman Akhtar, the imam who presided over the prayers since February 2013, also signed the letter.

Police came to the park on 14 December and asked them to stop praying. Akhtar and Rashid were also detained by sector police after they were called for a discussion on 18 December.

A disagreement followed, after which Rashid was arrested under Section 151 of the Indian Penal Code, the report said. He was held for continuing an assembly of five or more persons after it has been commanded to disperse. He was granted bail on 22 December.

Meanwhile, according to sources, a complaint was filed on 16 December in the Noida Sector-58 police station by residents of nearby villages against the practice of people gathering in large numbers to offer Friday prayers. The complaint was signed by eight people named: Veer Singh Nagar, Billu Nagar, Purushottam Nagar, Kuldeep Tanwar, Harinder Nagar, Trilok Nagar, Charan Singh Nagar and Sanjay Gupta and addressed to the SHO, Pankaj Rai, who had issued the directives on Tuesday.

The complaint filed in the Noida Sector-58 police station. Image courtesy: Ravishankar Singh

The complaint filed in the Noida Sector-58 police station. Image courtesy: Ravishankar Singh

'Where do we go?'

The park in Noida's Sector 58 is surrounded by tech firms and garment factories. All employees of businesses in the area get a half an hour break at 1 pm every day, during which the Muslim employees go to the park to pray. They get an additional 15 minutes to pray every Friday.

However, following Tuesday's directive, Muslims who live and work in Sectors 57, 58, 59 and 60 of Noida have been left without a place to pray. There is no mosque close enough for the employees to go back to work in time.

"There is no mosque in a five-kilometre radius; the park was the only place for us. Now where do we go?" News18 quoted Ehsaan Alam, one of the people who offers prayers with Rashid, as saying. Alam works at a garment factory in Sector 58 and has been praying at the park for five years.

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Updated Date: Dec 26, 2018 20:37:32 IST

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