‘Where’ll I go?’: Muslims in India’s Gurugram under grip of fear, violence | Islamophobia News
Gurugram, India – The Anjuman Jama mosque in Gurugram’s Sector 57 is deserted. About 10 police officers stand in front of the concrete structure, which can host up to 450 worshippers but is now a mound of debris and ashes.
The mosque – one of the few places for Muslim worship in Gurugram, a predominantly Hindu suburb of India’s capital, New Delhi – came under attack on the night of July 31, allegedly by a Hindu far-right mob.
The assailants set the mosque ablaze and killed Mohammad Saad, a 22-year-old naib (deputy) imam who was inside at the time. The attack took place hours after deadly communal violence erupted in the neighbouring Nuh district in Haryana state.
Mohammad Faheem Kazmi, an interior designer who regularly prays at the torched mosque, said he was horrified.
“This attack was revenge for Nuh,” the 32-year-old, who has lived in the area since 2011, told Al Jazeera.
At least four people were killed, including two policemen, when a Hindu religious procession in Nuh that was organised by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Bajrang Dal, two Hindu far-right organisations aligned with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), turned violent.
According to media reports and Nuh residents, clashes ensued after some Muslim men stopped the religious procession and stones were thrown at the march.
Authorities in Haryana have deployed additional troops, imposed a curfew and suspended the internet in the wake of the unrest. But the measures did not stop Hindu mobs from attacking Muslim-owned shops, roadside eateries, properties and places of worship in Gurugram as well in nearby towns such as Sohna, residents said.
Shops in Gurugram’s Sector 70A and Sector 66 were torched on Tuesday evening, while Bajrang Dal members held a rally in Haryana’s Bahadurgarh city, shouting hateful slogans such as “Desh ke gaddaron ko, Goli maro salon ko” (“Shoot the traitors of our country”) – a chant that was widely used by BJP politicians against Muslims during the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protests in 2019 and 2020.
Speaking about the violence on Tuesday, Gurugram Police Commissioner Kala Ramachandran told Al Jazeera that “some kiosks were damaged in arson”.
“Prima facie [On the first impression] the men we rounded up were not linked to any particular group. However, an investigation is still under way,” she said.
The offices of companies such as Google and Deloitte are located just a few kilometres from the sites of violence in Gurugram, which has been given the moniker “millennium city” for attracting multinational corporations and hosting upmarket shopping centres.
The unrest in Haryana comes a month before global leaders are due to arrive in New Delhi for a Group of 20 (G20) summit. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has not commented on the violence that came a day after a railway security officer killed one of his colleagues and three Muslim passengers, in what is seen by many as a hate crime.
In recent weeks, Modi has also been criticised for staying silent on the weeks-long ethnic violence that has erupted in the northeastern state of Manipur, killing more than 130 people and forcing thousands to live in relief camps.
Haryana state Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar on Wednesday said a total of 116 people had been arrested in connection to the violence there.
“The conspirators [behind the clashes in Nuh] are being continuously identified,” he told reporters.
Khattar, who is from Modi’s BJP, did not comment on the imam’s killing. “Those found guilty will not be spared. We are committed to the safety of the public,” he said.
‘Happened in the presence of police’
But Shadab Anwar, the elder brother of the slain imam, Mohammad Saad, said he had little faith in the authorities, who have been accused of playing a partisan role in recent violence between Hindus and Muslims.
In 2020, police in New Delhi were accused of either doing little about or at times complying with violence that left 53 people dead, mostly Muslims.
Anwar said he had spoken to his brother half an hour before his killing. “He called me at 11:30pm saying the police were at the mosque and that there is nothing to be worried about,” he told Al Jazeera.
At about 2:30am, Anwar said he learned of the killing. “This happened in the presence of police,” he alleged, as he waited outside the mortuary to collect the body.
Police have arrested four Hindu men from the nearby village of Tigra over the attack on the mosque.
“The attackers tried to sever his head,” Anwar said. “There are some marks. He was shot, and there are also knife marks on his chest.”
His statements could not be independently verified.
Imran Qureshi, 43, who lives 100 metres (328 feet) away from the mosque, said he heard six gunshots at about 12:10am. “There was a mob of about 70 people outside the mosque, shouting slogans. I got scared,” he said, adding that he planned to relocate to a Muslim-majority area for safety.
Gurugram Police Commissioner Ramachandran told Al Jazeera the attack was carried out by an “armed mob”.
“Security has been strengthened around mosques,” she said. “We have met members of both communities and asked for restraint and cooperation.”
In recent years, members of Hindu far-right organisations have been protesting against Muslims offering Friday prayers in public spaces in Gurugram. Authorities have cancelled permits for most of the prayer sites, with the Anjuman Jama mosque being one of the few remaining places of worship left in the city.
About a month before he was killed, Saad had posted on social media: “Oh Allah, please make Hindustan [India] a place where Hindus and Muslims eat from the same plate.”
How the violence unfolded in Sohna
In Sohna town, nearly 30km (18.6 miles) south of the Anjuman Jama mosque, a stretch of shops belonging to Muslims in the town’s main road lay charred following the violence there on July 31.
Nearby, windows of homes were broken, vehicles burned and the streets littered with stones and bricks.
“The mob saw the names on the hoardings outside the shops and burned only those belonging to Muslims,” claimed Azad Khan, 47, a resident whose home was also pelted with stones.
Residents said a Hindu right-wing mob armed with pistols and rods had gathered in the area, which is home to some 200-250 Muslim families, at about 3:30pm that day.
“They were shouting ‘Jai Shri Ram’ [Hail Lord Ram] and saying ‘Jab mulle kate jayenge, Ram Ram chillayenge [Muslims will be slaughtered in the name of Ram],” Khan told Al Jazeera.
Jai Shri Ram has emerged as a war cry by Hindu far-right groups, who have been accused of lynching dozens of Muslims on the suspicion of cow smuggling since Modi came to power in 2014.
“I have five sons, all of whom used to sell fruits on carts across the street. The mob burned their carts and stole mangoes they had just brought to sell,” said resident Hamidan Begum, 60, adding that the financial damage was worth hundreds of dollars.
While reporting in Sector 70, Gurugram where several Muslim families had fled fearing assault by Bajrang Dal, Newslaundry journalist @anmolpritamND was threatened to leave the place and not to report. Was asked if was Hindu or a Muslim. @gurgaonpolicepic.twitter.com/IpS62HyvmO
— Mohammed Zubair (@zoo_bear) August 2, 2023
In the heart of Sohna town, the Shahi Jama mosque was also attacked.
Shamim Ahmed, 48, the mosque’s caretaker, said a crowd of 50-60 people came in with their faces covered, iron rods and firearms in their hands.
“I took the children into the room and locked it from the inside. I turned off the light and just kept holding the door,” he said.
The prayer hall of the mosque was vandalised and the window panes were broken while copies of the Quran were thrown on the floor.
Suhail Ahmed, Shamim’s son, told Al Jazeera that he called members of the minority Sikh community living nearby for help.
“As soon as we heard about the incident, we rushed to the mosque. At the time, the mob was firing. We went into the mosque to safeguard the children and family of the imam. The mob fled,” said Aman Singh, a 21-year-old Sikh.
Singh claimed that if the police had acted quicker, the Hindu mob would not have vandalised the mosque. A police squad has now been stationed there for protection.
Some 500 metres (1,640 feet) away from Shahi Jama mosque, two other mosques were also burned down by the Hindu mob on the same night, residents said.
“The only work left for Muslim activists in India is to count dead bodies, to crowdfund for rebuilding shattered and burned houses, to collect donations for employment for those who have been injured and to plead the police to file FIRs [police complaints],” said Sharjeel Usmani, a Muslim activist based in New Delhi.
Muslims of Nuh in fear
About 25km (15.5 miles) south of Sohna, residents in Nuh said they were afraid they might be targeted for the recent violence between Hindus and Muslims, which saw widespread damage to properties and vehicles.
Roads in the district have largely been deserted since the July 31 events, with only police jeeps patrolling.
Residents in Muradbas village said the police arrested about 17 Muslim men in connection with the violence.
Wakeel Sheikh, 49, said two of his nephews, Salim, 32, and Sajid, 26, were arrested in an early morning raid on August 1.
“They have not allowed us to meet our children,” he told Al Jazeera.
Sheikh said his nephews were both at home when the violence erupted. “They don’t have a criminal history,” he said.
Residents in the neighbouring village of Malab shared similar stories.
Shahid Hussain, 32, a lawyer by profession, claimed that police were arresting young Muslim men and falsely accusing them of violence.
“Today, two young men from my village were arrested. Everyone is terrified. No one is leaving their homes for fear of being arrested by the police,” he said.
“They should be arresting Monu Manesar, but instead they are arresting innocent Muslims,” he added, referring to a BD leader and cow vigilante who was accused of kidnapping, lynching, and then setting ablaze two Muslim men in Haryana in February.
Nuh Superintendent of Police Varun Singla did not respond to several requests for comment from Al Jazeera via phone and text regarding the allegations of arbitrary arrests of Muslims.
A total of 41 FIRs have been registered in different police stations, according to the police.
Who is Monu Manesar?
The violence in Nuh erupted in response to rumours about the presence of Manesar in the district.
A video posted on social media before the clashes showed Manesar saying he would participate in the “Shobha Yatra” (procession) in Nuh and asking people to join in huge numbers.
But the VHP, which has thrown its weight behind Manesar, denied he had attended the July 31 rally.
“Monu [Manesar] was not at the yatra, nor was he going to come, and he didn’t even put out any video statement about this yatra,” Vinod Bansal, national spokesperson of the VHP, told Al Jazeera.
“This is fake propaganda,” he said, describing it as an attempt by Muslims “to incite violence”.
Bansal said the VHP wanted to organise the procession peacefully and that the attack on participants was pre-planned.
Some 60 cars and a bus parked outside Nalhar Mahadev temple, located approximately 7km (4 miles) from Nuh town, were burned by a mob of 2,000-2,500 Muslims on July 31. Deepak Sharma, the priest at the temple, told Al Jazeera that the temple itself had not been attacked
Videos posted online before and after the attack show members of Hindu far-right groups giving hate speeches against Muslims.
“Mewat is a Hindu land, has always been a Hindu land, and will always be a Hindu land,” Surendra Jain, of the VHP, is heard saying in one of the videos, referring to Muslim-dominated Nuh as Mewat.
Following the violence near the temple, Bajrang Dal leader Neeraj Vats went live on Facebook, telling people to target Muslims in other parts of the state. “You could attack us in Nuh, but you also live in other towns,” he said.
On Wednesday, Hindu far-right groups held rallies in several parts of India’s capital.
A local legislator representing Nuh, Aftab Ahmed, described the violence in the district as a failure on the part of the authorities to contain the situation.
“We are appealing to people to maintain peace and not pay heed to rumours. The situation is unfortunate. I have never seen such failure of administration and police,” Ahmed said.
Back in Sohna, Begum’s neighbours advised her to leave town for a while until calm returned.
“Where will I go?” she asked. “They will come for Muslims everywhere.”
Arbab Ali is an independent reporter based in New Delhi, India.