The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Plea to pray falls by the way
- Silence greets Salt Lake residents seeking space to offer namaz

A ‘routine’ request from a 250-family population in Salt Lake finds the corridors of power drowned in the sounds of silence.

The request from these ‘respectable residents’ (with some adorning the senior-most rungs of the government) to allow the small Muslim populace “any open space” for an hour on two days of the year for the biennial Id namaz has been met with a strange silence from the “secular” government, that allows a few hundred pujas within the township.

With barely 48 hours to go for Id-uz-Zoha, several departments of the government are now struggling to proffer an explanation. Officially, the word is that the “government is considering the application”. Unofficially, there are a host of explanations — ranging from the “fear of a backlash from Hindu fundamentalist organisations” to that of a “law-and-order problem”.

A state home department official said: “The Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh have quite a base in Salt Lake and they may cause trouble.” A police officer added: “Miscreants could exploit this opportunity.”

For the Harmony Association of Salt Lake, all that matters is that there is no word from the government and time is running out. The association, comprising Muslims, had applied to the administration for the necessary permission to congregate on Id. They would not put up even any temporary structure, the applicants promised, and the assembly of Salt Lake residents would disperse after the Id prayers. Four copies of the application were sent to the Bidhannagar Municipality, the state urban development department (in charge of many of the parks), the state home department and the state minority affairs department.

The urban development department said it had nothing against such an arrangement, provided the police (a home department wing) and the municipality had no objection to the prayer-assembly. The municipality, too, had no problem, in principle, with the religious assembly, provided no thoroughfare was blocked and police permission had been granted.

It’s here that the home department came into the frame. Five years ago, it had flatly refused a similar request. “After careful examination of the matter, the state government regrets its inability to accord permission,” it had said then. Now, it has neither refused nor granted permission.

“We have got the message,” said Harmony Association secretary H.A. Khan. “Like every other year, we will have to leave the township to offer namaz.”

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