New Delhi: A day after social activist Faisal Khan, national convenor of Khudai Khidmatgar, was arrested by the Uttar Pradesh police from Jamia Nagar in Delhi for offering namaz in the premises of Nand Baba temple in Mathura, his organisation has issued a statement saying that he offered afternoon prayers only after paying obeisance at the temple and with the consent of the people present there.
Incidentally, this controversy in a BJP-ruled state came right in the midst of the Bihar assembly elections. A large number of television and social media channels have given a communal colour to the act of offering namaz, coining the term ‘temple jihad’ to describe it.
A visit to please Lord Krishna
The statement by Khudai Khidmatgar’s spokesperson, Pawan Yadav, has now provided a detailed account of Khan’s presence in Mathura and his interaction with priests of various temples, which were aimed at promoting communal harmony. It said Khan was on a five-day pilgrimage or ‘yatra’ to the holy land of Krishna, Braja, in Mathura from October 24.
“He was participating in ancient Chaurasi Kosi Yatra of Govardhan,” it said, adding that during the yatra he met several people, including priests of various temples.
It should also be noted that Khan visited Mathura for ’84 kos parikrama’, which is a Hindu ritual done to please Lord Krishna. During his visit, Khan, who is well-versed in Hindu mythology, is also learned to have narrated couplets from the Ramcharitmanas.
Attaching a video of the entire visit to the statement, the social organisation said during the visit there were “great discussions about the philosophy of Hinduism, verses of Tulsidas, Raskhan and Rahimdas.”
On how Khan reached Nand Baba temple, the statement said “on the last day of his pilgrimage, Faisal Khan visited the holy temple of Nand Baba. He paid his obeisance there.”
Permission sought for prayers
The statement denied that he offered namaz in the premises with any ulterior motive, and said he did so with the permission of the people present in the temple.
“That was the time of his afternoon prayers, so he asked for a suitable place. The people who were there in the temple allowed him to offer prayers in the temple compound itself by saying that you are already in the home of God so why you need to go anywhere else. Hearing it, Faisal Khan completed his prayers.”
The statement also noted that after offering prayers, Khan and other members stayed in the temple for some more time and they had their lunch in the same temple.
This clearly indicated that his act of offering prayers was not to stir any controversy or to hurt any feelings, as has been made out by the First Information Report (FIR) on the basis of which he and three of his associates – Chand Mohammad, Nilesh Gupta and Sagar Ratna – were subsequently booked under Sections 153A (wanton vilification or attacks upon the religion, race, place of birth, residence, language etc of any particular group or class or upon the founders and prophets of a religion), 295 (destruction, damage, or defilement of a place of worship or an object held sacred, with intent to insult the religion of a class of persons) and 505 (intent to incite, or which is likely to incite, any class or community of persons to commit any offence against any other class or community) of the Indian Penal Code.
As per the statement, Khan completed his ‘yatra’ on October 29 and returned to Delhi with his associates. It was “after 3 days, he got the information from some local media people that there are some people who are not happy with the incidents which took place on 29th October and they are going to complain with the police.”
Subsequently, as videos of the visit of the four members to the temple surfaced and right-wing media stirred controversy around the offering of namaz, a priest of the temple, Kanha Goswami, and two other priests, Mukesh Goswami and S.D. Shiv Hari, lodged a complaint with the Mathura police.
The police named Khan and Mohammad as the main accused while Gupta and Ratna were booked as the co-accused.
The FIR stated that all the four accused reached the temple at about 12:30 pm on October 29 and performed the “84 kos parikrama”.
The complaint by Goswami alleged that “(later) photographs of the two Muslims offering ‘namaz’ in the temple premises were uploaded on social media by Faizal Khan. This has hurt Hindu sentiments.”
The temple priest in his complaint also alleged that “no permission was sought from the priests or administration for offering ‘namaz’. Also, the photos of the ‘namaz’ were made viral on social media”.
The Mathura police arrested Khan from his residence in Jamia Nagar in South Delhi on November 2.
Allegations against police
It is now being alleged that the Mathura police has acted in haste in the matter as it did not apply its mind to think about the sequence of events.
Observers say the police should have seen this visit in the context of an attempt to promote communal harmony instead of going ahead with the narrative that was dished out by a section of the media that seeks to divide people along communal lines.
The sections of the IPC that have been used say Khan and Mohammad indulged in “wanton vilification or attacks upon the religion….. or upon the founders and prophets of a religion”, which Khudai Khidmatgar flatly denies.
If ‘wanton vilification’ was indeed the intention, would Khan and Mohammad have stayed back in the temple premises and later have lunch with the people present there? Also, if they had offered namaz with the permission of those present, it would not have led to a violent situation.
Also, the police have accused them of “destruction, damage, or defilement of a place of worship or an object held sacred, with intent to insult the religion of a class of persons”. Again as the video reveals, they offered prayers in the courtyard and not inside the sanctum sanctorum or the main structure. So there was no case of “damage or defilement”.
The section slapped against the duo for inciting a community also does not hold, because the fact that they had lunch with the others present in the temple is enough to prove that no sentiments were hurt.
It should also be remembered that as the complaint states, it was Khan himself who uploaded the video. Khudai Khidmatgar’s statement has also said that the organisation believes in “peace, love and communal harmony” and it counters any “religious extremism”.
“Many Hindu religious institutions have appreciated and acknowledged the work of Faisal Khan for his uncompromised work for peace and brotherhood,” it has said adding that “if anybody individual or organisation feels that we have hurt their sentiments then we are sorry for that but still want to add it was never our intention.”