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Lucknow: Madrasa teacher Mohammad Rizwan has been waiting for his son for two days now, sitting in a small office in his madrasa in the peri-urban Abrar Nagar area of Lucknow’s Khurramnagar locality. Rizwan’s son, Mohmmad Rehaan, and four of his friends are in judicial custody for allegedly offering namaz in the new Lulu Mall.
Abrar Nagar houses people from economically poor backgrounds – including Muslims of different sects and a few Hindus.
The police arrested Rehaan, Atif Khan, Mohammad Luqmaan and Mohammad Noman on July 19. According to Mansoor Ali, the father of Luqmaan and Nomaan, his sons went to the newly opened mall for a post-Eid celebration.
Rehaan’s father alleged that the police knocked on his door around 1:30 am on the intervening night of July 18 and 19. On opening the door, dozens of policemen allegedly barged into the house. Some of them were in plain clothes.
“They were intrigued about Rehaan, who was sleeping in his uncle’s house that night. On being asked why they wanted to know about Rehaan, the cops replied that he was wanted in a molestation case,” he said.
When Rehaan came from his uncle’s house, which is next door to his own house, the police took him into custody. “The police team had made a false promise to me that they would release him in the morning from the local police station,” Rizwan said.
The police also raided the houses of Luqmaan and Atif the same night.
“We went to the local Khurramnagar police station in the morning of July 19 to pick up our children. At the local police station, we came to know that our children had been shifted to the Golf City police station,” Rizwan told The Wire.
“I came to know from the media in the afternoon that my son and his friends were arrested for offering namaz in the mall. Earlier, the police had not revealed any accurate information about the arrest,” he alleged.
He claimed that his son, Rehaan, has no criminal record. According to Rizwan, he knew all the four accused as he taught them in the Madarsa Muavia Lil Banat, which he runs. “All four are friends as well as neighbours, and they never indulged in any criminal activity,” he said.
Rizwan told The Wire that Atif had cleared the intermediate exam and taken admission in a B-pharma course in a private college. Luqmaan has passed high school and the other two are studying Islamic theology, he added.
“I do not know whether they offered prayers in the mall or not, as in the viral video, the faces of the namazis are not shown. Rehan did not tell me whether he offered namaz in the mall or not, and why he went there,” he said.
Rizwan, who hails from Lakhimpur and shifted to Lucknow 27 years ago, continued, “Sometimes we (Muslims in Lucknow) offer namaz at public places like railway stations, airports and parks, to make sure we do it on time. But it does not mean we do this to hurt anyone’s feelings.”
Rizwan earns his livelihood by teaching students Islamic studies and by running a sewing training centre for women, adjacent to his home.
Mansoor Ali’s two sons, Luqmaan and Nomaan, have also been arrested. He is a small tea vendor in the Abrar locality. “The media painted my sons as criminals even though they did not commit any crimes,” Ali, who is in poor health, told The Wire. While Luqmaan has a high school diploma, Noman has received no formal education. According to Ali, he shifted here from Laherpur to Lucknow 10 years ago, and his sons have a general store.
“Perhaps they made a mistake of performing religious duty in a public place,” Ali added.
Lulu Mall is a newly inaugurated mall in Lucknow, owned by businessman Yusuf Ali. It was inaugurated by chief minister Yogi Adityanath. A controversy erupted when a video of some people offering namaz at the mall went viral on social media.
Subsequently, right-wing Hindu groups launched a protest against the mall management and its owner, Yusuf Ali. Despite being denied permission by the police, two men entered the mall and chanted the Hanuman Chalisa there.
The mall administration registered a complaint at the Golf City police station. The Uttar Pradesh Police on July 15 registered an FIR against unknown persons in connection with the matter. They have been booked under IPC Sections 153 A (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion), 341 (punishment for wrongful restraint), 505 (statements conducing to public mischief) and 295A (deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings).
Shailendra Giri, inspector at the Sushant Golf City police station, told The Wire over the phone that “the accused were identified based on the CCTV footage and surveillance”.
Earlier on July 15, police detained three people, including Saroj Nath Yogi, Krishna Kumar Pathak and Gaurav Goswami, from outside the mall while they were trying to chant the Hanuman Chalisa and also a man named Arshad Ali, who was trying to offer prayers.