Feature: Hindutva Group Calls Namaz Room at railway station in Karnataka ‘Threat to National Security’

Rabia Shireen

Bengaluru: Right-wing outfit Hindu Janajagruti Samiti (HJS) on Monday, January 31, wrote a letter to the Indian Railways raising objections to a porters’ resting room in Bengaluru’s Krantiveera Sangoli Rayanna (KSR) railway station being used for offering namaz by some Muslim patrons. In the letter, the Samiti called it “a threat from a national security standpoint” and alleged that, if permitted, may result in “demands to convert this place (the railway station) into a masjid.

On Sunday, a Twitter handle had claimed that the porters’ resting room at Platform no. 5 of the station had been converted into a namaz room for Muslims. This led members of Goa-based HJS to barge into the resting room on Monday, while people were praying inside, and demand that the authorities deny them permission to pray.

Hours after this incident, HJS spokesperson Mohan Gowda wrote the letter to station manager, saying that it was “highly condemnable that the resting room of workers has been converted to a place of prayer by Muslims”.

“Even though there are many masjids around the railway station,” the letter read, “giving permission to perform prayers on the platform seems to be a conspiracy. Allowing the prayer inside the railway station could lead to chances of demands to convert this place into a masjid (sic).”

“It is requested to take immediate action against those who have permitted the unauthorised place. Prayers should not be allowed at the resting room and if no action is taken, there will be a severe protest,” they letter further said.

The row caught officials of the South Western Railway by surprise, since the prayer hall has existed in the station for several years now without causing any disturbance to passengers.

Interestingly, there are also two temples situated at the railway station; one on Platform no. 7 and another near the locomotive shed. There is also a small room where the Christian community offers prayers.

The temple at Platform no. 7. Photo: Rabia Shireen.

Superintendent of the Karnataka government Railways Police Siri Gowda refused to comment on the issue, saying, “This whole thing is a government property, I have no jurisdiction over it. Whatever has to be done should be managed by Divisional Railway Manager (DRM) and the South Western Railways. Meanwhile, if anyone approaches me, I can revert.”

Talking to The Wire, HJS spokesperson Mohan Gowda said, “We came to know that a porter’s room had been converted into a masjid. So, we went to the station manager and requested him to stop prayers and cancel permission to conduct prayers. This is illegal and encroachment.”

“The station manager said he was not aware of the fact as he was only in charge from three months, but he’ll enquire and take action,” he continued.

When asked about the temple housed in the railway station, Gowda said, “The temples has been before the railways extension. Railway officers and others perform puja over there.”

Videos of the temple and Christian prayer hall have also gone viral on social media, as have clips of members of the Hindutva groups highlighting the room that was being used by Muslims. While Twitter users have slammed the organisation’s move as disturbing the communal harmony between different religious groups, others have suggested that all religious structures be shifted outside the station.

When The Wire reached the spot, the resting room which was being used for namaz had been converted back to porters’ room and a big board which read “Railway Sahayak Rest Room” had been placed at the entrance. Five police officers have been deployed outside the room.

The Railways’ Senior Divisional Commercial Manager Krishna Reddy, speaking to The Wire, said, “We came to know about the prayer hall only now. It was a porters’ rest room and it will be a porters’ rest room. We have asked them to maintain harmony and stay together. They can utilise the room for resting, bathing, even offering prayers, including namaz, puja and Christian prayers too. Let them all coexist together.”

“Different sections give this issue a different angle; we don’t want to do that. It’s the Railways’ property for resting purposes. Faith is a personal choice, let them pray inside without disturbing anyone,” Reddy said.

When asked about the temple, he said, “I don’t know about the temple, I came here in 2019. I’m unaware of it.” Further, when asked about HJS’s allegations against the prayer hall, he said, “I don’t have anything to say regarding this as they’ve not reached out to me.”

Speaking to The Wire, former porters’ union member Mustafa said, “Earlier, there was a small resting room where Muslims used to offer namaz and Hindus, as well as others, used to rest. As the room was small, we requested authorities to give us the next room, which was empty. They allotted us that room and we Muslims started offering prayers there. It wasn’t a problem until now. No ever objected to it, not even our brothers from the Hindu community. But they’re making this a big issue now. Even the railway officers have told they won’t disturb us regarding this issue. But maybe due to pressure, they had to remove all the prayer equipment from the room.”

“About 30-35 years ago, my father and his friends, both Muslims and Hindus, had constructed that temple together,” Mustafa continued.

The prayer hall controversy comes at a time when Karnataka has seen an increasing number of hate crimes against minority communities by right-wing groups. Courtesy The Wire