Dinesh Bharti drives around with other activists on Fridays heckling and harassing Muslims praying outside in Gurgaon, the latest flashpoint of sectarian tensions under India’s Hindu nationalist government.
Muslims praying in the open “create problems in the country and the entire world,” the thickset Hindu man in his 40s said, a red tilak on his forehead marking him out as a devout member of India’s majority religion.
Gurgaon is a modern satellite city of the capital New Delhi. Around 500,000 Muslims either live there, have migrated to the area for work or labour there during the day.
This has forced the community to hold Friday afternoon prayers — the most important of the week for Muslims — in open spaces.
The local government, meanwhile, has steadily cut the number of approved outdoor worship sites.
Earlier this month, the Haryana state chief minister, a member of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, declared that outdoor prayers in Gurgaon “will no longer be tolerated”.
Across town, hundreds of Muslims queued to take turns to worship at one of only six remaining prayer venues still available.
“If the government doesn’t find a solution to the issue… it will become more complicated and serious,” Sabir Qasmi, a Muslim cleric at the prayer meeting, told AFP.
Modi is a lifelong member of the hardline Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) Hindu nationalist group.
Since his coming to power, a string of lynchings of Muslims by Hindu mobs for so-called cow protection — a sacred animal for many Hindus — and other hate crimes has sown fear and despair in the community.
This week, a video emerged from a recent gathering of right-wing Hindu groups in which some delegates called for Muslims to be killed, reports said.
But critics say the real reason is simply that Muslims have no place in Modi’s new intolerant India, where Hindu zealots are dictating government policy.
“Whether it is economic spaces or spaces for worship, or spaces for the food and customs or anything with a Muslim identity, that is going to be part of the project,” Jerath told AFP.
On Sunday, the head of a Hindu umbrella group proposed a solution: Muslims should convert.