A Muslim place of worship in the Old City area remains locked since Sunday.

How a religious structures renovation in Hyderabad has sparked communal tension
news Communalism Monday, December 26, 2016 - 18:50

Uppuguda, a neighbourhood in Hyderabad's Old City area, seems like any other locality at first. Hardly a few kilometres from Charminar, winding streets and chaotic traffic, things synonymous with Old City, are common here. 

At the corner of a circle less than 500 metres from the MMTS railway station, a small Muslim place of worship remains locked.

Two days ago, the entire street was packed and witnessed tense scenes after two communities faced off over the place of worship.

"I had to shut my shop in the morning. This full street was blocked and no one was allowed to pass. After a while the police came, and some people from the government also came. Then it was resolved," says a juice seller, who has his shop, adjacent to the spot.

"It has been locked since yesterday," he added.

On Friday night, members of right-wing group Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) objected to the prayers being offered at the place, as it had been vacant for almost two decades.

The place of worship, which was crumbling earlier, had recently been renovated completely and given a fresh coat of paint by locals after the Muslim community in the area decided to offer prayers there.

According to reports, prayers had stopped in the area after communal riots had broken out during early 90s.

The riots, at the time, occurred in the aftermath of the Babri Masjid demolition in Ayodhya, and left over 200 people dead in Hyderabad's Old City area.

Since the incident on Saturday, there are a few evident changes in the area.

A freshly painted board was hung on top of the religious structure's entrance, with timings of prayers, while BJP and VHP flags were put up all around the area. Two policemen had also been stationed permanently at the spot. 

A significant number of TRS flags were also present.

"It is all okay now. There is no problem. We have resolved it that day only. We are just here as a precaution," says one of the policemen.

While the policeman's claim may seem accurate on the surface, a closer look reveals that there is an undercurrent of communal tension in the area.

"Today they will say we want to offer prayers, tomorrow they will say we want to build a mosque here. We cannot let them take advantage like this," says Santosh*, an auto driver holding a BJP flag, but who claimed to be a member of the VHP.

Auto drivers, most of them who were part of the incident that occurred on Saturday, say that if the Muslims were to start offering prayers, their auto stand, which stands directly opposite the religious structure, would be under threat.

"If they start praying here, then they'll need space for parking. Who will they (authorities) target? We will have to vacate," Santosh adds.

That's not just it, they claim.

"We have a Mahankali temple down the road, and all our processions including Ganesh Chaturthi pass through this area. If they start offering prayers here, then the police will not give us permission to pass through this area. It will be our loss only then," another auto driver says.

However, the other side claims otherwise.

"We are just offering prayers. Why should anyone have a problem with us reading the Namaz?" asks one of the Muslim shopkeepers in the area, who supported the opening of the religious structure.

"Just because they are a majority, they managed to shut it in a single day. It is unfair," he adds.

A police officer at the Chatrinaka police station, under whose jurisdiction the area falls, stated that while the area was a communally sensitive one, they would ensure that law and order was maintained. 

He also stressed that both groups would keep the peace and it would be status quo until December 31, the date as fixed by South Zone DCP V Satyanarayana.

However, Santosh and other auto drivers hint otherwise.

"This area is full of Hindus. They are slowly invading this area one by one. They have more money also, so they can outbid Hindus at everything, from buying houses to buying the police. We won't sit quietly if this continues," Santosh adds. 

Images: Nitin B

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