Muslim prisoners fast and pray during Navratri (Lead)

March 23rd, 2010 - 8:17 pm ICT by IANS  

By Asit Srivastava
Barabanki (Uttar Pradesh), March 23 (IANS) They are Muslim prisoners but they have been fasting, singing hymns and performing ‘yagnas’ at a jail here, hoping their prayers will be heard during Navratri. Never mind if it is a Hindu festival.

Nearly 30 Muslim prisoners of the district jail in Barabanki, about 35 km from Lucknow, are taking part in prayers to goddess Durga during the nine-day festival of Navratri in the hope of atoning for their sins.

“The uncommon practice of Muslims observing the Navratri fast in the jail is surely an example of communal harmony. It would promote amicable relations between the two communities,” deputy jailor Ritwik Priyadarshee told IANS on telephone from Barabanki.

“For me, it’s really surprising to see their faith in the almighty. Most of them are serving sentences for murder, drugs smuggling, abduction and other heinous crimes,” he said.

“Ever since Navratri started, they wake up early in the morning and undertake Hindu rituals to get ready for the festival,” he added.

Observing the same routine as the Hindu inmates, the Muslims too perform ‘yagna’, ‘aarti’ (practices to invoke deities), reciting hymns from Hindu scriptures.

“It’s really divine. Whenever one hears them performing the ‘aarti’ and reciting hymns with the Hindus, one definitely forgets it is happening inside a prison…That feeling cannot be put into words,” Barabanki district jail superintendent L.N. Dohare said.

“There are many in our jail staff, who specially come early in the morning to see the inmates participating in the prayers and performing the ‘yagna’,” he added.

According to officials, a group of Muslim inmates approached the jail authorities and expressed their desire to participate in Navratri rituals “to seek pardon for their crimes from the almighty.”

“Initially, we were taken by surprise. After holding meetings with jail authorities, we chalked out a strategy for those Muslims interested in observing the fast and other Navratri rituals,” said Priyadarshee.

Those observing the fast are being provided with a special Navratri diet that includes 500 gm boiled potatoes, 250 gm milk, 100 gm sugar, two bananas and a cup of tea.

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