इंडियन आवाज़     28 Sep 2023 03:49:19      انڈین آواز

Murder of a Mosque

So, on a foggy Sunday, I drove to India International Centre (IIC) where I was a little disappointed to know that Monu Chaddha, President of the Resident Welfare Association (RWA), who was instrumental in the demolition of the mosque on January 12, was not present. Nor was there anybody from the plethora of government agencies, which were involved in what was referred to as the “shahid” (martyrdom) of the masjid.

My disappointment vanished into thin air when I listened to Prof Aditya Nigam of the Centre for the Study of Culture and Society (CSDS), who in his brilliant keynote address delineated on how Indian secularism differed from the European variety. While in India secularism meant “equal respect for all religions”, in Europe, it signified doing away with all religious symbols and influences on the democratic polity.

France is a classic example of European secularism. While a school student is barred from wearing a veil or a turban or a big cross in that country where the concept of “equality, liberty and fraternity” motivated the people to storm the Bastille, in India nobody would bother even if a student were to wear all these symbols together.

That is why the Supreme Court of India in its liberal interpretation of secularism allowed some Seventh Day Adventist students not to sing the national anthem in the class because their faith barred them from singing in praise of anybody other than God. The court considered the fact that the students always stood up in reverence, like others, when the “Jana Gana Mana” was sung.

Like most others, I too was surprised to read newspaper reports about the demolition of the mosque by the authorities of the Delhi Development Authority (DDA). What I understood from the reports was that Noor Masjid was an “illegal” structure and it would have amounted to “contempt of the Delhi High Court” if the DDA had not demolished it.

From the little that I knew of Islam, any mosque that was “illegal” was un-Islamic. So I wondered why the demolition angered the Muslims so much that they came out on the streets in large numbers in a few minutes. Was there something more than met the eye in the incident? Did it not reveal the communal mind-set of those in power, rather than the eagerness to uphold the rule of law? I also wondered why Dr J.K. Jain, chief of the BJP’s minority cell, and Tarvinder Singh Marvah, Congress MLA, joined the protest of the Muslims.

Listening to speaker after speaker, I realised one thing that the mosque was, first of all, not illegal. It was at least a 30-year-old structure. There was also no specific court order to demolish the mosque. It is true that the area around the mosque was once occupied by squatters, mostly Muslims, and the court had ordered their eviction. Once the police complied with that order, the matter should have ended.

Anuj Bhuwania, a doctoral fellow of Columbia University, who studied all the relevant legal documents, said categorically that the demolition had no legal validity. Let’s assume that the mosque was illegal. In that case, to whom did the land belong? Did it belong to the RWA or the DDA or the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) or the state government or the Central government? There is no clarity on this aspect of the dispute.

Where there is clarity is that three plots of land were allotted to the Balmikis — a Scheduled Caste community — who bury their dead, the Muslims and the Christians for use as their graveyards. A Delhi Government Gazette notification dated September 25, 1975, says Khasra No. 633 measuring six bigha 13 biswa is a Muslim graveyard. It is signed by the Secretary, Delhi Wakf Board, who has a copy of “Jamabandi” of 1947-48 showing the land as a Muslim graveyard.

What does this document show? It shows that the mosque was not illegal. In that case, why was it demolished? There are no clear answers. Before that, a word about the manner in which it was demolished would be in order. The demolition squad, protected by hundreds of policemen, came like a thief in the “dead of night,” to borrow the title of a horror movie.

If the demolition was to proclaim the might of the law, why did the demolishers take the cover of darkness? Could they not have given the Muslims an ultimatum to remove the structure on their own? Did not the duty of telling the Muslims about the “illegality”  of the mosque devolve on the government? It could have even quoted the relevant Islamic scripture that bars construction of a mosque on a land that does not belong to the Muslims?

No, none of this was done; for the authorities knew all along that the mosque was not illegal. Then there was the role of a Religious Committee, constituted by the Lieutenant-Governor, which had approved of the demolition. Even the Right to Information Act has failed to elicit information about the identity of the members of the committee. What is certain is that the committee did not include a single Muslim. “No, there was not even a single religious person in that religious committee”.

I do not subscribe to the view that only a Muslim can do justice to Muslims. But when the fate of a mosque was decided, the authorities concerned should have seen to it that the committee consisted of at least a Muslim, who knew the legal issues involved. In any case, the cloak-and-dagger approach did not behove a government that swore by secularism, day in and day out.

I found Tarvinder Singh Marvah’s chest-beating curious, if not funny. It’s true he represents the area and he was one of the first to arrive at the spot, of course, after Noor Masjid had become part of history. Freelance journalist Shivam Vij described how theatrical the MLA was. He did not even realise that the villain of the piece was his own government. And when the heavily-built Marvah spoke, I was reminded of the English phrase, “running with the hare and hunting with the hounds”.

While nobody questions the MLA’s sincerity – when he reached the mosque that day he was accompanied by several women, mostly from his own family – the fact is that his government cannot escape blame for the demolition. He should have directed his ire at the government, instead of raising his fist in the air, as is his wont. But then, politicians are politicians and Marvah was merely safeguarding his pocket borough.

In the discourse on Noor Masjid, an allegation often heard is that it was a mosque patronised by the Bangladeshis. No, the reference here is not to the staff of the Bangladesh High Commission. The Imam of Noor Masjid, Maulana Nazrul Islam, clarified that the impression that it was a Bangladeshi mosque must have originated from the fact that Bengali was his mother tongue. “The police should have approached me and I would have given them all details about my address in West Bengal”.

It is possible that some “Bangladeshis”  might have prayed at Noor Masjid. But then, mosques are always open to those who want to offer their prayers there. And if “Bangladeshis”  are here, it is because our Border Security Police personnel are willing to be bribed. While the “Bangladeshi Muslims” are treated as “illegal aliens”, we welcome “Bangladeshi Hindus” wholeheartedly.

As I left the workshop late in the afternoon, I was convinced that in the case of Noor Masjid, the Muslims were more sinned against than sinning. But some doubts still lingered in my mind. So I decided to visit the mosque and understand the situation better.

I relied on a map published by the Milli Gazette on its website and I ended up traversing a congested road that ran along a dirty canal in Jungpura B. When I asked about the masjid that had “shahid hogaya”, a rickshaw-puller sportingly overtook my car and “piloted” me all the way to Noor Masjid. Luckily, he was a Muslim. On that road, a rickshaw could move faster than a car!

When I stopped at the mosque, an open space littered with broken tiles and a garishly painted signboard, the Imam I had met at the IIC came forward to greet me. Watching the goings-on from an adjoining plot were two policemen, posted there to keep vigil. The Imam has been staying there guarding the non-existent mosque. On the floor were prayer mats.

The court had allowed a maximum of 10 Muslims to offer prayers there. While giving this permission, it also asked the government to solve the problem within two months. Though one and a half months have passed, nothing has been done to find a permanent solution.

It was time for the afternoon prayer and I decided to hang around. A road divided the Muslim property and the Balmiki temple. The temple, a small structure, is situated in one corner of a large plot. A partially-rusted metallic signboard proclaims in bold letters “DDA land: Tress Passers shall be prosecuted – By Order”.

Forget that the word “trespassers”  is wrongly spelt in the signboard, the DDA is oblivious of the presence of a temple on its land. No, it is not my point that the temple should have been demolished like the mosque. But the logic of what the DDA did to the mosque applies in the case of the temple too. I walked a few feet from there and I stumbled across a poorly-crafted statue of Lord Shiva, occupying some space on the narrow road.

The statue was right in front of “Mother Teresa Missionaries of Charity, Jeevan Jyoti Home”. The Light of Life Home stood on the plot that was originally meant “for a Christian graveyard”. It was later allotted to the Missionaries of Charity. The gate was closed. Since I had to witness the prayer, I returned to the “masjid”.

It was time for Azan, the Islamic call to prayer. The imam washed his hands and feet before he recited the Azan. Muslims all over the world use the exact phrases and timing which signify the unity of all Muslim brothers and sisters in the belief of one God and his Messenger. What struck me as he recited the Azan was that he faced the temple, though it was Mecca and Allah that he actually bowed to.

As I heard the Azan, I remembered journalist MJ Akbar’s comment that the world could be divided into two, where Azan could be recited over a loudspeaker and where it could not be. I did not know to which world Noor Masjid belonged. One by one, the faithful arrived and they began to pray. The number did not cross 10 and I could not find a single “Bangladeshi” among them.

The imam showed me the exit route. As I followed his advice, I realised how close the mosque was to Mathura Road. Now what next? There is only one solution. The land should be allotted to the Muslims so that they can rebuild the mosque. If necessary, the DDA can ask for payment in lieu of the allotment. As for the RWA’s demand for a community centre, there is enough land for that also in the area.

There are many mosques in Delhi where prayers are not allowed because of reasons of archaeological preservation. No one knows about such mosques better than Sohail Hashmi. It was not his contention that they should be opened to prayers. But there is a real problem. We all know that the DDA allotted a plot of land for the construction of a mosque in Rohini but it was stopped midway. So, what are Muslims supposed to do?

Rome has Europe’s largest mosque. It was built with the blessings of Pope John Paul II and it is a few minutes’ drive from the Vatican. If a mosque can be built there, why can’t Noor Masjid be rebuilt at Jungpura? Does Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit listen?

The writer can be reached at ajphilip@gmail.com

Courtesy: Indian Currents


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