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Qusoor apna nikal aaya

By Tanveer Saiyed & Ahmad Rahmani

Almost all leading Urdu dailies, a couple of Hindi newspapers and The Hindustan Times carried news shortly after the 7th demolition anniversary of the Babri Masjid (6 December) that, as part of ‘an organized conspiracy’ some anti-social elements demolished four mosques completely and one partly in Haryana. The reports said that the demolished mosques belong to the villages of Indri and Taprana of Karnal district, Jharsa of Gurgaon, Hansi of Hissar and Rewari Khera of Bhiwani district. We took serious note of the news and, instead of reproducing it in The Milli Gazette, we sent a team to visit and investigate the demolitions in these villages. They visited Panipat, Karnal and Ambala as well as Gurgaon to find out the facts. Our team also visited the district offices of the Punjab Waqf Board (PWB) at Karnal and Gurgaon and its headquarters at Ambala in order to meet officials and other concerned people. What our team found out was not exactly what the Urdu press told its readers.

Clueless, clutching a few Urdu newspaper clippings we stepped out of the Panipat railway station and enquired about any Muslim madrasah or mosque or someone knowledgeable enough to guide us to our next step. As fate had it for us we were taken to Maulavi Bilal Ahmad, the very reporter at Panipat on whose report the Urdu press had published the ‘conspiracy’ news item. We met him at the Qalandar Shah Mazar where he works as librarian, and asked him to give us any concrete information. He told us that he had nothing more and that his reporting was merely based on telephonic information from Faridabad. For further details he referred us to the district estate officers of the PWB at Karnal, Gurgaon, and the chief executive officer of PWB at Ambala, and the Faridabad person who informed him about the ‘incidents.’ 

We visited the ‘mosque’ of Indri village and found it neglected and dilapidated. It seems that no prayers have been offered there since the village Muslims migrated to Pakistan. There is hardly any Muslim living in the area today. It seems that nobody even knows about the existence of the ‘mosque’ there except the PWB officials and some non-Muslims living nearby. The mosque as it stands today is very vulnerable and broken from one side. One of the neighbours is said to have been breaking it from his side in order to expand his courtyard. It appears that this time round he extracted some bricks of the mosque in bulk which awakened the sleeping officials of the PWB and they swung into action all of a sudden. No village people wanted to talk to us. Instead some came out with stones and bricks in their hands, so we beat a hasty retreat. Obviously the mosque has not been demolished. More precisely it is only an old monument today since no prayers have been offered for over half a century and there is no one in the area to pray there or to take care of it. 

From there we went to Karnal. Here we met PWB people who were most reluctant to speak or help. We asked Mr Fateh Muhammad, the estate officer of the PWB, about details of the ‘demolition’ of the Indri and Patrana mosques. He refused to say anything and referred us to Syed Shahid Ali, the CEO of PWB based at Ambala district in Haryana. However, we found out that the Karnal PWB estate officer has filed an FIR against the neighbour of the Indri mosque who is believed to have removed bricks from the mosque.

We tried to contact the SHO and some leaders of Indri but none was available or forthcoming to talk about a ‘sensitive’ matter.

At the Indri police station, Harpal, the head constable, told us that the mosque belongs to the PWB and we will move only after the PWB seeks our help.

Mr Umesh, the personal assistant to the Haryana minister, Bhim Sen Mehta, was more forthcoming. He told us that it was decided to leave the mosque structure as it is. It had earlier been broken by neighbours to utilize its bricks and for expanding their boundaries.

At Karnal we chanced upon a monument to PWB neglect and dereliction of duty. A historical mosque situated in the very premises of the PWB office at Karnal, it has been converted into a gurudwara. PWB officials did not enlighten us about this strange fact in their premises itself. We talked to the Sikh garanthi who takes care of this ‘gurudwara’ and visits the place from time to time. He said he has informed the PWB people that he is ready to move to any other place if the board gives him an alternative land. We approached local Muslims for information about this structure which is a mosque in every sense of the word except that it is occupied by non-Muslims. A local Muslim, Shafiqur Rahman told us that the ‘Waqf Board people are very lazy. They sleep more than common people.’ They did not pursue the case in the courts of law which allowed Sikhs to win the case on account of continued occupation for more than 12 years. 

Wherever we passed through in the area we came across building after building reminding of Muslim presence in whole region. They all went away to live as eternal muhajirs in shanty towns in Karachi leaving behind a millennium of heritage: homes, mosques, qabristans, madrasas, sabeels, farms and much more in this vast region extending upto the borders of Pakistan.

At Ambala headquarters of PWB its CEO, Syed Shahid Ali, was not available. However, one of his subordinates, who did not want to be named, told us: ‘We had taken up the matter very seriously with the respective district administrations and the state government. Our point is: if nobody offers five times prayers, it doesn’t mean that it should be demolished.’

We went to Jharsa village in the district of Gurgaon, a jat dominated area south of Delhi. Here again no one was willing to talk to us. Indeed the atmosphere was visibly tense. We had been advised by people in the nearby localities not to go there since people there may attack strangers arriving to enquire about the mosque. There is not a single Muslim family at Jharsa village. The disputed ‘mosque’ there was almost identical to the one at Indri. The ‘mosque’ is demolished from three sides. There is only one side wall still standing and that too because of a neighbour’s house. It appears the whole village is united about demolishing this old and dilapidated mosque. Calling this a ‘mosque’ wouldn’t be an appropriate word as this looks like an archaeological structure. It might have been entered as a ‘mosque’ in the records of the PWB but its sanctity does not seem to have been maintained, at not since the village saw its last Muslim dweller migrate to Pakistan in 1947. 

No one knows when the Jharsa ‘mosque’ was demolished. Certainly not on ‘6 December’ as reported in some Urdu newspapers. We were told that the rent collector (estate welfare officer Muhammad Bakhsh) and the chauwkidar (Fateh Muhammad) of the PWB office at Gurgaon, went to Jharsa village for collecting revenues of waqf properties on 8 November 1999. They saw some people busy demolishing the mosque. The duo reported the matter to the PWB office. Reacting to the report, the estate officer of the PWB at Gurgaon, Mr Aas Muhammad, filed a complaint with the police. When no action was taken against the accused, the said officer brought the matter to the knowledge of his head office at Ambala. Taking the matter seriously, the CEO of PWB met the commissioner, TC Gupta, and asked him to take action. Gupta, in return, asked him to meet the SDM of the region and told him that he has already ordered the SDM to take proper action. After much pursuit, a case was finally registered under sections 447 and 295 of the IPC against the village panchayat and its president, Khazan Singh. But nobody has been arrested till our visit to the village on 19 January. 

We tried unsuccessfully to meet Khazan Singh who has alleged that the PWB officials have registered a fake report against him and the village panchayat. Reportedly he has written a letter to Ms Maneka Gandhi, the central minister in charge of waqf, claiming his innocence and requesting her to disregard the report. According to Khazan Singh, he and the village panchayat have proposed unanimously that a big hall for public use be built up on five hundred yards land of the said ‘mosque.’ He said that the village panchayat, being a local authority under Haryana Panchayat Raj Act, decided to remove the dangerous walls of the dilapidated mosque under section 21 and subsection 24 and 25 of the Act. 

However, Muslims of the area point a finger at the PWB apathy and corruption. A Haryana Muslim leader, Aslam Khan, who is also the Gurgaon district president of the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) minority cell, alleged that even the PWB officials are involved in grabbing properties of the Board. He further alleged that some employees of the Board have even grabbed three hundred yards land of the graveyard adjacent to the PWB office at Gurgaon.

The estate officer of the PWB at Gurgaon, Aas Muhammad, refused to comment on the issue, saying that only the CEO has authority to speak. 

It is interesting to note that neither the PWB officials nor someone else was able to tell the exact date of these demolitions. It appears that for the PWB officials, such demolitions are routine issue. They appeared very much resigned and used to such happenings.

According to sources in the region, there are 10,000 mosques and innumerable properties under the custody of Punjab Waqf Board (PWB) in Punjab and Haryana states since the 1947 exodus when hundreds of thousands of Muslims left for Pakistan. These are all under the maintenance of the PWB which collects revenues from them or attached lands and properties. This is a semi-autonomous body under the ministry of social welfare and empowerment. The ministry is currently headed by Ms Maneka Gandhi. The legendary mismanagement and plunder of these properties is another story for another day.

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