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Published in the 1-15 June 2005 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Struggle to free usurped Waqfs in Lucknow

By Rizvi Syed Hader Abbas

The Milli Gazette Online

Lucknow: "I confess, I felt inclined to rub my eyes again and again. Not Rome, not Athens and Constantinople, not any city I have seen, appear to me so striking and beautiful as this, and the more I gaze the more it’s beauties grow upon me..." thus wrote William Howard Russell, correspondent of the London Times who accompanied the British forces in 1858 to Lucknow after the first war of independence against the English.

Lucknow’s Asafi Mosque

Lucknow's Asafi Mosque

"He was really lucky to have visited Lucknow despite the ruins but should he come to Lucknow today I am sure there would be no luxury of finding anything worthwhile except destruction, illegal occupancies, crumbling edifices, official apathy, land sharks and mafia, political nexus with corrupt officials, all working to ruin my Lucknow," said Mirza Asif Ali, one of the scions of the last king of Avadh, Wajid Ali Shah, on his visit to Lucknow from Kolkata. Wajid Ali Shah was deposed from his throne by the British in 1856 and was imprisoned in Fort Williams, Kolkata, for 16 months. Thereafter he was placed under house arrest in Matiaburj where he died in 1887 and was buried inside Imambara Sibtainabad, Kolkata.

Mirza Asif echoed the right sentiments as there has been a criminal silence over embezzlement of properties, lands, buildings and huge Imambaras by people steeped in corruption. Throwaway prices were officially realised (while millions exchanged hands in under the table deals) by selling properties dedicated as waqf (trust) for the welfare and upliftment of buildings and the community. There was not a single movement to check these huge assets being drained as probably every multistoried building which stands under the sun in Lucknow confirms its antecedents to some waqf, and which could never have had materialsied without the active connivance of Waqf authorities, ministers and Waqf Board itself.

What is more surprising is that despite Lucknow being thrice former Prime Minister AB Vajpayee’s constituency yet there has been total apathy from both the state and the central government towards the corrupt affairs of Shia Central Waqf Board (SCWB), Husainabad and Allied Trust. This made Maulana Kalbe Jawwad finally take the plunge by launching an agitation, called Tehrik-e-Tahuffuz-e-Auqaf (Save Auqaf Movement). The movement was started in 1992 but gained momentum from 1998 onwards. SCWB has more than 8,000 waqfs all over Uttar Pradesh (UP). Out of these there are 400+ waqfs in Lucknow alone, the largest being Husainabad and Allied Trust.

The Husainabad Endowment Fund was created by Mohammad Ali Shah, king of Awadh (1837-1842) to support Husainabad Imambara which he had built in 1838. Initially, the king invested 1.2 million rupees in a single British Government promissory note at 4% interest and executed a deed which pledged that the capital would always remain invested in government papers. The original endowment later swelled to a 3.85 million by a further donation of 2.4 million by Mohammad Ali Shah in the form of government papers and 0.25 million by the trustees.

Maulana Kalbe Jawwad, who himself is a progeny of the nobles of Avadh, draws his lineage from Maulana Dildar Husain Naqvi of Sabzwar, Iran, who was the first Imam-e-Juma appointed by Nawab Asaf-ud-Daula (1774-1798). He voices his grouse over the government’s attitude. 

"After the mutiny of 1857, the British annexed all the lands and properties belonging to the erstwhile Avadh Government while the king was imprisoned in Kolkata. One was made to pass the loyalty test to get the confiscated lands released. All those who refused allegiance to the British had their lands declared as Nuzul. That was during the colonial period but the same skeptical and step-motherly attitude still goes on in Independent India, whereas today’s government should have been the first to revoke the tyrannical British rules," he says.

Kalb-e Jawwad has in these eight years led the masses from the forefront in a campaign to save Auqaf lands. It may be mentioned that state government had occupied a huge chunk of waqf land on the backside of Imambara Shahnajaf built by the first King of Awadh, Ghazi-ud-Din-Haider (1814-1827) and named it as Lakshman Mela Ground. This venue was to be visited by the then prime minister AB Vajpayee on April 15, 2001. Jawwad planned a massive rally inside Shahnajaf on the same day. To avert an open showdown, Jawwad was given an audience with AB Vajpayee. The latter was apprised that the land orignally belonged to Waqf Board. That was four years back and nothing has happened as yet.

Jawwad also once faxed a letter to Ayatullah Khamenai, the highest religious authority in Iran, when Vajpayee was on his official visit to Tehran (April 10-14, 2001), to impress upon our prime minister to look into the ongoing fiscal malpractices of SCWB. Later, Jawwad got a 600-meter cloth signed by over 1.5 lakhs people demanding the dismantling of Waqf Board and handed the cloth to PM Vajpayee along with a charter of nine demands when the latter visited Lucknow on April 15, 2001. Upping the ante, Jawwad organised a huge demonstration before the District Magistrate’s Office on June 13, 2002. Later, at a massive rally on June 28, 2002, about 3000 protestors courted arrest.

The SCWB was ultimately dissolved and a new beginning was made when the newly appointed 13-members took oath of office in November 2004 under the chairmanship of former MP Mukhtar Anis. The formation kindled new hopes. The first meeting took place on Dec. 20, 2004 where it was unanimously decided that the members would compulsorily sit once in a month to strategise how to stem the rot which has set over five decades. But, unfortunately, the hopes were dashed as no meeting took place until April 12 this year. And, very soon it became apparent that the new formation was no different from its predecessors.

Jawwad again threw the gauntlet but this time with a heavy heart. The bone of contention being Rani Sultanat Trust situated in the poshest and the most expensive part of Lucknow, Hazratganj. The issue is that the trustees, the minister (Ghanzfar Ali Khan who was one of the most corrupt ministers in the erstwhile BJP government), the Chief Executive Officer and a builder entered a contract, and thereby, signalled the beginning of a multicrore project on January 20, 2001. It is believed that the minister used all his clout to get the deal clinched which had the highly controversial clause of giving the builder the right to book/sell/assign or dispose off land as and when he desired. Soon the BJP government fell after the polls in Feb 2002. 

"What then is the purpose of it being a waqf? It should then have been a private property," said Husain Afsar, a member of the board. This was enough to set the alarm bells ringing and it was sought by the new chairman to cancel the old agreement and enter into a new contract which had the welfare of waqf as its objective but Anis did not oblige, leading to drawing of swords between him and Jawwad.

The discontent ultimately led to a protest on the streets of Hazratganj again on May 10 when, despite the sweltering heat, thousands rallied for the cause. The demonstration included more than 5000 women. Despite all this, Mukhtar Anis prefers to keep mum, waiting to know his fate. 

Struggle continues to regain lost properties like Karbala Imam-e-Baqar occupied by UP Forest Department, rampant encroachment by Arya Samajis, UP Guest House and Freemason Temple, an organisation run by Jews. All this is on Karbala’s land, said Husain Afsar, adding that Doordarshan (UP Television) too is on a waqf property!

Meanwhile, a letter singed by nine members has been sent to secretary, Minority Welfare Department Kumar Kamlesh asking him to withdraw the outstanding powers enjoyed by the board’s chairman.

After Partition Muslims got demoralised and did not file any objection against illegal occupation. Now we are using our strength, said Afsar.

It may be recalled that the determined efforts of Kalbe Jawwad led to Imambara Sibtainabad (built by Amjad Ali Shah, 1842-1847) to be vacated in early Feburary 2005 of illegal occupation for 40 years. This is the same Imambara where the Sikhs were stationed as part of British army in 1857 after the fall of Lucknow.

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