Masjid, Money and Muslims: demolition of Bhilwara Mosque

By Prof. M. Hasan

A universal belief is that a mosque is always a mosque, can’t be sold or demolished. However, crony capitalism can destroy a mosque and Muslim soul. Demolition of centuries-old Qalandari Masjid atop Tiranga Hills, Pur village, Bhilwara, Rajasthan, on 19 April screams about wheeling and dealing, making Muslims furious.

However, strangely, Muslims protesting as face and voice of their community during communal violence, kept silent when greedy Muslims demolished a hapless Masjid. A quiet Prof. SH Quazi, an eminent artist, from Pur, asks in disbelief: “How could this happen?”, only to be told: in liberalized India, faith is in growth and money matters, not in religious sanctity. Ironically, hasty Muslims became cannibals.

Examining correspondence, visit to the place and meeting with local officers and people, I found, prima facie, all was not well. The speed and language of correspondence, contrived choreography and quiet demolition were stupefying, exposing character and functioning of Muslim institutions.

In Dhulkhera, near Pur, Muslims had shifted an Idgah to a new site for Rs. 35 lakhs from mining giant, Jindal Saw Ltd. Enthused by this “success” story, an Anjuman of Pur and the same firm agreed for a deal to sell/demolish the Qalandari Masjid for Rs. 65 lakhs for mining rights. The deal was clothed with a religious “sanctity,” a contrived fatwa by an imam: the site was a mazar (grave), not a mosque! Mazar can be shifted, said the imam, quoting a dubious analogy, without understanding geographies, situations and differences, between protecting of a mazar threatened by floods of Tigris river in Iraq and a mosque by mining in Pur.

The Committee contacted the Rajasthan Wakf Board on 17 April for directions, obliquely writing about “a so- called mosque…without water and staircases…none seen praying there…threatened by mining” and mentioned “a respectable agreement.” The chairman, an experienced police IG, replied the very next day without seeking clarification about the agreement and legal advice from Board’s legal and administrative sections. Curiously, his reply alludes to a chabutra ‘platform,’ whereas, the Board record mentions: “Qalandari Masjid, a pious place for prayers.”

The Committee interpreted this letter as a “permission” for agreement, payment and demolition the very next day in the presence of the imam. Hell broke loose. The news spread like wild fire. An FIR was lodged, four accused arrested and amount recovered the same night. A triumvirate of chairmen WB, Minority Commission and Madrassa Board rushed to Bhilwara, given the nature of the tsunami. The WB asked district administration for the mosque reconstruction and strict action against the violators. Still, the episode, like the Gopalgarh mosque firing, raises many disturbing questions.

Why didn’t the Anjuman, Imam and Jindal Saw inform the district administrative and judicial authorities, given the sensitive nature of the matter? The Anjuman isn’t a registered body, with no rights over the hill and mosque. The demolished “mazar” didn’t contain bones. Readers may recall the Imam’s noisy protest after a controversial statement by Rajasthan state minority minister Amin Khan that a Masjid ceases to be so if prayers were not offered there. He regretted and withdrew the statement by tendering unqualified apology after the controversy.

The debate on the credulity of the fatwa and the authority of the Imam is irrelevant, not mitigating the crime of desecrating a religious place. Imam’s “supervision” of the demolition made people allege: “the contrived fatwa and supervision were ‘contributions for the reward!’ He, unwittingly, made a statement on 20 April to the Additional District Magistrate: “neither he talked to the Jindal Saw nor he took money!...”

“Unnecessarily, I have walked into the jhanjhat,” he admitted to me, looking wizened. Strangely, the Wakf chairman didn’t smell quid pro quo in the Anjuman’s letter, even if unaware of the “fatwa” and Wakf’s screaming records. He should reinvent the Board and keep his eyes and ears open and pen in order. A marked contrast in the language/diction of the chairman’s letters (18 and 23 April) is inescapable. Did the legal and administrative sections scrutinize the correspondence? Or, the crony capitalist cake was too tempting?

Jindal Saw Ltd., an influential corporate house of Haryana, has extensive mining rights around Pur. Company’s inaugural function was attended by high profile politicians. Emerging India is obsessed with growth trajectory, playing down ecology, tribal and rural aspirations (food, education, health, and shelter), enabling crony capitalism cannibalize common property resources causing extensive displacements and destruction. Rajasthan has joined the league of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, and Odisha ‘developmental’ worldviews and strategies against their voiceless and unprotected hinterlands. Rajasthan’s mining and tourism are limited and fickle sectors. Its long range sustainable development, balance between ecology and economy, is in conserving and protecting the precarious land, waters, pastures, forests, agriculture and animal resources, not in deepening social chasm due to crass consumerism, blind mining, industrialization and tourism (late Bhairon Singh Shekhawat’s obsessions), promoted by nexus of businessmen, bureaucrats and politicians. The Rubicon of politics and ethics be respected. An avowed Gandhian, chief minister Ashok Gehlot, must reverse the fast track cannibalization of Rajasthan’s precarious resources with transparent pro-people policies and programmes as demonstrated firmly by free medicine scheme.

The author is president of IRADA, member, Rajasthan State Rajiv Gandhi Social Security Mission, Jaipur and a former, AMU Academic Council.

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-31 July 2012 on page no. 11

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