Central government has made several attempts in the last five years to remove around 200-year-old Lal Masjid and take over its adjacent land of graveyard situated at Lodhi road in capital city Delhi despite the land and the mosque come under Waqf properties.
The issue came into limelight recently after on 31 March, the police told the caretakers of the mosque about demolishing it. Imam (Prayer leader) of the Mosque Muhammed Ilyas confirmed to the Media that the police have asked them to vacate the mosque but he refused to talk about the issue further.
Mohammed Salim, who has been looking after the mosque for the last 40 years, told this correspondent that SHO of the Nizamuddin police station said to him that the mosque would be demolished.
“On Friday, the SHO said that this mosque would be demolished. The fact of the matter is that they have no business into this mosque. We are at Lodhi road and they are at Nizamuddin. If anyone has the authority to talk about this, it’s the police at Lodhi road,” said Salim.
After Salim was warned by the SHO, he informed the Imam of the mosque and the imam informed the caretaker Nafisa. Nafisa is the wife of Habiburrahman, who used to take care of the mosque and gave salary to the Imam and Muezzin. After Habidurrahman’s death, his wife Nafisa started taking care of the mosque.
The mosque was situated adjacent to a graveyard, which was occupying a large chunk of the land. But the graveyard land has been occupied by the CRPF offices after the Central government gave the 2.33 acres of Waqf land including the mosque to them in 2017 for office construction. In the same year, Delhi Waqf board filed a complaint with the Nizamuddin police station with regard to the land given to the CRPF and demanded to stop the construction activities there. Since then a case is pending in the Delhi Waqf Tribunal in this regard. But, the CRPF continues taking over the land.
According to Salim, the CRPF offices has been there for 10 or 12 years. And the offices are being built gradually after demolishing the graves one after another.
“In 2018, the CRPF demolished all graveyards. They had pelted stones on us to dislodge us from there. They had demolished everything. The government is theirs and everything is theirs, what is ours? In the court, it has been shown it’s a mosque but they call it ‘destroyed structures’. In the court, it has been shown that namaz (prayer) is offered here yet they call it ‘destroyed structures’,” said Salim adding that no complaint was filed with regard to destruction of graveyards.
Salim also said that there were a lot of graves in that graveyard. The graves, which were destroyed from there, belonged to elder people including those who fought the freedom battle in 1857.
In 2018, the Delhi Minority Commission had issued a notice to the CRPF and asked it to maintain “status quo”. Then Chairman of the Commission Zafarul Islam Khan had visited the site and found “both power and water supplies were cut off and the ablution area (wuzukhana) was broken”. It was later restored.
The commission had further directed CRPF to preserve the graves in the fenced area under its control and had also told it not to shut the access road to the mosque/graves.
“Closure of the mosque access road in order to enlarge CRPF access road is a violation of the Hon’ble High Court’s order to maintain the status quo,” said the commission in its 2018 order.
Again in 2019, the CRPF authorities made another attempt to take over the mosque area of the land. They had enclosed the area by fencing wire and closed all gates of the mosque allowing no one to enter in it. The mosque was freed from the forceful occupation of the CRPF after Aam Aadmi MLA and Delhi Waqf Board chairman Amanatullah Khan had protested and held talks with the concerned authority over the takeover of the mosque area.
After holding a meeting with the police officials, Khan had said “It has been decided in the meeting that the CRPF will end its takeover attempt on the mosque and that they will not conduct any activities in the graveyards till the court decides on the case.”
However, the latest warning by the SHO of Nizamuddin police station to the Masjid caretakers about demolishing it shows that the authorities are hell bent upon removing it from there.
Meanwhile, the Delhi Waqf Board moved Delhi High Court challenging the demolition order with regard to the mosque. In its plea, the Waqf board said that the mosque and the graveyards have been there since time immemorial but the land was taken over by the authorities in 2017. Since then, the dispute about the land is pending in the Waqf Tribunal. But the Tribunal is not adjudicating in the matter due to the vacancy of the members in the Tribunal.
On 7 April, the single-judge bench of Justice Sanjeev Sachdeva has asked the Delhi government to expeditiously fill up the vacancies in the tribunal for the adjudication and directed the Central government to maintain status quo on the demolition.
“I will give you as much time as you want, but don’t change the status. We will have it tomorrow, but you should not come tomorrow and say, ‘Sorry, we have demolished the building’. I will then haul up your officials for contempt,” said the Judge when the Centre sought adjournment in the case.
Additional solicitor general (ASG) Chetan Sharma assured the court that the government will not demolish the mosque till April 29, when the case will be next heard by the court.