From one masjid to another, it’s an unending tale of sorrow and betrayal
– Uzma Ausaf
Many decades ago, German pastor Martin Niemöller warned us about the dangers of keeping quiet in the face of an attack. In what has now become an anthem of resistance, Niemöller wrote, ‘First they came for the Communist and I didn’t speak out because I was not a Communist, then they came for the Socialists and I did not speak out because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists and I didn’t speak out because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak for me.’
Unfortunately, we did not pay attention to Niemöller’s words in India. These words came back to haunt me this week as first there was news of a survey being ordered of Shahi Eidgah Masjid in Mathura. Then a couple of days later came the news that the Archaeological Survey of India had completed its survey of the Gyanvapi Masjid in Varanasi. Both the masjids are being claimed by Hindu petitioners as their own, much like the Babri Masjid many years ago. As Niemöller had warned, first they came for Babri, and most kept quiet as they did not pray there. Then they came for Kasi. Not many responded beyond shock and revulsion. Now, they are coming for Mathura. And they may not stop until there are no more mosques to stake claim to.
Back in 1949, December 22-23 an idol of Ram Lalla was smuggled into Babri Masjid in Ayodhya. First they sought the chabutra for worship of the idol, then they wanted the whole mosque. In the mid 80s, the Rajiv Gandhi government ordered the opening of the locks of the mandir-masjid complex for idol worship. Kar Seva in Ayodhya and L.K Advani’s Rath Yatra from Somnath to Faizabad followed. A few years later in a brazen criminal act, Babri Masjid itself was demolished on December 6, 1992. Some twenty-seven years later the Supreme Court held the demolition of the masjid to be ‘a criminal act’ but in its wisdom gave the plot of the demolished Babri Masjid for the construction of a Ram temple, consigning the new proposed mosque five kilometers away from the original place. We did not pay much attention to the slogans of, ‘Ayodhya to Jhanki hai, Kashi Mathura baqi hai’ in 1989. Result was first seen in 1992. Now it seems Kashi and Mathura could possibly go the Ayodhya way, and the Babri Masjid tragedy could just be a trailer.
If in the Babri Masjid case, the Hindu petitioners sought the chabutra first for worship, in Kashi they claimed the fountain in the masjid was a Shivlinga and that the women wanted to worship Gouri. The Hindu petitioners wanted a survey of the masjid, arguing it was actually a temple. The court, going against the Places of Worship Act 1991, ordered a survey. The ASI has submitted its report this week. One does not know about the contents of the report yet. On December 19, the Allahabad High Court rejected all petitions by the Gyanvapi mosque committee challenging civil suits seeking restoration of a temple at the mosque site. The High Court asked the Varanasi court to complete hearing in one of these civil suits, filed in 1991, within six months. The case relates to Gyanvapi mosque, located next to the Kashi Vishwanath temple in Varanasi. The High Court was hearing five petitions – three from the Gyanvapi mosque committee and two from Uttar Pradesh Sunni Central Waqf Board. Three of these petitions challenged the maintainability of a suit filed before the Varanasi court in 1991.
Similarly, in Mathura, nine Hindu petitioners want to wipe out the trace of Shahi Idgah Masjid. Once again, they claim the masjid was built in 1670 after Mughal emperor Aurangzeb demolished Keshava Deva temple which was built in 1618. Once again, the Hindu petitioners sought the permission of Allahabad High Court for the survey of the masjid which stands adjacent to the Krishna janam bhoomi of Mathura. The court ordered the survey of the mosque. The Sunni Waqf Board and the masjid management committee knocked at the door of the Supreme Court for relief. The court did not oblige. And now a survey will be carried out of the mosque premises. The Muslim representatives believe it goes against the letter and spirit of the Places of Worship Act 1991 which prohibits the changing of the character of any place of worship as it existed on August 15, 1947. In fact, during the Babri Masjid case hearing too, the court had held that the Places of Worship Act 1991 imposed a non-derogable obligation towards enforcing our commitment to secularism under the Constitution of India.
But a survey will nevertheless take place. There is a little solace though. Namaz will continue unhindered during the survey. As Justice Mayank Kumar Jain had stated, “During the execution of the commission, the sanctity of the campus can be directed to be maintained strictly.”
What could it possibly find? It is a known fact of history that Aurangzeb demolished the Mathura temple which was patronized by his rival for the Mughal throne, Dara Shukoh. Equally, it is known that the masjid is more than 350 years old, and existed there at the time of India’s independence. Same for Gyanvapi Masjid too. Hence both should be protected by the Places of Worship Act – 1991.
For the Muslim community, there is a feeling of déjà vu. From one tragedy to another, from one masjid to another, it is an unending tale of sorrow and betrayal. The shadow of the Babri Masjid refuses to go away. And unless the judiciary intervenes, the Gyanvapi Masjid in Varanasi and Shahi Eidgah Masjid in Mathura may soon be reduced to footnotes of history. There has been a spurt in petitions seeking to change the character of two mosques since the Babri Masjid verdict. In that heightened activity alone, alarm bells should ring.