The Khirki mosque in the Capital is yet another monument on government land that is being encroached upon

Some weeks ago, on July 28 to be precise, this column carried a story about a daring attempt to encroach upon an archaeological find that had been revealed because the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) had begun digging in the Daryaganj area despite Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) protests that the DMRC tunneling was likely to damage the foundations of the Akbarabadi mosque. The mosque was known to be located beneath the Subhash Park and plans to reveal and conserve them had already been discussed among conservationists. The DMRC paid no heed to the protests and only after conservationists had raised Cain and after a communally surcharged situation had begun to develop that the Delhi High Court ordered the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) to vacate the encroachment and hand over the land to the ASI.

The MCD shows no signs of removing the encroachments but that is not surprising as it has not taken any action on another order of the Delhi High Court that had directed the MCD to remove all encroachments from Jama Masjid. This order had come in 2010 and a deadline had been set by the Supreme Court for September 15, 2010. Today is the second anniversary of the expiry of the deadline and there is no sign of any action from the MCD that could suggest that they have any intention of following orders.

These two are not the only instances of encroachments on historically and archaeologically important mosques. All kinds of people are in the process of encroaching or have successfully encroached upon all manner of places of worship. The places encroached and those encroaching do not necessarily belong to the same side of the denominational divide. In fact encroachment on places of worship, especially archaeologically and historically important structures, is an extremely secular and universally followed practice in India.

Another blatant encroachment that has been going on for years, slowly, systematically and to a fairly well laid out plan that is even now being implemented can be seen in operation at the Khirki mosque opposite the swanky and utterly incongruous Select City Walk and other malls near Saket. The mosque was built in the second half of the 14 century by Khan-e-Jahan Juna Shah Telangani, the prime minister of Firozeshah Tughlaq.

The monument is in the process of being so enclosed from all sides that soon no one will ever know that a beautiful mosque, architecturally probably the only one of its kind, ever existed in Delhi.

The mosque is a two storey building. There used to be a tehkhana or a cellar on the ground floor, probably built to escape the summer heat and the floor above was for prayers. The mosque is roofed over with four openings to let in light and has 89 domes. This feature and the fact that it is perhaps the only mosque that is fully roofed over, gives it its unique architectural value.

Though the entire mosque is built with Delhi quartz stone, held together with crushed brick and lime stone mortar and then plastered over, its walls are broken with perforated windows carved out of Sandstone. It is this attribute that gave the mosque its name Khirki mosque and the village that subsequently developed near the mosque came to be called Khirki as well.

In the aftermath of partition, this village, inhabited then by Muslim Jats, lost most of its population to riots and migration and was subsequently settled by those who had been able to escape to Delhi from what was now Pakistan. The new arrivals began to build all around the mosque and by the time we got around to passing the 1948 law for protection of monuments, much land had been encroached upon to the east, west and north of the mosque. The south face of the mosque that overlooked the road somehow escaped this building frenzy.

It is now the east face that is under assault. The open ground has sprouted little make-shift temples on all four corners of the ground and recently an Indian Academy of Judo and Yoga (Registered) has fixed its board on the ground. It will not be surprising if one finds a local real estate agent with his grubby finger in this spiritual pie.

The ASI lodged a complaint with the police, but nothing happened. Nothing normally happens in cases like this, the standard police response is lack of staff and other responsibilities. The fact is that police does not want to take sides with the ASI and antagonize the local elements that they have to deal with on a daily basis. The fact that many of the encroachers are either politically active or have political patrons also helps to de-motivate the police. The status as of now is that ASI has begun proceedings to acquire this land, except that they do not have the ready cash and meanwhile, the builders of the pracheen temple and future judokas and yogis continue to flex their muscles.

The fact that despite all the efforts of ASI nothing much is being done against the encroachers has emboldened those who live on the other three sides and hectic building activity in the last two months has seen, with most houses adding a floor or two. And this has happened after the restriction on renovation, alteration and additions to any existing building within 300 meters of a protected monument has come into force.

One wonders if those capable of initiating action against encroachment actually care a whit. Why does the police have to wait for a complaint, can’t they see that government land is being encroached upon?