In one corner of Delhi, an attack on religious freedom

It's a mosque, but only in name. The corner plot measuring 361.86 sq. m. in Sector 16, Block ‘D' in Rohini is bare except for a half-raised compound wall and a temporary roof.

Construction here came to a halt on Friday, June 26, 2009 — after slogan-shouting Hindutva mobs set upon the namazis, critically injuring 40-year-old labourer Mohammad Moin, and assaulting dozens of others. Some policemen also sustained injuries in the attack.

The fact that such an incident could take place in the national capital and remain unreported and unresolved a year later raises disturbing questions —about the response of the administration, and about a minority's right to enjoy the freedom of religion in the face of majoritarian pressure.

Only 10 days prior to the violence, the Delhi Development Authority had handed over the plot to the Darsgah-e-Islamia Intezamia Committee (DIIC) specifying that it was for the “construction of a mosque.” However, in the aftermath of the violence, the DDA cancelled the allotment: “The competent authority has ordered that considering the objections of the local residents and Resident Welfare Associations (RWAs) it will not be desirable to continue with allotment of land for a mosque at its present location.”

It took several heated hearings at the National Commission for Minorities (NCM) for the DDA finally to restore the land to the DIIC a whole year later, on July 12, 2010. But it extracted a written undertaking that the mosque would be out of bounds for “outsiders,” including friends and relatives of local Muslims.

For Rohini's Muslims, forced to commute long distances for prayers, a mosque in the neighbourhood was a wish fulfilled. June 26, 2009 was to be a special Friday. But trouble had already started over the imminent construction. Overnight, inflammatory posters appeared urging Hindu residents to gather at the district park on June 26 to stop the mosque from coming up. “Jago Hindu Jago, (wake up Hindus)” said the text, warning Rohini's Hindu residents to awaken before it was “too late.”

Apprehending violence, the DIIC alerted the local police station, which posted a posse at the site. But saffron easily overpowered khakhi that day. With loudspeakers blaring hate messages, frenzied crowds lunged at the namazis. The hooligans abused Moin and slit his throat. He was rushed to a nearby hospital where his bleeding wound was stitched up. The fury of the crowds then turned to the policemen.

Curiously, despite the large-scale violence, the injured namazis were unable to file an FIR. The local Station House Officer informed them that he had himself registered an FIR against 19 offenders under IPC sections 148 (rioting armed with deadly weapons), 149 (guilt by association), 186, 353 and 332 (all relating to obstruction of official duty). The FIR made no mention of the injuries to the namazis. Nor would the SHO provide them a copy of the FIR.

Muslim residents of Rohini hold a good-conduct certificate from none other than local Bharatiya Janata Party MLA Kulwant Rana. In a letter to the DDA dated May 30, 2009, Mr. Rana made a strong pitch for the mosque, saying “community members here have endeared themselves to everyone with their love and affection.”

So when the case came up before the NCM, Chairman Mohammad Shafi Qureshi was dumbfounded that the DDA had ordered cancellation of the land allotment citing “objections from local residents and RWAs.” The land had been allotted after due diligence. And on June 26, 2009, the aggression was from the other side. So how could the DDA take such a drastic measure based on some flimsy objections? Besides, the DDA was no one to decide on law and order. At one point during the hearing, the NCM chairman caustically asked a DDA official: “If my neighbour does not like my face, would you cancel my allotment?”

The NCM succeeded in getting the land restored to Rohini's Muslims. Yet it is perturbed with the rider that the site be barred for non-Rohini Muslim residents. The Commission noted: “Their [Muslim] belief is that the message of their faith is for the entire mankind, including the non-Muslim. There is no restriction on entry of any Muslim in any of the Masjids not only in India but throughout the world for offering namaz as nobody is considered ‘outsider.' This condition is violative of Article 25 (Right to freedom of religion granted in the Constitution) and DDA has absolutely no right to impose such a condition.”

But such is the fear among Rohini's Muslims that let alone fighting for “outsiders,” they will not even say when they plan to build the masjid.

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Printable version | Jun 2, 2020 5:52:19 PM |

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