The sun has risen but there is still a nip in the air at 7 a.m.
A small municipal park in Rohini’s Sector 9 is full of people taking a walk or performing yoga.
On the extreme right near the entrance of the park is a priest preparing for the morning aarti at a little temple-establishment.
The board nearby reads: “Gurghere Wale Baba Ki Marhi”. As walkers cross in front of the temple, they lower their head in reverence.
Five months earlier, the place used to present a very different picture — from the worshippers to the worshipped. For one, there wasn’t even a temple here. In its place stood a mazar (mausoleum) of ‘Syed Guru Dhere Baba’.
For the last 20-odd years, 55-year-old Dilawar Khan used to visit the mazar to make sure it was clean and taken care of.
However, when he visited it on May 31 this year, he was allegedly beaten up, the stone slab covering the mazar was broken and the structure was turned into a temple for ‘Gurghere Wale Baba’.
Mr. Khan, fondly called Pir Baba, claims he usually went to the mazar every Thursday and welcomed people who used to come to the site with a firm belief that their wishes would be fulfilled if they prayed here. But it’s been five months since he has visited.
Stone slab broken
“I personally don’t know the history of Syed Pir Baba but the person who used to sit before I did was an acquaintance. I don’t remember his name. After he died, I started sitting here,” he says.
Recalling the day of the incident, Mr. Khan says: “On the morning of May 31, I went to the Mazar and found that the stone slab was partially broken. Wahan logon ne mujhe roka aur peeta [People present there stopped me and beat me up].”
He adds that around 30 men threatened him and told him to leave the premises as the space belonged to a ‘Hindu Baba’.
The police was called in and Mr. Khan was allegedly taken to the Prashant Vihar police station, where his statement was recorded. Based on his complaint, an FIR was registered.
In his statement to the police, Mr. Khan did not mention he was beaten up.
The contents of the FIR state that Mr. Khan received a call from a resident stating that someone had broken the stone slab of the mazar.
When he reached the site, Mr. Khan said in his statement, he found that the green cloth that covered the slab had been taken off and someone had put statues of Hindu gods on it instead.
According to the FIR, the claims made by Mr. Khan were verified by the police, who found that it was indeed a mazar for the last 20-22 years. After preliminary investigation, a case under Section 295 (injuring or defiling place of worship with intent to insult the religion of any class) was registered.
Why did Mr. Khan not inform the police about who beat him up?
“I was scared,” he says, adding that he wasn’t able to identify anyone in the mob. “I am an old man. I didn’t know what to do and I couldn’t understand what was happening. I got so scared. I didn’t even inform my family that I was at the police station,” he says.
When approached for a response, Deputy Commissioner of Police (Rohini) Rishi Pal refused to share details of action taken in the matter. “Nothing has happened today or yesterday and I cannot share the details of the investigation or action taken,” he said.
Over the past five months, several orange-coloured flags with ‘Om’ written on them have been hung from the trees in the municipal park — located between residential apartments. Right in the middle are two stones, one above the other, with a quadrilateral structure over them that serves home to a diya.
‘There was a Mazar here’
Pandit Jitendra Pandey is preparing to offer his prayers. He pours ghee into the diya, takes cotton wick and lights it. “The temple was constructed about five months ago and aarti is performed every morning,” he says. He admits there was a mazar here before, but offers an explanation.
Mr. Pandey claims that the plot of land where the mazar was built is actually a samadhi of Gurghere Baba, who lived in the area about 400 years ago.
“There are no records of his presence but the information was passed on from one generation to another. He used to live here and take care of the people and solve their problems. He had left his family and had devoted his life to social good, is what we know,” he claims.
“Why would we build a temple where a Muslim man was buried,” he asks.
Performing the aarti alongside Mr. Pandey is Krishan Sisodia (48), a resident of the area who claims to be the local president of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (Prashant Vihar). Mr. Sisodia claims no one had any issues with the mazar till “they” allegedly planned to turn it into a concrete structure.
“They wanted to build a structure around it. We couldn’t have let that happen. The place essentially belonged to our Baba,” he says
Mr. Sisodia and Mr. Pandey further allege that Mr. Khan was indulging in ‘objectionable activities’ near the Mazar. “He used to look at women inappropriately. And people used to keep sitting here all day, which was objected to by many,” says Mr. Sisodia.
When asked if a police complaint was made regarding these ‘objectionable activities’, Mr. Sisodia replied in the negative.
However, a resident who lives right across the park, but did not wish to be named, refutes Mr. Sisodia’s claims: “Pir Baba had been sitting here for many years. No one really had any problems with him except a couple of groups.”
As Mr. Sisodia and Mr. Pandey explain the situation, Pawan Garg (63), who claims to be the treasurer of the VHP (Rohini), enters wearing a red-coloured teeka on his forehead.
Mr. Garg says that he was instrumental in turning the mazar into the temple. “The land belongs to Hindus and we told them that. They protested and even approached the police but we told them if they’ll go overboard, they’ll be beaten up,” he says.
The fear of being thrashed and being overpowered by the majority community in the area is palpable among the Muslims of Rajapur, a nearby village, who often visited the mazar.
Inhabited by thousands of Muslims from Bihar and West Bengal, the village is just a kilometre from the park.
The residents told The Hindu that they can’t fight because they’re scared.
“We are in minority here and we live in rented accommodations owned by the Hindus. If we fight, they can force us out of houses. Where will we go,” asks Mohd. Izhar, a 37-year-old rickshaw-puller.
Nazim, a tea-stall owner, has another tale to share: “For the last two decades, we used to conclude our Muharram procession at the mazar but this year in September-October, we ended it in a ground in Rajapur”.
Maitur Rahman says he used to visit the mazar every Thursday. “I would just go and wish for the things I needed in life and it would eventually come true. Now they’ve built a temple there, even if I want to go on believing that Syed Guru is there, I can’t because I am scared,” he says.
Will look into it: MLA
Rohini MLA and senior BJP leader Vijender Gupta said he has no knowledge of the incident but will look into the matter.
“First of all, I am against encroachment of any kind. There should be no religious structure in parks. And if a Mazar has been turned into a temple, it’s surprising and I will speak to the residents and authorities concerned,” he said.
Talking about the people who may have done this, Mr. Gupta said: “There’s a possibility that people are only claiming to be from the VHP. The organisation’s top leaders wouldn’t allow such a thing.”