The BJP-led Waqf Board in Kashmir is facing growing opposition from regional parties and locals over the move to convert a part of Eidgah, a ground traditionally dedicated to congregational prayers in Srinagar, into a cancer hospital.
“The statements issued about Eidgah have hurt the sentiments of local Muslim populace, which is watching the situation with lots of apprehension. The place is meant for prayers. Anything done against the wishes of the people will be fraught with dangers,” former Chief Minister and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) president Mehbooba Mufti said.
She accused the administration of “creating a pressure-cooker kind of situation in J&K”. “This government has no representative character and no authority to take decisions on behalf of any community, especially the Muslim community to which the Waqf properties belong to,” she said.
Ms. Mufti asked the Waqf Board not to construct a cancer hospital in the congested locality of Eidgah. “Let the Tattoo Ground in Srinagar be used for it,” Ms. Mufti said.
National Conference spokesman Imran Nabi Dar said the Eidgah is meant for prayers only. “We have two cancer hospitals just a few kilometres away from the site. This Eidgah is used by youth from the old city, which does not have enough open spaces. Where will the youth go? Let the government identify some other site,” Mr. Dar said.
Several youth bodies and locals have also opposed the move of the Waqf Board. Mehraj Rather, a BJP leader, demanded that the cancer hospital come up in Asham area in Bandipora’s Sonawari area. “Over 700 kanals of land belongs to the Waqf in Sonawari. It’s a suitable place for a hospital and is just 25 km from Srinagar city,” Mr. Mehraj said.
Eidgah, besides being the site for congregational prayers, is also a political site in Kashmir. It was used by regional parties like NC and Awani Action Committee (AAC) to rally people in the pre-1989 years. Later, top separatist leaders used the Eidgah to organise anti-India rallies, which resulted in banning of congregational Eid prayers by the authorities on many occasions. The Eidgah also houses the graves of senior separatist leaders, including Mirwaiz Muhammad Farooq and Abdul Ghani Lone, both assassinated by unknown gunmen. Scores of militants and protesters, who died in clashes, are buried at the graveyard, known as ‘Martrys Graveyard’.
In a statement, Hurriyat chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq said the Eidgah in Srinagar was purchased by Persian saint Mir Mohammad Hamdani in the 15th century. “He gave it to the public for offering congregational Eid prayers. Many eminent scholars and saints have delivered their sermons here such as Sheikh ul Aalam and Sheikh Hamza Makhdoom,” the Mirwaiz said in a statement.
Describing it as “a historic public space”, the Mirwaiz said Kashmir’s first cricket and football games were played here. “Eidgah also houses the Martyrs Graveyard, which is resting place for over 1,000 people who were slain in the last 33 years. The administration wants to take over the sacred space of Eidgah. For Kashmiris, this space is holy and part of their historical, cultural and spiritual heritage,” the Mirwaiz said.
Earlier this month, BJP leader and Waqf chairperson Darakshan Andrabi announced that 70 kannals (8.75 acres) of the Eidgah land in Srinagar will be converted into a cancer hospital under a joint venture.
Ms. Andbrabi has initiated a number of reforms as Waqf head, which include removal of donation boxes of ‘peers’ from the Valley shrines, ending the turban-tying ceremony of politicians and revising rents of Waqf properties.