Sunday, March 3, 2024

Delhi’s Sunehri Masjid faces demolition: Outcry over threat to Muslim lives, heritage, history

A public notice in last Sunday’s newspapers of Delhi has become a matter of discussion and concern for scores of the Muslim community, heritage enthusiasts, and curators in the national capital.

The New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC) in the public notice has asked for the views of the local population on the removal of Sunehri Masjid and its fate.

Objections and suggestions of the public are being accepted until January 1, 2024, as per the notice.

The Sunehri Bagh Masjid is a Mughal-era structure currently in use. However, it is under assessment for demolition due to being considered “a potential obstacle for traffic.”

The NDMC has also claimed that the mosque hinders the way to Indian Air Force headquarters and Udyog Bhawan; one of the roads leading to Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s residence.

The NDMC is the civic agency for New Delhi and comes under the Union government.

Besides being an important piece of architectural heritage, this mosque also holds historical significance. It served as the Delhi residence of India’s freedom fighter Hasrat Mohani, who coined the slogan ‘Inquilab Zindabad’ and was the first person to demand ‘Purna Swaraj’ (complete freedom) from the British in the Congress in 1930.

Historians and heritage conservationists were quick to respond to the demolition call.

Rana Safvi, a noted historian said, “This mosque houses more than 200 people on normal days and more than 500 people pray here on Fridays.”

She said that NDMC should look for an alternate way to improve the traffic situation if it is about traffic as “this is grade III heritage structure and there have been multiple efforts to keep it safe”

Another historian Swapna Liddle has pointed out, “It is ironic that while the mosque survived the ravages of time and major colonial reconstruction of the city in 1912, NDMC is planning to demolish it now.”

A 1912 map shared by Liddle also depicts the mosque in a garden named Hakim Ji ka Bagh, also known as Sunehri Bagh.

On the other hand, Arshad Madani, head of one faction of Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind said that the Muslim cleric body will deal with this legally.

He wrote on X, “We will fight every legal battle for Sunehri Bagh Mosque, demolishing the mosque is a conspiracy. After the Babri Masjid verdict, the courage of communal forces has increased, their eyes are on our places of worship, we will take every step for the security of the mosque, and the administration should avoid committing illegal activities.”

The NDMC notice comes days after the Delhi High Court rejected a plea from the mosque for its protection.

The NDMC in the notice had said that it has approached the Heritage Conservation Committee, a Supreme court-mandated body under the Union Housing and Urban Affairs ministry, for the removal of the mosque “on reference from Delhi Traffic Police for providing traffic engineering proposal to ensure sustainable mobility in the vicinity of Sunehri Bagh.”

Several individuals, professionals and organisations have sent emails to the NDMC opposing the move. 

A law firm, Indian Union Civil Liberties in collaboration with Purani Dilli Walon ki Baten, an organisation dedicated to conserving Delhi’s heritage has also sent their responses of objection to the NDMC.

Anas Tanvir, a lawyer based in Delhi shares the text of objections with Maktoob.

It states, “This mosque is a religious site where approximately 200 people daily and about 500 people on Friday come to offer Jumua’h Namaz, most of whom are well aware of its historical significance. These worshippers comprise mainly those working in Lutyens Delhi and MPs. This is also a designated heritage site. The style of architecture having Bangla Roof was famous in the late Mughal era and is present in the mosque as of today. It is a fact that this mosque is older than the NDMC and Lutyens Delhi as we know it today.”

It added, “The Sunehri Masjid is amongst the structures that have survived till date. Looking at its architectural significance and use, the then town planner decided to incorporate it into the town planning by replacing it in one of the many roundabouts in the upcoming city.”

Moreover, the mosque is a Grade III protected monument under the Delhi Development Authority Act, of 1962.

Suggesting the alternatives that can be taken by the NDMC to protect the mosques, the text stated, “Adaptive reuse or careful integration of the structure into the traffic engineering plan could help preserve both the heritage and address the traffic issues effectively.”

Among many other suggestions, it also suggested employing better and more advanced modern traffic control systems to control the traffic as these systems adjust traffic signal timings based on real-time traffic conditions and demand.

AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi has also written a letter to NDMC opposing the proposal to demolish the Sunheri Mosque.

Appealing the NDMC to take back the proposal Owaisi has said Owaisi has said that the mosque is a waqf property and that it can’t be removed or demolished through a  “mere “ decision of the Heritage Committee.

He said, “Waqf properties cannot be sold, leased, or alienated under the Waqf Act 1995. Most importantly, the sections of the NDMC Act, 1994 that were referred to in the public notice are irrelevant to the issue at hand. Sections 202 and 207 refer to the vesting of public streets in the NDMC and the power to regulate traffic on such public streets.”

He added in the letter, “Neither the NDMC nor Delhi Traffic Police have provided any data on why the masjid must be removed. Neither has it been explained why “sustainable mobility” can only be achieved through the removal of the masjid and not through actual sustainable measures such as signalised crossings, traffic diversions and provision of alternate routes”.

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