Monday, May 27, 2024

Graves demolished and idols installed inside Ahmedabad’s 600-year-old dargah: Culmination of post-Babri VHP campaign?

The 600 year old dargah of Imam Shah Baba on the outskirts of Ahmedabad, witnessed a flare-up late on Tuesday night when a group of miscreants demolished graves and installed idols in the shrine.

The attack led by a Hindu mob culminated into heightened communal tension and stone pelting in the area. Police have detained 30 people so far in relation to the incident.

The graves of Imam Shah and his family members were flattened during late night and the Muslims living in Pirana village reached the spot as soon as they came to know about the desecration.

The confrontation led to heated argument, and meanwhile stone pelting took place, injuring four people.

According to police, the structures built upon the graves were razed off by the Hindu faction of trustees.

Ahmedabad SP Omprakash Jat said: “The Imam Shah Baba Roza trust has members from Hindu and Muslim communities and there has been a long-standing dispute over the shrine. During the wee hours on Wednesday, people from both communities gathered at the shrine after they learned about the graves being razed.”

Stone pelting and clashes grew intense as the cops reached the spot.

A team of LCB (Local Crime Branch) and SOG (Special Operations Group) of Ahmedabad rural police started patrolling in the area.

“Four or five people including a police inspector suffered injuries in the incident. No one suffered any major injuries,” the police sources told Times of India.

“We objected to the razing of the graves and demanded restoration. The police officers assured us they will make the trustees rebuild the graves. They have been promising that since early morning, but there has been no action yet,” Azhar Saiyed, a descendant of the saint and a resident of Pirana, said.

Backstory and chronology of violence

Imam Shah Baba is a figure revered by Muslims, Hindus and others for centuries. In the wake of the Babri Masjid demolition, Hindutva extremist organisation VHP (Vishva Hindu Parishad) launched a campaign to “reclaim” other places of worship held by the Muslim community.

The dargah in Pirana was part of the list and since then, several attempts were made to forcefully lay control over the place and to erase the history of the 600 year old shrine. Events inducing anti-Muslim hate were conducted in the vicinity of the shrine.

Trouble was furthered in 2022, when the trust that oversees the maintenance of the shrine suddenly decided to build a wall between the shrine and a mosque next to it, virtually cutting off smooth passage between the two.

This wall construction was viewed by the Muslim community as a manifest act of aggression, and thus as a mark of protest, as well as, fearing possible violence, many families migrated en masse out of the village.

Nearly 500 of them were arrested, though released later, according to the CJP report.

Subsequently, the plan to build a separate temple within the complex created discontent among many as it was against the spirit of the shrine which has been a symbol of Hindu-Muslim communal harmony for centuries. A Muslim organisation called Sunni Awami Forum filed a PIL against the construction of a new temple within the shrine premises, seeking restrictions on any such development by invoking the Places of Worship Act, 1991.

Later in August, 2023, the Hindu group of trustees tried to rename the shrine under Saint Sadguru Hanstej Maharaj. Posters of deities and saffron flags appeared inside and around the dargah on August 13, and a 25-foot hoarding was put up outside the shrine on August 15.

The hoarding bore the words ‘Om Shree Sadguru Hanstejji Maharaj Akhand Divyajyoti Mandir’, presenting the shrine to be a temple.

The descendants of the Pir Imam Shah Baba, who belong to the local Sayyid community objected to the renaming. They termed it “yet another effort to saffronise the shrine”. In protest, they began an indefinite fast. After these incidents, the place remained tense and prone to ruckus at any time, and today, the Hindutva campaign has climaxed in an extremely unpleasant manner.

As the news spread on Wednesday, Congress MLA from Jamalpur, Imran Khedawala, and former MLA Gyasuddin Shaikh, appealed to maintain peace and assured that they would raise the issue before the election commission as the model code of conduct is in force.

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