Siddha Mosque Faces Demolition or Relocation

While the UPA government at the Centre is storming the political arena with its talk of development measures for the Indian Muslims, about a century old Siddha Mosque in West Midnapur district of West Bengal has come under serious threat from the Union Surface Transport Ministry of the same regime. The Ministry wants the mosque…

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While the UPA government at the Centre is storming the political arena with its talk of development measures for the Indian Muslims, about a century old Siddha Mosque in West Midnapur district of West Bengal has come under serious threat from the Union Surface Transport Ministry of the same regime. The Ministry wants the mosque to be demolished or relocated in lieu of compensation. According to them the mosque is coming in the way of a service road to be built along the National Highway No.6, which is passing by the mosque.

On October 13, 2003 some officials attached to the Additional District Magistrate of West Midnapur visited the mosque for a survey and disclosed to the Imam that the mosque was about to be acquired under the National Highway Act, 1956 for widening the National Highway No.6 which stretches from Kolkata to Khargapur and further to Mumbai. The road is already built and transport is also flowing on it. To make a service road the national highway needs the mosque space. Local Muslims have since been leaving no stone unturned to save the mosque in which they not only offer five times daily prayers but assemble for Juma (Friday) and Eid prayers as well. The mosque was built on a piece of land donated by two pious Muslims of the locality in 1910. To meet the needs of the growing number of Muslims in the area the mosque has been expanded and renovated.

After the first punch from the Government on October 13, 2003 the people made an urgent representation in writing to the then Minister in-charge of the Surface Transport. They requested him to save the mosque by skirting the highway a bit as was done in case of a school nearby. Actually the problem has arisen because of skirting the house of an influential local person by curving the road. And this curve makes the mosque a snag on the highway.

At first, a Chabutra (Wazu khana/ place of ablution) was separated from the mosque and the Highway authorities constructed a wall to save the mosque from traffic vibrations. But, later they wanted the whole mosque.

Having received no response from the Surface Transport Ministry, some members of the mosque management filed a petition before the Additional District Magistrate of West Midnapur. At one stage the District authorities said that the highway was already widened enough and the mosque would be spared. But, through a writ petition in the High Court of Kolkata, an order was issued on July 13, 2004 directing the District Land Acquisition authorities to deposit an amount of compensation with the registrar of the court and take possession of the mosque 15 days thereafter. This unexpected turn of event created a wave of indignation and unrest among the Muslims of West Bengal.

In July last year, a delegation including members of the Muslim Council of Bengal with some media persons called on the then Union Minister in-charge of Defence Pranab Mukharjee, Railway Minister Lalu Prasad and then Minister in-charge of Parliamentary Affairs Gulam Nabi Azad. However, the delegation failed to make any headway.

Then, on June 13, 2006, the Additional Magistrate (General) of East Midnapur, in a meeting, asked the president and the secretary of Siddha Jama Masjid Managing Committee to hand over the possession of the mosque to National Highway Authority of India. But the latter pleaded that the case was pending before a Division Bench of High Court of Kolkata as they had moved against the judgement of a Single Bench of the same court. But their plea was rejected and they were told to submit the particulars of the site for relocation of the mosque by 16.06.2006.

This led to an explosive situation as the Muslims of the entire area demonstrated on National Highway-6. But the Left Front Government instead of handling the situation tactfully threw the ball into the court of the Central government.

Then onwards, several letters and memorandums were sent to MPs and Ministers like Kadir Mohiuddin, Priyaranjan Dasmunsi, etc. One memorandum was sent to UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi, detailing every facet of the problem. The response was sometimes satisfactory. In a letter addressed to Chief Minister of West Bengal Buddhadeb Bhattacharya on September 21, 2005, Union Information and Broadcasting Minister P.R. Dasmunsi insisted on protecting the mosque and to “kindly explore all possibilities to avoid acquisition of this mosque, by way of slightly curving the Highway in that particular location.”

Apart from Dasmunsi’s generous response, verbally all other central leaders promised some positive actions. But a memorandum sent by the All India Milli Council, West Bengal to the C.M of Bengal reveals something else. The Milli Council letter of November 22, 2006 reads, “Yesterday we received a letter from Shri T. R. Baalu addressed to Shri A.R. Antulay Minister of Minorities of the Government of India, which surprised us all. There is clear indication that Shri T.R. Baalu is not at all interested in considering the alternative ways to spare the mosque, to the contrary he has suggested the Management Committee of the Siddha Mosque to receive the compensation of Rs. 10.37 Lakhs and shift the mosque to a new location.”

India is constitutionally a secular state but perhaps not for religious minorities. Otherwise why it is that a private house is protected but not a mosque! One may ask: Is this a just decision? Constitutionally, again the acquisition of a place of worship is barred. The Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991 (Indian Parliament Act No.42 of 1991) Clause 4 clearly states: “Declaration as to the religious character of certain places of worship and bar of jurisdiction of courts etc. 4(1) It is hereby declared that the religious character of a place of worship existing on the 15th day of August 1947 shall continue to be the same as it existed on that day.”

The law clearly states this, yet the lawmakers are quite unmoved by the anguish of the people for whom they make laws.

The Muslims are beset with the fear of losing another mosque after the demolition of Babri Mosque in 1992 which was levelled by the karsevaks of Sangh Parivar. The then Congress-led Narasimha Rao government could not protect the Babri Masjid from demolition despite various commitment made to this effect.

So, will the government take steps to stop the demolition of Siddha Mosque, or is it set out to demolish it? This question has assumed importance with the government not paying any heed to the submissions made by the Muslim organisations of West Bengal to protect this mosque.¨