Gone are the days when the destruction of a mosque was an occasion triggering trauma and widespread outrage. Now that the Muslim community of Uttar Pradesh is wary of trouble, on May 17, the administration in the state’s Barabanki district, engineered things in such a way that it managed to bring down a mosque—in violation of an order of the Allahabad High Court order.
On the face of it, the administration appears to have gotten away with it and the debris of the mosque has been thrown into a river.
However, there is now every chance that the matter will go to the High Court where action will be sought against the administration for contempt of court.
Is this a test case to see how far the administration can go against minorities in deeply communalised Uttar Pradesh? Or was the mosque demolition in Barabanki, a few hours drive from the state capital Lucknow, just bureaucratic over-reach?
Here are the facts.
The Garib Nawaz Al Maroof mosque known popularly as the Tehsil wali masjid stood in Village Bani Kadar, Tehsil, Ram Snehi Ghat, district Barabanki for several decades. Electricity bills dating over 60 years ago are with the management committee of the mosque that was registered with the Sunni Waqf Board.
The story goes that the mosque was located some metres away from the residence of a new SDM (sub divisional magistrate) Divyanshu Patel. Locals speculate it is possible he was offended by the traffic jam that would take place on Fridays or the call to prayers, the sound of Azan. Even if it began as a one-man mission to get rid of the mosque, there may have been collaboration higher on the administrative and political chain, for the controversial act to be done with such finality. Efforts to reach the SDM went in vain as his phone was switched off.
The first line of reasoning used by the administration was that the mosque was illegal—a structure and not a mosque. A notice was sent to the mosque committee asking them for permissions for the land usage and saying the structure was illegal and citing a court ruling that said illegal structures could be demolished.
The mosque committee claims to have sent a response along with an electricity bill from 1959. Next they went to the high court on March 18 saying the mosque faced demolition. At this stage, a subterfuge possibly happens. The court perceives the administration as seeking only documentation and not demolition. But the very next day, the local administration begins building a wall around the mosque structure and prevents people from going there. Then, as protests broke out in the small hamlet, the district administration started to make arrests and book people under serious charges including attempt to murder and in one case, the NSA (National Security Act).
Locals were, according to their account, threatened house to house and the fear of arrest put into them while some were indeed thrown into jail. Over a month of terror and intimidation therefore preceded the actual demolition of the mosque on May 17. Fear of being named in fake cases kept the local Muslims away as the mosque where they prayed for much of their lives was reduced to rubble.
What makes the act highly controversial is an order of the Allahabad High Court issued in the midst of the pandemic. On April 24 the High Court said that “any order of eviction, dispossession or demolition already passed by any court, if not executed till the day of this order shall remain in abeyance till 31.05.2021.”
Obviously, the administration was not willing to wait and wanted to act in the cover of the pandemic. Its actions are galling as first, there was no demolition order passed by any court against the mosque per se. Second, the Barabanki administration chose to flagrantly ignore the order of the court that any demolition should not take place at this time when people were grappling with the terrible pandemic.
Legal experts say that the SDM is part of the state and no officer of UP state can claim to be ignorant of the law. That is no defense.
This may have been a test case to see if the state can get away with demolishing a religious structure of the minority community. The Toolkit in this case appears to be to pass a notice, let them go to court but actually ignore the court advice and use administrative brute force to intimidate people, throw some into jail and keep them quiet while you demolish a structure and throw the debris into a river.
But this can now become a test case for seeing if the court can pull up the authorities for disregarding its orders. The mosque committee and Sunni Waqf Board intend to take this matter ahead and demand reconstruction of the mosque. Will the Allahabad High Court, that’s shown great independence in several recent orders, come down against this administrative subterfuge?
Meanwhile, we have demolished another mosque in Uttar Pradesh.
Saba Naqvi is a Consulting Editor with India Ahead News. The views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author.
FROM THE ARCHIVES: Saba Naqvi interviews Swapan Dasgupta