Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Opinion – Jama Masjid in Danger

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The Balcony Scene of Jama Masjid

The sanctity of the ancient quarter is at risk.

[Text by Sadia Dehlvi; picture by Mayank Austen Soofi]

There is a proposal to construct a swanky mall and a multilayered underground parking fifteen meters away from the steps of Jama Masjid. To create this four-basement structure the ground will have to be dug at least eighty feet. Digging of this scale is known to cause severe stress to surrounding buildings. Jama Masjid is built on a rocky hilltop called Bhojla Pahari.

The plan is a nightmare. It brings traumatic memories of the Babri Masjid demolition that was a direct outcome of Hindu extremism. If the proposed underground mall is constructed, Jama Masjid would probably fall to the violence of Economic extremism.

The Archeological Survey of India (ASI) does not permit any construction within 100 meters of a protected monument. We have a family home near Humayun’s tomb where one cannot even repair a house without the prior permission of ASI. Jama Masjid is a functioning mosque and therefore is not officially protected by the ASI. The mosque belongs to none other than God and so it is the custodian of the Waqf Board as pronounced by the Delhi High Court.

However, does that mean we should strip it off from the heritage status and allow construction near its boundaries that threaten its very existence? With it will collapse the mausoleum of Maulana Azad, the tombs of Sarmad Shaheed and Hare Bhare Shah and the cultural ethos of the old walled city.

Mr. Kapil Sibal, the Chandni Chowk MP, does not see the construction as a threat to the mosque and believes that the mall would generate employment for the residents of the area. Has he taken into account the pollution that would be generated by 10,000 vehicles that could be absorbed in the proposed parking? What about their effect on the monument and the people living in the vicinity? Will the underground drilling not damage the foundations of countless houses constructed in the early nineteenth century?

As for economic benefit, the mall culture is known to make the rich richer and the poor poorer. It will displace the vegetable vendors, the kebab sellers and hundreds of those who make a living by selling stuff from their carts.

Mr. Ahmed Bukhari, the Imam of the Jama Masjid too has endorsed this plan as a "historic decision". But Imam Bukhari does not represent the Muslim community. He is only an Imam of the mosque, a paid employee of the Waqf board. Despite an eviction order from the High Court, the Bukharis continue to occupy the house they have built within the premises of the Jama Masjid. The sheer act of illegally occupying a piece of land belonging to the community takes away the moral ground from the Bukhari family to comment on the land issues of the area.

There are bigger questions. Can we place the economic gains of the local residents before the heritage concerns of the people of India? Pandit Nehru wanted to preserve the ambience of this district as it remains an important historic site where the blood of freedom fighters was shed in plenty. Alas, India Shining patrons have conveniently buried the doctrines of our founding fathers. Hopefully some of their pleas would still be heard. Historic and religious sanctity of the area should not be compromised.

5 comments:

Ajit said...

Pandit Nehru wanted to preserve the ambience of this district as it remains an important historic site...

To set the record straight, it was Pandit Nehru's regime that tore down the walls of the old 'Walled City' back in the 1950s.

So, um, yeah, it is in keeping with the tradition of the Blessed Jawaharlal to go around digging up Shahjahanabad.

Dare I note that it was also the "India Shining patrons" that banned the Ramlila celebrations from its traditional grounds for fear of endangering the nearby Red Fort -- a ban, please note, subsequently lifted by the patrons of the "Aam Aadmi"?

m a v e r | c k said...

I dont know much about historical fact, but this is for certain, Jama Masjid to Delhi is like Taj Mahal to Agra....
Do what ever needs to be done, but the pride of the old delhi must not be sacrificed for the sake of economic reform....

m a v e r | c k said...

I dont know much about historical facts but Jama MAsjid to Delhi is like Taj Mahal to Agra.... The pride of Old Delhi should not be sacrificed on account of economic reform....
To me its a completely absurd idea builing a mall right next to the Monument.... I mean who the heck is planning all this????? seriosly we need some good "Citi Planner" for delhi....

Shaheen Sultan Dhanji said...

Ajit, people can agree to disagree... Sadia's thoughts are very much synchronised, and there is no reason for being invidious! Ms. Dehlvi has captured some great points and I wish her well in her creative endeavours!

"All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses, his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind" - Karl Marx, Das Kapital

Deepa Krishnan said...

The Jama Masjid is in the buffer zone of the Red Fort which is a UNESCO World Heritage Monument. My understanding is that you can't do this kind of mall-building thing in a buffer zone.