Authorities in India shut 800-year-old mosque in BJP-ruled state

Published July 16, 2023
A view of the interior of the 800-year-old mosque.—Courtesy The Wire
A view of the interior of the 800-year-old mosque.—Courtesy The Wire

NEW DELHI: Auth­orities in the BJP-controlled Maharashtra state have shut down an 800-year-old mosque for Muslim worshippers following a complaint by an RSS-linked Hindu group, The Wire said on Saturday.

It said the mosque in Jalgaon has suddenly become inaccessible to the community after the district collector passed an interim restraining order while hearing a complaint filed by the right-wing organisation.

In the order, the collector also directed police deployment in the area. He asked the tehsildar to take charge of the mosque, which he described as “disputed”.

The 800-year-old structure is an important place of worship in northern Maharashtra and a property registered under the Waqf Board.

Local official’s order has been challenged before the high court

While the collector’s order and his power to pass it have been challenged before the Aurangabad bench of the Bombay High Court, Aslam (one name), a member of the Jumma Masjid Trust, fears that the unprecedented order marks the beginning of the communalisation of a centuries-old mosque in the state, said The Wire.

The mosque suddenly became a site of controversy because of the complaint filed by an unregistered organisation called “Pandavwada Sangharsh Samiti”. The complainant, Prasad Madhusudan Dandawate, moved a petition before the Jalgaon district collector Aman Mittal in mid-May.

Mr Dandawate, who is reportedly a member of the RSS and Bajrang Dal, claimed the mosque was built over a Hindu place of worship and should be taken over by the state authorities. The complainant also claims that the Jumma Masjid Trust has “illegally” encroached over the space.

A law passed after the 1992 demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya prohibits damaging or reclaiming old monuments.

The Jumma Masjid Trust members said they were unaware of the claims made until they received a notice in June.

“By then, the collector had already been conducting hearings. In a restricted time, we were asked to defend our case. And on July 11, the collector simply passed a restraining order,” Aslam, one of the ad hoc members of the trust committee, said.

Along with the mosque’s trust committee, the Waqf Board and the Archae­ological Survey of India (ASI) were also issued notices.

The ASI has supported the trust’s claims that it is an ancient structure. It said that since the time the ASI was involved in 1986, prayers have been offered in the mosque.

The ASI stated that the mosque has been an open and accessible space for Muslims since time immemorial.

Moin Tahsildar, the CEO of the board, said the collector’s decision to issue a restraining order was outside his mandate and it infringed on the legal jurisdiction of the Waqf tribunal.

“We have challenged the interim order,” Mr Tahsildar said.

The Masjid Trust, meanwhile, has moved the high court with documents that are from pre-independence times — including court orders from time to time and those passed by the British Indian government.

Published in Dawn, July 16th, 2023

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