Hindutva’s Hypocrisy over Heritage Tag to Ahmedabad

Rampaging mobs destroyed 272 Muslim religio-cultural spaces in the same city under the then CM’s watch in 2002. Now, Gujarat’s incumbent CM is “thrilled” over UNESCO’s decision

The Rani Sipri Mosque in Ahmedabad: Wikimedia Commons


Today, Gujarat chief minister celebrates Ahmedabad being declared India's first heritage city. It was mob rule, under his party's leadership that allowed 270 such symbols of Gujarat, and India's religious syncretism to be destroyed in a few days in 2002.

The  Hindu reports, on July 8 this year, that, one of the reasons Ahmedabad received wide support was the “peaceful co-existence of dominant Hindu, Islamic and Jain communities in the Walled City area”.In the speech after the announcement, Livemint quoted  India’s permanent representative to UNESCO Ruchira Kamboj as saying, “For over 600 years, Ahmedabad has stood for peace, as a landmark city where Mahatma Gandhi began India’s freedom struggle. It has stood for unity with its elegant carvings in its Hindu and Jain temples as well as standing as one of the finest examples of Indo-Islamic architecture and Hindu Muslim art. And beyond this, it epitomises the United Nation’s objective of sustainable development as it accelerates in its development, chosen to be one of India’s first smart cities, while preserving its ancient heritage.”

Has the BJP, before or after 2002, been always so been keen to preserve the ancient Indo-Islamic architecture of the Walled City ?

Communalism Combat had been the first to collate in its March April 20002 issue under Religious and Cultural Desecration that 270 places of religious and cultural symbolism and significance had been destroyed during the genocidal carnage of 2002. On February 8, 2012, the Gujarat High Court, in a stinging order that pulled up the then Modi-led government for its stubborn refusal to re-build, or help restore these, called it 'Constitutional abdication of duty.'. In CC's issue we had reported that,

"By 4 p.m. on March 8, 02, a tarred road replaced the shrine of the grandfather of Urdu poetry, Wali Gujarati, located not more than 10 metres from the Ahmedabad Commissioner of Police PC Pandey’s headquarters. The shrine was torn down by marauding mobs allegedly under the directions of Gujarat revenue minister Haren Pandya on the night of March 1. That day, a saffron flag was embedded into the site where the shrine once stood. This flag was removed on the night of March 2. However, a callous government and an unprincipled administration participated in the utter obliteration of this cultural monument when they allowed a tarred road to be constructed over it. On the night of March 3, the 400-year-old mosque owned by the Wakf board and located at Anjali Cinema, was broken down in the presence of state ministers Haren Pandya and Amit Shah. With delibrate cynicism, in many such locations, the Hulladiya Hanuman (riot Hanuman) idol has been installed there; darshans and artis have also been held.

The mosque of Malik Asin (Asas, Imadul Mulk) at Ahmedabad, built in the reign of Sultan Mahmud Begada (1458-1511) has been destroyed. A protected monument built in stone, this structure was destroyed within hours and with military precision, in an operation involving the use of a crane and bulldozers. At around the same time, the mosque of Muhafiz Khan at Ahmedabad was also badly damaged.

The Hague Convention of 1954 (or the Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict) recognised that the preservation of "cultural heritage is of great importance for all peoples of the world" and that "damage to cultural property belonging to any people whatsoever means damage to the cultural heritage of all mankind." India is a signatory to this convention.In 1972, a protocol to this Convention was adopted, which identified "cultural heritage" as, among other things, "monuments, architectural works, works of monumental sculpture and painting, elements or structures of an archaeological nature, inscriptions, cave dwellings and combinations of features, which are of outstanding universal value from the point of view of history, art or science". Every State that had acceded to the Hague Convention, it held, recognised that "the duty of ensuring the identification, protection, conservation, presentation and transmission to future generations of the cultural and natural heritage situated on its territory, belongs primarily to that State."

At its General Conference meeting in 2001, UNESCO adopted a resolution that sought to define the circumstances under which an act could be construed as a "crime against the common heritage of humanity." It reiterated the need for all member-states to accede to and observe the various conventions it had evolved over the years. And it authorised the Director-General of the organisation to formulate for the next session of the General Conference, a "Draft Declaration" which would define the circumstances under which the "Intentional Destruction of Cultural Heritage" could be deemed to have taken place."

In 2006-07, the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) under the BJP wanted to demolish sections of two Islamic monuments, both of which were over 400 years old – for road expansion. One of the mosques, the Rani Sipri mosque built in 1514, was already an Architectural Survey of India (ASI) protected monument, while the other, the Siraji Saiyed Mosque and the adjoined Dargah at Khajurivali Masjid did not figure on that list. The ASI had, however, been in contact with the AMC and the state government, asking them not to demolish the monument as it was historically significant.

The Sunni Waqf Board, represented by the late activist and lawyer Mukul Sinha, filed a public interest litigation on the matter in the Gujarat high court. The petitioners asked that the court put a stay on the government’s plans. The high court agreed that the monuments were an important part of the city’s heritage and told the AMC to refrain from making any changes to the buildings or their compounds. Judges M.S. Shah and D.H. Waghela ruled in August 2008 that no decision to change the structures could be taken without the ASI’s permission:

“The Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation shall not demolish or destroy any part of Siraji Saiyed Mosque and Dargah also known as Khajurivali Masjid and the Rani Sipri Mosque. No part of the compound wall shall also be demolished or destroyed. However, it is clarified that the commercial shops constructed or put up around the mosques are not protected by this interim order.
Having regard to the fact that the Rani Sipri Mosque is already a protected monument and that the other mosque i.e. Siraji Saiyed Mosque and Dargah known as Khajurivali Masjid, which is also stated to have been about more than 400 years old, we are of the view that it would be in the fitness of things if, upon the petitioner making an application, within one month from today, to the Director General of Archaeological Survey of India for notifying the Siraji Saiyed Mosque and Dargah @ Khajurivali Masjid also a protected monument under the ASI Act, the Director General of Archaeological Survey of India shall consider such application expeditiously and preferably within four months from the date of receipt of the application. After the application is decided by the Director General, Archaeological Survey of India, it will be open to the parties to move this Court.
It is directed accordingly.
It is also directed that the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation shall, for removing any structure adjoining either of the Mosques or their compound wall, act in consultation with the Superintending Archaeologist, Archaeological Survey of India, Vadodara Circle.”

During the 2002 Gujarat riots, rampaging Hindutva activists damaged or destroyed several Indo-Islamic monuments of great historical significance, including the tomb of the great Sufi saint Wali Gujarati and Malik Asin’s 16th century mosque in Ahmedabad. In Vadodara, the tomb of the celebrated Hindustani classical singer Faiyaz Khan was also vandalised.



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