Religious and Cultural Desecration

Mosques, dargahs, small shrines and other Muslim religious and cultural places were systematically destroyed and desecrated in the first 72–hour round of violence all over Gujarat. Copies of the Koran and other religious books were despoiled and damaged in many places all over the city of Ahmedabad, in Vadodara, Ankleshwar and Bharuch and in many smaller towns and villages all over the state.

In all, over 270 mosques and dargahs have been thus destroyed. In many cases ‘Jai Shri Ram!’ was scrolled all over the desecrated shrines. In many shrines, idols of ‘Hulladiya Hanuman’ (translated, it means ‘Riot Hanuman’) were installed. This shows
the cynical abuse of caste Hindu religious symbols as instruments of domination and subjugation of Muslims. When the Tribunal members visited and inspected some of the damaged shrines in May, they were still in their ramshackle state.

One mosque, which was rebuilt through the efforts of a Muslim religious organisation, was pulled down in July by officials of the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation, a body that is, ironically, controlled by the Congress(I). The Noorani Masjid at Naroda Gaon was blasted using gas cylinders. Witnesses appearing before the Tribunal complained that, while desecrating the mosque at the Naroda Fruit Market, the Koran was urinated upon. The Tribunal shudders to think which religion could ever sanction such vile desecration of the sacred texts and places of worship of people of another faith.

Detailed evidence was recorded by us regarding the desecration of the tomb of Wali Gujarati, a renowned poet remembered as the founder of Urdu poetry. On March 1, his tomb, located not more than 10 metres from the office of Ahmedabad’s commissioner of police (also the police headquarters) was demolished and a saffron flag hoisted on the site. It is believed that the shrine was torn down by marauding mobs under the directions of Gujarat’s revenue minister, Shri Haren Pandya. On March 8, a tarred road was constructed  at the site, leaving no trace whatsoever of the tomb that had stood there for nearly three centuries. It is shocking that a callous government and an unprincipled administration participated in the utter obliteration of this cultural monument and allowed a road to be constructed over it.

On the night of March 3, a 400–year–old mosque owned by the Wakf Board, and located near Anjali Cinema in Ahmedabad, was broken down in the presence of state ministers Shri Haren Pandya and Shri Amit Shah. As in many other cases, a ‘Hulladiya Hanuman’ idol was installed there, followed by darshans and artis.

The mosque of Malik Asin (Asas, Imadul Mulk) at Ahmedabad, built in the reign of Sultan Mahmud Begada (1458–1511), was also destroyed in the initial round of violence. A protected monument built in stone, this structure was destroyed within hours, with military precision, using a bulldozer and cranes.

Also targeted was the tomb of Ustad Faiyaz Khan in Vadodara, which was attacked and wreathed in burning tyres in early March. Extensive damage was inflicted on the façade of the structure commemorating a man who, in 1912, was acclaimed as one of the greatest among classical singers by the then ruling dynasty of Vadodara.

The underlying motive behind these attacks is obviously to obliterate all symbols of India’s composite heritage. Article 25 of the Indian Constitution, which upholds the fundamental right of every citizen to preach, practise and propagate his/her faith, was utterly and contemptuously violated during the state–sponsored carnage in Gujarat.

The Hague Convention of 1954, the ‘Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict’ stipulates 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’ that would define the circumstances under which the “Intentional Destruction of Cultural Heritage” could be deemed to have taken place.

Evidently, besides being guilty of crimes against humanity, the chief minister of Gujarat is also guilty of crimes against the common heritage of humanity. And in its reluctance or refusal to intervene, the BJP–led government at the centre stands charged with flagrant violation of international conventions to which India is a signatory.      

Archived from Communalism Combat, November-December 2002 Year 9  No. 81-82, Religious and Cultural Desecration             




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