By Our Correspondent
NEW DELHI – A historic 800-year-old mosque at Erandol in northern Maharashtra’s Jalgaon district has become the latest target of Hindu extremists, who have connived with the administration to stop the entry of Namazis with the bogus claim that the mosque structure has an “appearance of a temple”. In a shocking order, Jalgaon Collector Aman Mittal has ordered that only two persons will offer Namaz in the mosque and no one else can enter there until the status of the land is decided.
The Jumma Masjid of Erandol, for which the arbitrary order of status quo and a ban on the entry has been issued, is registered with the Maharashtra Waqf Board as a Waqf property and the State Government has declared it as an ancient and historical monument, while listing it in the schedule of protected monuments. The Jumma Masjid Trust Committee has valid documents in its possession which establish that the mosque has been in existence since October 31, 1861.
Erandol is a town situated on the banks of the Anjani river, about 350 km from Mumbai. After an outrageous claim made by a Hindu outfit, Pandavwada Sangharsh Samiti, that the mosque resembles a temple and was built on a temple land after encroachment, the Collector passed the interim restraining order on July 11, directing the Jumma Masjid Trust Committee to hand over its keys to the Erandol Municipal Council’s Chief Officer.
The order, passed under Sections 144 and 145 of the Criminal Procedure Code, allowed two persons to offer Namaz on a daily basis to ensure that the sanctity of the mosque was maintained until the final order was passed. Since the keys of the mosque have been collected by the Tehsildar, the two persons who want to offer their prayers can get them from the government authorised personnel present there, according to the order.
The complainant, Prasad Madhusudan Dandawate, president of the Samiti, moved an application before the Jalgaon Collector in mid-May with the claim that the Jumma Masji, built over a Hindu place of worship, should be taken over by the state authorities, while a madrasa run by the trustees should be stopped. The complainant also claimed that the mosque’s Trust had illegally encroached over the space. Dandawate is a member of right-wing Hindu organisations like the RSS, VHP and Bajrang Dal.
The Jumma Masjid Trust has accused the Collector of acting in an arbitrary manner, as he issued the order without giving it any opportunity of hearing. The Trust Committee received a notice in June-end, when the Collector had already started hearings, and was given very little time to defend its case. When the Trust representatives appeared before the Collector, he was unwilling to give them a fair hearing and hurriedly passed the interim restraint order.
The Hindu groups have been staking claim to the mosque since 1980’s, saying that it is associated with the Pandavas who spent some years in exile in the area. The latest controversy arose when some additional tin sheds were installed as an extension to the mosque building, after which the Pandavwada Sangharsh Samiti submitted an application to the Collector on May 18 and demanded that the “illegal construction” of the mosque be removed since the ancient monument resembled a temple.
The Collector issued notices to the Maharashtra Waqf Board and the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) in addition to the mosque’s Trust Committee. The ASI has supported the Trust’s claims that it is an old structure dating back to 800 years. It said that since the time the ASI was involved in 1986, Namaz has been offered inside the mosque premises. The ASI stated that the mosque has been an open and accessible space for the Muslim community since time immemorial.
The Waqf Board has taken strong exception to the Collector’s order and challenged his power to carry out the hearing of such a complaint, while pointing out that Waqf Act, 1995, bars any department other than the Waqf Board from looking at disputes arising out of titles and related property issues of those registered under the Board. The Collector’s decision to issue a restraining order was clearly outside his mandate and it infringed upon the legal jurisdiction of the Waqf Tribunal.
Challenging the interim order, the Waqf Board pointed out that the Collector could interfere only to the extent of handling the law-and-order aspects outside the mosque premise. The Erandol mosque has been a registered property under the Waqf Board since 2009 and the decision of the Collector to issue the restraint order was not in his purview.
The hearing in the matter was scheduled for July 13, but later the Collector deferred it to July 18. The interim restraining order will continue until the next hearing date. The dispute has now landed in the Aurangabad Bench of the Bombay High Court with the Jumma Masjid Trust Committee filing a writ petition against the July 11 restraining order of the Jalgaon Collector. The petition, filed by the Committee through its president Altaf Khan, has contended that the Collector’s order was arbitrary and illegal.
The petition said the order was passed in haste without granting the Trust an opportunity to put forth its case, as it had sought time from the Collector to go through the complaint and file its response. It has sought the High Court’s direction for quashing and setting aside the impugned order. The Trust’s advocate, S. S. Kazi, said the petition was filed on July 13 and the court held the first hearing on the same day and the second one the next day.
The High Court has issued notices to all the respondents involved in the case and directed that a copy of the petition be served on them. The next hearing in the court has been fixed on Tuesday, July 18, when the Jalgaon Collector is also scheduled to hold a hearing with the parties involved for resolving the dispute.
The petition in the High Court argued that the application submitted by the Pandavwada Sangharsh Samiti to the Collector contained hate speech, as its actions were influenced by a right-wing speaker spreading hatred against the minority communities. It said the Collector’s order, which contradicted the law and lacked merit, was unjust and unwarranted, as he had failed to consider the documentary evidence and records maintained by the Collector’s Office itself.