Selective targeting of mosque will harm India’s reputation worldwide: Dr Narender Nagarwal on Sunehri Bagh Masjid

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Mohammed Naushad Khan

NEW DELHI—In his objections and suggestions to the Chief Architect of New Delhi Municipal Corporation (NDMC) on the issue of whether the Sunehri Bagh mosque near Parliament be demolished to ease traffic congestion, Dr Narender Nagarwal, who teaches Law at the University of Delhi, has remarked that such a nasty action on the part of the civic body would harm India’s reputation in the world.

In his submissions, he said, “The Sunehri Bagh Masjid is an important cultural and historical landmark in New Delhi, representing the diverse heritage of India. It is an architectural marvel that holds stories that reflect the pluralistic ethos of our nation. The mosque has a history of over 170 years, pre-dating the construction of the North and South Blocks at Raisina Hills.”

“I hope the NDMC authorities appreciate the fact that the Constitution of India recognizes the importance of preserving our cultural heritage. Article 49 mandates that monuments, places, and objects of national importance be declared as such by law. Further, Fundamental Duties under Art 51A also prescribed that all citizens must protect and preserve India’s rich cultural heritage and promote communal harmony and brotherhood in the society,” added Nagarwal.

“While development and urban planning are essential for the growth of our capital city, it is equally crucial to balance progress with preservation. Claims of traffic and other issues as justifications for damaging or destroying cultural landmarks are unfounded and do not hold up to scrutiny,” he argued.

In his letter to NDMC’s Chief Architect, Dr Nagarwal has made some important recommendations:

1.Sunehri Bagh Masjid, A Heritage Structure: Heritage structures, the silent sentinels of a bygone era, stand as tangible testaments to our collective memory. Preserving them is not merely an act of nostalgia; it is a strategic investment in shaping a richer future for ourselves and generations to come. The Suneheri Bagh Masjid has multi-faceted significance of India’s rich cultural heritage and its preservation is essential to protect the nation’s rich plural heritage.

2. Consultation with the Minority community: Engage with historians, conservationists, and the local minority community to gather diverse perspectives on the preservation of the Suneheri Bagh Masjid. It should be noted that Masjid serve as a prominent religious place in the New Delhi district that cater for the religious worship of the Muslim community. Regular Namaz and other religious activities running in the Masjid for long and without a single break. I would suggest that NDMC should directly talk to the representative of minority community and expert advice can contribute to finding innovative solutions that address both development and heritage concerns. At present, there is no issue or problem of vehicular movement in the vicinity of the Sunehri Bagh Masjid.

3. Legal Compliance is Crucial: Ensure that all decisions regarding the Sunehri Bagh Masjid adhere to existing laws and constitutional provisions protecting cultural heritage. Collaborate with relevant authorities and experts to navigate the legal landscape effectively before taking any serious action concerning Sunehri Bagh Masjid. Herein it is worthwhile to mention Sec 14 and 16 of THE ANCIENT MONUMENTS AND ARCHAEOLOGICAL SITES AND REMAINS ACT, 1958 which clearly spell out that the Union government is under obligation to protect and preserve the historical and religious monuments of national importance.

In addition to the above, the Places of Worship Act 1991 also protects all religious places to be converted or changed.

4. Understanding Identity: Heritage structures offer crucial insights into the evolution of communities, their artistic expressions, and social structures. They illuminate our past, shaping our understanding of who we are as a nation and how we arrived at this present moment.

5. Promoting Cultural Tourism: Preserved heritage sites are important for cultural tourism as they generate revenue and employment opportunities. They also connect us to diverse artistic traditions, enriching our cultural landscape and fostering intercultural dialogue. The National Heritage Protection and Monument Amendment Act of 2010 has been enacted to expand the scope of protection to include living heritage, historic towns, and cultural landscapes. This act also strengthens enforcement mechanisms and promotes community participation in conservation efforts. The Sunehri Bagh Masjid is a religious place that holds cultural significance and therefore comes under the Act for protection.

6. Sustainable Development: Adaptive reuse of heritage buildings promotes sustainable urban development, reducing the need for demolition and new construction. This conserves resources while preserving the unique character of cities.

On the impact of Sunehri Masjid removal, “Dr Nagarwal said, “The NDMC authorities are fully aware that the illegal acquisition/ removal/demolition of heritage properties, religious monuments and places of worship poses a significant threat to India’s secularism, a fundamental aspect of the country’s democracy that promotes equality and respect for all religions. Such nasty action on the part of NDMC linked to specific religious communities, especially minorities may convey a message to the whole nation and abroad, which can harm India’s reputation in the world and diplomatic stage as a pluralistic society.”

On the Constitutional provisions and the limitations of the government, the law teacher said, “It would be worthwhile to relook at the Constitutional provisions regarding such historical places as Article 49 highlights the crucial role of safeguarding monuments, locations, and items of historical, artistic, or cultural value. It specifies that it is the responsibility of the government to safeguard each monument, llocation, or item of artistic or historical significance. The government is not authorized by any legislation, notice, or scheme to disturb heritage buildings through damage, alteration, destruction, relocation, disposal, or exportation.”

“Additionally, Article 51A (f) of the Constitution states that Indian citizens have certain fundamental duties and it is their duty to value and preserve the rich heritage of India’s composite culture. It is crucial for any government to abide by the law, uphold the principle of secularism, and safeguard the property rights and protections of its citizens, especially the vulnerable and minorities. When the central government unlawfully seizes heritage properties, it goes against these principles and undermines a fair and equitable society. It is imperative for citizens, legal institutions, and civil society to voice their concerns and demand accountability to prevent such actions from becoming prevalent in the governance of the country,” he added.

“I sincerely believe that the preservation of our heritage is an investment in our shared identity and future generations. By taking proactive measures to protect the Sunehri Masjid, Delhi can set an example for responsible urban development that values the preservation of historical landmarks. I sincerely hope that the NDMC will consider this representation and take the necessary steps to ensure the protection and conservation of the Sunehri Masjid at Sunehri Bagh Road,” said Dr Nagarwal.

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