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Why Did DDA Demolish Centuries-Old Masjid, Madarsa & Graves in Delhi's Mehrauli?

"How can a mosque which stood here for centuries be on illegal land? Why demolish it now?" asks the Imam.

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Where a centuries-old mosque once stood inside Delhi's Mehrauli, there is now a flat patch of land barricaded by Delhi Development Authority (DDA) authorities. This was the sight after the DDA demolished Masjid Akhunji, Madrasa Bahrul Uloom and a decades-old graveyard abruptly in the wee hours of 31 January, Wednesday.

Imam Zakir Hussain who has been a Waqf board member and caretaker of the mosque since the last 13 years told The Quint, "On 31 January, the DDA authorities came at 5:30 in the morning. The children of the madarsa and I were up because of Fajr (early morning prayers). We were just doing wudhu (ablution) and preparing for namaz when they arrived. I got scared looking at such a crowd and the bulldozers all of a sudden."

The DDA authorities told Hussain that the properties are on "DDA land." Hussain promptly told them that it is Waqf's land.

"I told them I had all the documents, tehsil records and that we also fought and won our case regarding getting overdue demarcation in Delhi High Court in 2022. We pay electricity and water bills to the government too. But they didn't listen. How did they come to demolish it now?"
Imam Zakir Hussain to The Quint
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"How can a mosque which stood here for centuries be on illegal land? Why demolish it now?" asks the Imam.

Imam Zakir Hussain speaks with reporters after the demolition.

(Photo: Umar Altaf)

'Children Lost All Their Belongings'

There are barricades all around the area, with 15-20 policemen standing guard. As per Hussain and few others locals, 10 bulldozers along with hundreds of policemen and DDA officials had arrived on the scene.

The Imam said that as per the tehsil records, they had "7 bighas and 13 biswa" land but the authorities reportedly didn't pay heed to him.

"The children (aged 10-18 years) had not even worn their slippers. We were not given any time to collect our belongings, their clothes, ration, books and even Quran in the madarsa, all were destroyed in the demolition," noted the Imam.
"How can a mosque which stood here for centuries be on illegal land? Why demolish it now?" asks the Imam.

Arhan Suhail, Arhan Ahmed, Oman (between 8-11 years) with other children.

(Photo: Umar Altaf)

Hussain who is originally from Mewat, Haryana stated that his own family of eight lived in one quarter close to the mosque which was also destroyed. "They just left all of us in the lurch in the winter," he remarked.

While some of the young boys have existing families, others happen to be orphans.

"How can a mosque which stood here for centuries be on illegal land? Why demolish it now?" asks the Imam.

Mohammad Afzal, 12, from Mewat.

(Photo: Umar Altaf)

Imam continued, "When I questioned the DDA authorities and demanded a notice, they took away my mobile phone and 10-12 policemen forcefully took me and some other people and left us almost 400 meters away from the barricades."

"How can a mosque which stood here for centuries be on illegal land? Why demolish it now?" asks the Imam.

The area continues to be barricaded and locals are kept away.

(Photo: Umar Altaf)

Meanwhile, many parents of the children who had lived in the madarsa were notified after the demolition was carried out.

Mohammad Suhail Sheikh, 29, arrived on Wednesday from Kashmir to meet his son only to find the madrasa no longer standing in its place.

“I came to drop off some clothes for my son because it’s been so cold here of late but I couldn’t find the madrasa. I can’t send my child to a fancy school or hostel so I sent him here instead,” a teary-eyed Sheikh said as he choked.
"How can a mosque which stood here for centuries be on illegal land? Why demolish it now?" asks the Imam.

Suhail Sheikh, shedding tears in front of the entrance of Akhonji Masjid, the revered home of Madrasa Bahrul Uloom and sacred graves.

(Photo: Umar Altaf)

'Levelled Graves, Kafan (Shroud) Could Be Seen'

The Imam told The Quint that even the graveyard which is almost 500-years-old, one which consists of old and relatively new graves were all razed to the ground.

"There were two mazars, around 700-years-old as well of respected personalities, Sheikh Jalaluddin Tabrez Rehmatulale and of Sheikh Parekha Rehmatulale. Even those were completely flattened to the ground," said the Imam.

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Meanwhile, Sameer Tabrez Khan, 23 who lives in Uttam Nagar, has not been the same since the day of the demolition as her mother's grave has been levelled to the ground.

"My mother passed away in August 2020 and her grave was there. Even that was demolished. There is a hole in the ground where she was buried. One of the locals here told me even his mother's grave was destroyed. Some locals said that not just kafan (shroud), but bones could also been seen," Khan told The Quint.
"How can a mosque which stood here for centuries be on illegal land? Why demolish it now?" asks the Imam.

Local woman tries to enter the to see the graves but is stopped by the police.

(Photo: Umar Altaf)

The Quint has accessed a copy of the Delhi High Court order in 2022 which lays down that a survey of the subject land was ordered and demarcation would be done.

  • Delhi HC order of 2022.

    (Photo: Sourced by The Quint)

Delhi High Court Questions DDA's Action

Bijay Shankar Patel, DDA PRO said that the Sanjay Van is a reserved forest, spread over an area of 780 acres, which is part of the Southern Ridge.

As per the decision of Ridge Management Board, the ridge area should be free from "all type of illegal encroachment."

A Committee was formed under chairmanship of DM South Delhi to assess the encroachment in Sanjay Van, which suggested the removal of various illegal structures in that area.

"Removal of the illegal structures, religious in nature was approved by the Religious Committee, conveyed vide Minutes of Meeting dated 27 January 2024," Patel responded to The Quint.

It's noteworthy that the Delhi High Court on 31 January, pulled up DDA authorities and has asked them the basis of demolishing the centuries-old mosque, absence of a notice and to submit a reply within one week.

"How can a mosque which stood here for centuries be on illegal land? Why demolish it now?" asks the Imam.

Delhi HC demands response from DDA.

(Photo: Sourced by The Quint)

"DDA has came later, the masjid came first. Then how is it now on DDA land? We had asked for a demarcation from High Court and they gave us demolition instead."
Imam Zakir Hussain to The Quint

What Do We Know About The Mosque?

Not much is known about the mosque as most of its historical records have withered away or misplaced with time. What has been established is that it was built in the time of "Haji Shamsuddin Rehmatulalae who was a Badshah in his time. It was built during Eid then but we don't know for sure who built it," Imam Hussain claimed.

In an ASI record of 1922 though, Akhunji mosque finds a mention. It stated that the mosque was repaired in the 19th century.

"How can a mosque which stood here for centuries be on illegal land? Why demolish it now?" asks the Imam.

Akhunji mosque mentioned in ASI records.

(Photo: The Quint)

Shah Umair, a numismatist and amateur historian from Delhi has held numerous heritage walks and is well-versed with Mehrauli's history.

Speaking with The Quint, he stated that Mehrauli is one of the oldest settlements in Delhi where people have been living for more than 1200 years.

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Initially, Mehrauli was called Qila Rai Pithora which consists of Sanjay Van where the demolition happened. Qila Rai Pithora is a Turkish title for Qila of Prithvi Raj, as per Umair.

"This masjid that has been demolished was from particularly from the Pathan era or the Lodhi era. We don't know the exact date or history of it because this mosque was not ASI protected so it fell into the hands of local authorities. And when they take it under their wing, they paint it green and put tiles etc. so that's why outer part of the original structure is changed as per convenience."
Shah Umair to The Quint
  • The mosque before the demolition.

    (Photo: Sourced by The Quint)

Umair noted that ASI monuments are protected as per their importance into Grade 1, 2 and 3 and some are 'least concern' however, Akhunji mosque was not in that radar so it was easier for authorities to demolish the same.

"There is a pattern of DDA and the government targeting mosques for infrastructure development, road expansion, etc. There is a systematic erasure of these monuments which are smaller in size or not having that much of historical importance only because it might have been built by a common person and with history, its records have been lost with time," he concluded.

The Imam and the children have relocated to another place for the time being.

DDA authorities stated that "illegal religious structures were removed" and removal of "debris" from site is under process.

"How can a mosque which stood here for centuries be on illegal land? Why demolish it now?" asks the Imam.

Police presence and barricades continue to remain at the site.

(Photo: Umar Altaf)

"Approximately 5000 sqm. area has been reclaimed. Entire demolition programme successfully completed without any hindrance and disturbance/protest at site," noted the PRO.

Locals have stated that the police force at the spot has been increased.

"My question is that they came and did what they wanted to do, there's nothing left there, so then why are they still stopping us? At least we can go in, pick some of the sand on the ground where there were buried. Their body isn't there but at least we can feel their soul in the graves," said Khan.

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Topics:  Delhi   Mass Graves   DDA 

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