In Defiance of HC Order? How UP’s Barabanki Mosque Was Demolished
The backstory: Through fear and force over 2 months the UP administration bulldozed the Ram Sanehi Ghat mosque.
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After a mosque in Ram Sanehi Ghat in Uttar Pradesh’s Barabanki district was demolished, we found that the UP government was in an hurry to pull down the structure indicating a disregard for the rule of the law.
“Masjid ke andar musallah tha, Quran sharif tha. Vo sab kisi kissi ka pata nahi, humko nahi diya. JCB laga ke giraya toh usko bhi kuda mein kahi fenk diya hoga. (Inside the mosque there was the holy mat and the holy Quran. We do know where it is, we were not given any of it back. They used a JCB to demolish the structure, so that must have gone in the rubble and be thrown in the dirt somewhere),” the religious scholar for Barabanki district, Maulana Abdul Mustafa, told this reporter sounding pained.
While there is a question of law being flouted on one end, there is also the problematic question of why there is so much fear that people living around the mosque have fled. After repeated attempts we were able to speak to a few people, assuring complete anonymity, to understand how the administration demolished the mosque on 16 May when there was no one to protest from the locality anymore.
We reached out to the District Magistrate of Barabanki, Adarsh Singh, who said he had nothing more to add than the press release issued by the administration. When we insisted our queries were not answered in the release, and that Singh could take a call to not answer our queries once he heard them, he denied and cut the call after.
In the story we cover the following aspects:
- Did UP Admin Defy an Allahabad HC Order?
- Did UP Admin Act in Bad Faith?
Let’s start with the most important concern regarding allegations that the administration did not follow an Allahabad HC ruling.
Did UP Admin Defy an Allahabad HC Order? It Could Be Argued at Best.
According to the Allahabad HC order from 24 April, the part of the order which stated that eviction, dispossession or demolition was to remain in abeyance till 31 May 2021 specifically relates to any such orders "already passed by the High Court, District Court or Civil Court."
This does not therefore clearly or categorically apply to administrative orders. It is also important to note that there is no court order passed by any High Court, District Court or Civil Court regarding the demolition of this mosque. There is also no ongoing court case in any court regarding its title dispute or its demolition.
However, direction number five of the same order refers to actions of the state government, municipal authorities, other local bodies and agencies of the state government. It says they have been asked to be "slow in taking action of demolition and eviction of persons till 31 May."
It is this ground and not the first one that the UP government could arguably be defying.
Aftab Ahmed, a lawyer of the Sunni Waqf Board, said the same point five is the basis of the petition the board will move in the High Court. “There was a standing order of the High Court to ask the state government in being slow in taking action of demolition. Now see the timing. The administration disposed the reply of the mosque authorities on 2 April and issued an order to demolish the mosque on 9 April, that is within a period of six days. They did not give the parties a notice, a right of response and right to be heard. The orders were not served to the parties or to even us, the legal custodians of the mosque. This is the basis of our petition which is being filed right now. The acts of the UP government are malicious in nature,” Ahmed said.
While the order to demolish was issued on 9 April, the authorities demolished the mosque over a month later on 17 May.
If this constitutes, as argued by Ahmed, a violation of the Allahabad HC order or not is something that can be adjudicated only in front of a court.
When asked why the Sunni Waqf Board only intervened in this case after the mosque had been demolished, Ahmed said, “Sunni Waqf Board was unaware of the issue of this mosque. We were not issued a notice by the administration as custodians of the mosque and the mosque authorities also did not tell us. We only got to know after the mosque was demolished.”
Did UP Admin Act in Bad Faith? Probably.
Right from when the first notice was issued to the mosque authorities on 15 March, to the date that the mosque was bulldozed on 17 May, the locals and activists say the authorities have been spiteful and in a hurry to bring the mosque down.
It started with an order to provide evidence to state the mosque was built on their land on 15 March. “Rather than waiting, they decided to stop Muslims from offering prayers in the mosque on 17 March. This scared us,” Syed Farooq Ahmed, 28, a religious scholar and social activist who knows of the developments around this mosque, says.
The fear let to the authorities moving court on 18 March, through the lawyer Nakul Dubey. The counsel argued that there was an imminent danger of the demolition of the mosque. The court however called these apprehensions unfounded. It said that since the notice was only issued to garner evidence and not for demolition. While disposing of the application the court noted,“apprehensions of the petitioner expressed in this writ petition is thus unfounded”. It also gave the petitioners another 15 days to file their evidence and said then the authorities will come up with a fresh decision.
Tensions continued in the locality.
On 19 March there was a clash between the local Muslims with the police. While Maulana Abdul Mustafa says that it started when someone spread rumours saying the mosque was going to be razed. “That time it did not happen,” he says. The locals and police forces clashed, people claim their homes were ransacked and over 60 people were rounded up and arrested.
“The problem is that the FIRs have “unknown persons” in several of them and the charges include Sections of the Arms Act, attempt to murder, unlawful assembly, amongst others. This basically means the government can pick up anyone and add them to the list of accused. People know that and hence have fled this area since that clash,” a young man who lived behind the mosque, and is currently underground, said.
Recalling the horror of the day, he said, “We only went there because we saw some people inside the mosque and there was JCB machine close by too. The gates of the mosque were open. We tried to stop them, but they attacked us, came into our homes, took our belongings and sent so many to jail. The entire qasbah of Sumerganj is empty, only women and kids are here. The 4-5 people there, they cannot say anything. How could they have protested? The brute force of the UP government is petrifying.”
As the police rounded up more accused, while many locals fled to neighbouring districts or the homes of relatives far away, there was no scope of more protests by the Muslims in the area.
While people fled and arrests continued, the fifteen days the court had given the mosque authorities to file a response were also running out. Finally, a day before these 15 days ended the mosque authorities submitted their evidence on 1 April. On 2 April the administration went through the order and disposed it stating that the evidence was insufficient and on 9 April they issued orders to demolish the mosque.
Farooq says that the state did not allow the people a right of response or a right to be heard. He said, “It took you (UP administration) less than 24 hours to sift through all our evidence and decide it was insufficient? Also, why were we not told that the evidence was insufficient? Then we could have submitted more. In this case, they did not tell us anything. That they had disposed of our evidence or that they had issued an order of demolition of 9 April. If this is not spiteful anger of the government against the minority community then what is it?”
RTIs Filed, Past Deadline but No Response Yet
It is not like the locals did not attempt to find documents and understand the issue better.
“When no one was properly responding to us, I filed an RTI with the local administration. It has been way over the 30 days and I am yet to get my response,” Farooq said.
The queries asked in the RTI were:
- In what year was the mosque founded and how old is the mosque?
- According to the revenue records what is its ownership?
- Is it true that people have been disallowed from offering prayers in the mosque? If yes, what is the reason?
- When will locals be allowed to offer prayers in the mosque again?
- How far is the location of the mosque from the road?
- Please provide a copy of the orders according to which one can not pray in the mosque?
The RTI was filed on 3 April and till 21 May, Farooq did not get any response.
According to the tracking of the RTI by him, the RTI was delivered to the office of the local administration on 9 April.
“Having these documents could have allowed us the space to move court or file an FIR or do anything. Not only do they not want us to know they have rejected our evidence, issued an order to demolish the mosque but when we seek responses according to the RTI Act, our queries were stonewalled,” Farooq says.
Now while the Sunni Waqf Board is preparing to move court, that fact that the mosque is not there anymore has and will continue to hurt the Muslims of Ram Sanehi Ghat.
“What was the hurry to do this? We were still under the impression that we would get time to prove that this is our mosque but they demolished it. We want it to be rebuilt, our demand has not ended,” Maulana said with the hope that the structure will be rebuilt.
The locals who are underground are also certain of their demand. “It was pulled down illegally, so it must be constructed by them,” they said.
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