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Bulldozing of Akhundji Mosque and graveyard

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Civil society calls for a halt to the destruction of Delhi’s historical and lived heritage

New Delhi: In the wake of bulldozing the ancient Akhundji Mosque, an orphanage, and a graveyard in Mehrauli by the Delhi Development Authority, a civil society group, ‘Sheher’ strongly condemned the DDA action. Addressing a protest meeting against demolitions in Mehrauli, at the Press Club of India, civil society members said the authorities carried out demolition without any prior communication with the caretakers of these sites. They also strongly debunked the government’s claim that these sites were encroached upon on public land, saying it was absolutely false. They strongly called for a halt to the destruction of Delhi’s historical and lived heritage.

Speakers underlined that the Akhundji mosque’s structural form dates it to the Tughlaq period, and its chronogram mentions it was repaired by Bahadur Shah Zafar in 1853-54. The graveyard dates back 500 years and is still used by the community in Mehrauli. Far from being encroachments, these structures predate the modern city and the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) and continue to be part of the lived heritage of the city. These are places of belonging to the city across time for different communities.

“Such attacks on mosques and shrines in Delhi constitute an unconscionable assault on our lived heritage, which is shared across faiths. We condemn these attempts to erase memory and places of habitation,” they added.

They also pointed out that the recent destruction is part of a pattern of demolitions undertaken by authorities in the city over the past year. The wanton destruction of homes, bastis, religious structures, shops, and markets amounts to a violation of people’s rights to life, employment, and safe housing.

Since the Akhundji Mosque’s building date is unknown, its exact age is still unknown. But historical narratives offer some perspective. The mosque was repaired in 1270 AH (1853–4 AD), according to a 1922 publication by the Archaeological Survey of India. It was located west of an older Idgah that was built in 1398 AD during Taimur’s invasion of India.

Maulvi Zafar Hasan’s ‘Catalogue of Muhammadan and Hindu Monuments, Volume III’ mentions that the Akhundji Mosque, about a hundred yards west of the Idgah, had an arched roof supported by two pillars made of stone from the area. Historian Rana Safvi said that, given the use of Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar’s takhallus, the inscription detailing renovations in 1270 AH (1853–54) may be linked to him, despite contradicting histories.

The DDA, which comes under the union government, claims it was an encroachment in a reserved forest area. Historians say that the mosque predates the notification of the area as a reserved forest in 1994.

The encroachment claim is refuted by author Sohail Hashmi, who claims that the mosque was already there before Sanjay Van Van Bhoomi was established in 1994. The Delhi High Court has issued a notice to the DDA in response to a petition filed by the Waqf Board Management Committee, questioning the basis for the mosque’s demolition.

Heritage and history enthusiasts have criticized the DDA’s demolitions, believing that Mehrauli, Delhi’s oldest city, has lost most of its cultural legacy. Media attention to the demolitions has focused on the 700-year-old Akhundji Mosque and the nearby graveyard. Concerns over the presence of the CRPF and significant police presence near the burial place, where they have been performing final rites for generations, have been voiced by the caretakers, Maulanas, and residents.

They said as concerned citizens, “We strongly condemn this practice of ‘demolition raj’ that has taken on new and violent forms across the country. We are deeply saddened and concerned by the recent demolitions in Haldwani and the heartbreaking consequences that have followed.”

“We demand a stop to all demolitions and demand guarantees from the concerned government bodies that the cultural and built memory of the city will be preserved. We demand that the voices of invested local communities be heard.

We stand against this authoritarian mode of urban governance. It hinders the possibilities of building and sustaining democratic and inclusive urban cultures,” they said.

The meeting was addressed by Advocate Anas Tanweer Farooqi, historian and civil rights activist Uma Chakravarti; Anil Bakshi, head of the street vendors group; and Nilesh Kumar, member member Delhi Housing Right Task Force.