Muslim sentiments ruffled over worship rights

March 6th, 2008 - 2:17 pm ICT by admin  

By Papri Sri Raman
Vellore, March 6 (IANS) A mosque within a historic fort under the protection of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) is making Muslims allege bias over their right of worship. The mosque is located within the ramparts of the famous Vellore Fort, an imposing structure in the small town of Vellore, about 180 km from Chennai.

This was the fort where Indian soldiers in 1806 first rebelled against the British rulers and killed more than a hundred British officers. It is now known as a high-security prison where Tamil Tiger prisoners are housed.

The fort, built during 1500-1566 AD by the Nayaka rulers of the Vijayanagar empire, is a major tourist draw.

“Public worship is allowed in the temple and church inside the fort but not in the mosque,” Tamilnadu Muslim Munnetra Kazhagam (TMMK) chief M. H. Jawahirullah, a university professor, told IANS.

The rectangular structure is made of granite stones with mortar on three sides. The front portion is plastered with lime and bricks.

“It is now under the control of the ASI and the gates of the mosque are kept closed always,” Jawahirullah said.

The TMMK, a Tamil Muslim outfit with 1.7 million members, has threatened to launch protests to claim the right to worship within the fort.

“Sinister attempts have been made to convert the mosque in the fort into a post office”, the TMMK alleged.

The ASI took over the 138-acre fort and all structures within it for protection in 1921, along with the moat around it, the fort grounds and places of worship inside under the Ancient Monuments Preservation and Maintenance Act of 1904 (amended in 1952 and 1958).

For decades, the Muslims of Vellore have demanded that the fort mosque should be thrown open for worship and have represented to the state and central governments.

An ASI document says that “since the mosque, at the time of protection of the monument, was not under worship, it cannot be opened for performing prayer. The status quo has to be maintained”.

The TMMK has called this “blatant discrimination” by the ASI.

A TMKK functionary argues: “The temple inside the fort was also not used for worship at the time of takeover. But now worship is going on in the temple as well as in the church.

“When the fort was taken over by the ASI, there were no government offices inside. Now, we have 48 government establishments including the Thiruvalluvar University, a police training college, the Tashildar’s office, a forest department office, the district registrar’s office, the district educational office, a PWD office, a tourist information office, a sub treasury, a police hospital and several other structures inside the fort.

“Two more small temples have also come up within the precincts of the Vellore fort.”

Added Jawahirullah: “In the past, when the people of Vellore demanded that they should be allowed to pray in the ‘Jalakanteswarar’ temple in the fort, the ASI turned down the plea on several occasions on the ground that the temple was not used for worship at the time of its takeover by the ASI.

“However, in March 1981, people brought a deity from another nearby temple, installed it at the ‘Jalakanteswarar’ temple in the fort and began worshipping there. The state administration did not intervene.”

The TMMK, therefore, feels that the ASI contention that the mosque was not used as a place of worship at the time of its takeover and hence permission could not be granted for prayers there is “ridiculous”.

“The ASI is a silent spectator, it cannot protect the fort from the 48 government offices inside the protected monument, which have all come up after the ASI took it over.”

The TMMK chief executive council, meeting at Chengalpattu this week, has given an ultimatum to the ASI to reconsider its decision, demanding that by April-end the mosque should be opened to the public.

(Papri Sri Raman can be contacted at paprisri.r@ians.in)

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