| The mosque inside the airport. Picture by Amit Datta
Calcutta, April 6: A solution to the problem of a mosque next to the tarmac of the airport here and one outside has come up from the Muslim community in the area.
Community leaders suggest the government lay off the mosque that is outside the perimeter wall of the airport — and has recently become the target of eviction — by taking a “practical and realistic” view on the one within that has been labelled a security threat.
Many within the community have said for the first time that this mosque does “hamper normal operations within the airport and (the problem) should have been taken care of long back”.
Standing about 100 metres from the main runway, the mosque is referred to as the Mathpara Masjid. The one outside — accompanied by an idgah, two mazhars and, most important, a graveyard — is called the Burra Masjid. Annual festivals bring throngs of devotees to this mosque, most of them non-Muslims.
The mosque within the airport, officials say, is an obstacle to operations and entails constant watch. But it has not been touched — despite years of efforts from official channels — and seems to have got a fresh lease of life after a recent parley between civil aviation minister Shahnawaz Hussain and chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee.
But the mosque outside the airport boundary, despite not coming in the way of operations, found itself in the midst of a controversy after the district administration and the airport authorities paid it several visits — the last one on March 29 — with the intent of “removing it”.
The local Muslim community believes that this is not how the issue should be tackled and its leaders expressed their sentiments to The Telegraph. The mosque within the airport has forced the authorities to spend extra money on operational costs and the problem has been allowed to fester till it has got to “unmanageable proportions”, they feel.
Citing many reasons why the mosque outside the airport was “much more important” to the community, the leaders said they “always tried” to get this point of view across to the administration.
“But who do we talk to when we have not been given even one written order asking us to vacate this land'” asked Munna Sapui, an important member of the Burra Masjid committee.
“No one seems ready to listen to us,” committee joint secretary Ramzan Ali Mandal said, adding that the administration always acted like a bully, “coming here when they felt like and ordering us around”.
The mosque within the airport has a fixed number of devotees with passes to keep a tab on them. “No musafir can enter it to offer namaz but things are very different here,” Mandal said, explaining why the one outside — where such restrictions are not there — is more important to Muslims.
But it is the graveyard with the Burra Masjid that makes it of “paramount importance” to the community, the leaders say. “People die,” Sapui said. “Where do they go then'” he wondered, explaining that the graveyard serves Muslims from all over the neighbourhood and the other nearest one is at Kankurgachhi, several kilometres away.
“The masjid inside does not offer this absolutely necessary facility,” he said, adding that he was only echoing the sentiments expressed in “several community meetings”.
Muslim leaders are showing the government and the airport authorities the way to proceed in a gesture unparalleled in any dispute — and that includes Ayodhya — by any community over a religious place.