The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Memories mainstay of masjid
- Hindu neighbours come together to battle land-grabbers

Many, many years ago, they saw their elders pick flowers from a garden in their para masjid to offer to the deity at the Sitala mandir a few feet away. They even plucked the flowers while on their way to Kazi Nazrul Islam’s home on his birthday.

Those memories are now prompting a section of Hindus in an old, north Calcutta neighbourhood to fight a battle to save a masjid — with which they have grown up – from being gobbled up by land-grab efforts.

The present state of the plot, over which the battle is being fought, would not give the protagonists too much cause to cheer. Much of the property, belonging to the Ghulam Rahman Wakf Estate, that also owns the masjid, has already been grabbed, with most of the changes occurring post-Partition.

But a few very recent developments show the tide may be turning for those who have grown up in the Maniktala neighbourhood (Amherst Row), on stories of the masjid.

The present mutwali of the masjid, Fazle Haq, emboldened by the support he has got from the Hindu backers, is now fighting a legal battle in a city court. And dozens of Muslims from nearby areas are queueing up for namaz every day.

But things have not always been this way. The bad times started immediately after the riots preceding Independence and, for many years, Muslims did not visit this masjid that local historians date back around 125 years from today.

“But, even then, and during the riots of 1964, this masjid was left untouched,” said Partha Sengupta, Viswakos Parisad secretary and one of the main backers of “this piece of old Calcutta”. After all, “there was always this para sentiment working”.

Taking advantage of the long absence of devotees, some recent entrants to the north Calcutta locality started gobbling up the land, bit by bit, to house ironware outlets and residences.

The latest attempt to take over the masjid occurred this May, when a complaint was lodged with Amherst Street police station by Haq.

Hindu neighbours, who have always felt very strongly against the land-grab attempts, reacted. Sengupta, after deliberations with other senior citizens, wrote to state minority affairs minister Mohammad Salim and the Wakf Board. A police posting during the month of Ramazan and a general shake-up at the police-station level followed.

“We have received the complaint and are in the midst of a probe,” Wakf Board chief executive officer Abdul Matin confirmed on Sunday. “A wakf estate cannot change hands,” he stressed.

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