Flooded Faithfully

It was not individual greed or the policy failure at the highest decision-making levels only that Kashmir’s watercourse is facing barriers. Even the faithful tried their bit to get the revered spots of prayers and knowledge in flood basins, a trend that must get discouraged now, reports Saima Bhat.

An inundated view of Masjid Bilal at the Bund Srinagar. Pic: Bilal Bahadur.

(An inundated view of Masjid Bilal at the Bund Srinagar. Pic: Bilal Bahadur.)

Post floods as the people started introspecting, commoners at individual levels and the government as a collective structure became the main target of criticism. While government slept or facilitated, the people started living in the flood basins. Once the localities came up, the government started investing in the public infrastructure and then moved major facilities to these spots.

It is the crisis that Bemia is facing. The SDA, state board of school education, women’s polytechnic, 300-beded SKIMS hospital, Haj house, Jhelum Valley Medical College, Police Housing Colony and many major facilities exist in the watercourse, wetlands and the flood basin. Some more infrastructure is coming up which, interestingly includes the New Children Hospital.

When habitations come up and then public infrastructure follows, places of prayers will automatically follow. That is what has been happening across Kashmir. But there are instances in which reverse order followed.

In 1910, a ‘marked space’ for offering prayers on temporary basis emerged on the Jhelum dyke (bund) near the then-non-existent, Presentation Convent School in Rajbagh. Less than a century later, the space became a two storey concrete Jamia Masjid (Rehmatul-lil-Alameen). Last month, it was inundated within minutes as the river adjacent to it swelled beyond its limits.

In over a century, this Ghaat Masjid, as known to locals, had smooth transition; from an open ‘marked space’ registered as agriculture land in government records, to a concrete double-storey structure legally owned by the locals, without raising an eyebrow.

The property rights of the said mosque were transferred to local management against a sum of rupees 20 thousand, years after it was housing prayers. “It was a functional mosque even decades before the transfer,” said Abdul Majeed Sheikh, 65, a local resident who remembers how the mosque was a single room wooden structure before its transformation in 1960.

Sheikh remembers that before the present structure came up, the old wooden structure served as store house for Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution (CA&PD). “We still have CA&PD store in one of the shops owned by mosque,” says Sheikh.

Constructions that have come up in Doodh Ganga stream near Batamaloo

(Constructions that have come up in Doodh Ganga stream near Batamaloo)

In an affidavit submitted to Supreme Court of India, state government has maintained that there are 1182 illegal religious structures (891 Kashmir and 291 Jammu) in J&K. The supreme court of India has asked a detailed report and status of illegal religious structures constructed on government land from all states including J&K in its September 9, 2009 order.

When Kashmir Life contacted divisional Kashmir, Rohit Kansal, regarding status Supreme Court of India direction in identifying and dismantling such structures, he refused to comment. “You should contact district commissioners individually,” he said.

But apart from Supreme Court of India’s clear-cut directions to curb the practice of allowing religious structures on government land including pastures, wetlands, streams, river banks, agriculture land, water bodies, spill-over channels etc, there are religious scholars who have been raising the issue in their individual capacities since past few years.

Altaf Nadwi, a renowned Islamic scholar, says one has to first get land transferred as milkiyat (owned property) by seeking all permission then raise a structure. If done the other way round: first construct a mosque (as in the case of Jamia Masjid in Rajbagh), and then seek permission, it makes the place unfit for any religious congregation including prayers.

“Prophet (SAW) first paid for the land on which Masjid Nabwi was build. How can we go against our beloved Prophet’s (SAW) teachings? As per Sharia, Islamic law, it is mandatory for Muslims to build mosques only on that land which is milkiyat (personal property) or Makbooza Ahl-e-Islam (Occupied by Muslims),” says Nadwi.      

In his hometown Bijbehara in South Kashmir, Nadwi objected when locals built a mosque on the state owned pasture land meant for grazing of animals. “After my objection they got the land transferred as milkiyat (personal property) as per the state laws,” says Nadwi. But Nadwi still refused to pray in that Masjid as the structure was first raised and then the property rights were transferred. “It is an illegal structure,” says Nadwi.  “A Masjid cannot be built on any encroached space or any other disputed land.”

Masjid Rehmatun-lil-Alameen located near Presentation Convent Rajbagh was inundated in recent Floods. Pic: Bilal Bahadur.

(Masjid Rehmatun-lil-Alameen located near Presentation Convent Rajbagh was inundated in recent Floods. Pic: Saima Bhat.)

On the other side of the bund, near MS Shopping Mall, is Masjid Bilalia, a large two storey mosque constructed in 1978 after replacing the make-shift wooden structure that local shopkeepers has raised to offer prayers. “There was no mosque in this area and we had to go to Abi Guzar mosque for prayers,” said a local shopkeeper who refused to reveal his name. “It was not possible for shopkeeper to visit Abi Guzar for every prayer, so we demarcated a small space on the bund.”

When the need for ‘extension’ was felt by the shopkeepers they approached then CM Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah for permission to build a mosque on the demarked space.

“Sheikh Sahab first refused construction on the river bank, but when he saw we have already constructed the Masjid (wooden structure), he said to continue the prayers but don’t extend it (Masjid) any further,” says one of the shopkeepers who was part of the delegation that met Sheikh Abdullah.

But during 90’s, when government was literally invisible on ground, concrete structure replaced the wooden make-shift mosque.

The present day Masjid Bilalia started from a 30 sq feet wooden structure that later on expanded in to two-storey concrete building annexing a major part of the bund.

Over the years shopkeepers tried to get the land transferred as milkiyat (owned property) of mosque but failed. As per the government records, the land on which Masjid Bilalia is constructed, stands under Jabran Kabza (forceful occupation) of locals.

During these years there were many demolition drives along the bund where Masjid Bilalia stands.

Talking to Kashmir Life, a former officer of State Revenue department, whishing anonymity said, “Being a gazetted officer I have accompanied many demolition drives in Srinagar but we never touched any religious structure. We know there are many mosques, temples and other religious places including Churches built on state lands which we cannot touch fearing backlash and religious tension.”

The official recalls one incident where he was heading SMC’s demolition squad tasked to dismantle Masjid Umer in HMT area of Srinagar, to make way for widening of a highway. “My department had already made a payment of Rs 50 lakh as compensation towards the management of the said mosque. But despite taking the money they did not let us demolish it as agreed before.”

But locals allege that they have received only a part of the promised amount. “We will only demolish it completely when they will release the remaining amount,” said a local resident of HMT.

With both sides claiming to be right, meanwhile a partially demolished Masjid Umer stands in the middle of the road. Interestingly, locals have already constructed a new mosque, double the size of the original, adjacent to the Masjid Umer. “I fail to understand how it is allowed to pray in such a disputed structure?”

“As per the state law there is no issue with the said mosque. But we all know that the land was first occupied forcefully then got transferred as milkiyat,” said the official.

But scholars belonging to different schools of thoughts see the issue of praying on disputed properties differently.

Dr Alqandi, Secretary Jamiat-e-Ahlihadees says, “Before Prophet (SAW) it was mandatory for Muslims to reach a particular space for worship. But after Prophet came, He said prayers can be offered anywhere you find a space. So building a Masjid is a different issue and offering prayers is different.”

But when it comes to religious congregations like Khutba and Ejtima at disputed sites, Dr Alqandi refuses to go to such places.

Jamiat-e-Ahlihadees presently owns 800 Masjids across Kashmir which they claim are registered with their board. “Land under these Masjids is first checked properly as per the state law and then only it gets transferred to Jamiat-e-Ahlihadees,” claims Dr Alqandi.

But when asked about a Jamiat-e-Ahlihadees Masjid located in Rajbagh on the shore of river Jhelum, he said he is not aware of the case. “I am not sure about it.”

Shabir Mujahid, a Jamat-e-Islami member and scholar, says any Mosque built on a disputed or occupied land is not valid, but prayers can be offered anywhere. “But one cannot pray at any place that is disputed.”

Chocking Streams

For Farooq Ahmad, 55, a resident of Old Barzulla, reaching Batamaloo was just a matter of 10 minutes by foot. While recalling his childhood days, Farooq cherishes those moments when he along with his friends used to swim in Doodh Ganga stream, originating from Old Barzulla to Qamarwari.  The stream was 300 meters wide and a jugular vein for the agriculturists of Magarmal, Batamaloo and Chattabal areas.

Farooq doesn’t remember the exact date when this stream got filled up but it has happened after 90’s.

The process of encroachment started slowly: first a colony for slum dwellers was built in the stream, next was Asgar Samoon Colony in Allochi Bagh, then the infamous interrogation centre, Militia.

“After Militia interrogation centre became operational, people avoided the route giving land grabbers chance to encroach the stream unchecked,” says Farooq.

SKIMS submerged in Flood water in Bemina area of Srinagar.

(SKIMS submerged in Flood water in Bemina area of Srinagar.)

Instead of acting against the violators encroaching Doodh Ganga stream government itself constructed huge office spaces for JKPCC, Soil Conservation and Finance Department, leading to the complete blockade of this stream.

If one goes further down the stream towards Batamaloo there are around 150 big and small structures constructed right inside Doodh Ganga stream. “You see Hotels, shopping complex, police station and a Unani hospital has come up inside the stream.  But nobody is bothered to stop this menace,” says Farooq.

Interestingly, the stream is dead but its name was regained for the link route which crosses through Karan Nagar and Chattabal. The dead stream’s water level mark is still visible.

Further down-stream, a three-storey Dar-ul-Aloom Mohammadiya near Veer in Chattabal, Srinagar speaks volumes about government seriousness in tackling the menace of chocking important spill-over streams like Doodh Ganga.

When contacted, Moulana Rehmatullah Qasmi, rector of Dar-ul-Uloom Rahimiya, (Bandipora) refused to comment over the issue and instead asked this reporter, “First write about the Temples that have come up in the middle of Byepass in Tengpora. And show me a single line you have written in favour of Islam or against temples in your entire career, only then I will comment over the issue.”

Nisar Ahmad Shah, chief enforcement officer, Srinagar Municipality Corporation (SMC), says, “The land belongs to Srinagar Development Authority (SDA) and this Dar-ul-Uloom (Rahimiya) has NOC from the said authority so we cannot dismantle the structure.”

While giving the reference of Supreme Court order, Shah says SMC cannot demolish old illegal religious structures till they get a nod from the Court. “But SMC acts strictly against the new illegal constructions on personal property or on encroached land,” claims Nisar.

Water spilled over from Doodh Ganga stream behind the Kashmir Hajj House near Bemina.

(Water spilled over from Doodh Ganga stream behind the Kashmir Hajj House near Bemina.)

In Firdousabad colony near Fruit Mandi, in the middle of the once famed Doodh Ganga stream, another three-story Dar-ul-Uloom, run by Moulana Rehmatullah Qasmi’s Rahimiya, is coming up without any hassle.

“First they occupied a large part of the stream bed for graveyard, then they constructed Masjid Mohammadiya adjacent to it and now a three-storey Dar-ul-Uloom is under construction,” says Wasim Hassan, a resident of HMT.

“You see how they are using our religion for illegal things. They knew that state or SMC won’t dare to touch a graveyard or a mosque. But their real aim was to construct a Dar-ul-Uloom, which they did finally,” Hassan.

Shurya Temple, located on the banks of Jhelum in Shivpora, near G B Panth Hospital, extended to 25 idols from just one idol in a single year. Constructed on the fragile river bund Shurya Temple was among the first structures that got submerged during recent floods.

“It was under my tenure that I collected and established 25 idol structures in this temple. You can see I have constructed a Yatri Niwas, washrooms and a big kitchen for Yatris adjacent to the temple. But during recent floods entire temple was under water and the structures got cracks. You must be surveying the loss from state department, right?” says Prem Giri, 40, head priest who claims to be serving the temple since last 10 years.

But when this reporter introduced herself and asked him that isn’t it prohibited in Hinduism to construct a religious place over a riverbank, he showed the reporter door politely without commenting.

“Babaji must be sleeping when he said he is here from last 10 years,” says Adil Ahmad, a local resident. “He (Giri) came here just a year ago and he is the one responsible for all the encroachment. The priest who was here before him was a noble soul. But he (Giri) managed to expand Shurya Mandir from a single room structure with single idol to a grand complex with 25 idols,” says Adil.

Locals allege that the reason Giri managed to get away with such huge ‘illegal’ construction and extension is that the   temple is frequented by army officers from the nearby camp, and most importantly by lawmaker Raman Kumar Bhalla. “He (Giri) brought all the idols in the dead of the night,” says a local who wished not to be named.

Hari Om, head priest at Old Secretariat Temple in Srinagar says, “If a Temple is built on any encroached space, we cannot pray at that place. It stands prohibited in our religion.”

During recent floods, in South Kashmir’s Shopian district, Ranbiar Nallah washed away a Dar-ul-Uloom (Hirpura) and an Ahle-Hadees mosque (Nagbal), which according to locals were constructed in the basin.

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