Dispute over mosque rears its head when panchayat polls draw near, say villagers

Panchayat elections to be held in August this year.

Written by Aniruddha Ghosal | New Delhi | Updated: May 30, 2015 3:11 am
In a village of 3,000 voters, 400 belong to the Muslim community. (Source: Express Photo by Oinam Anand) In a village of 3,000 voters, 400 belong to the Muslim community. (Source: Express Photo by Oinam Anand)

Most villagers aren’t surprised that the violence around the disputed mosque intensified when it did. Panchayat elections are scheduled to be held at Atali village in August and villagers said the issue is raised periodically prior to panchayat elections.

In 2009, construction of the mosque stopped before the elections after the Jats in the village filed a case before the Chief Judicial Magistrate’s court asking for a stay on the construction.

A small Muslim shrine had existed at the site for almost 50 years and the community had wanted to build a larger mosque in its stead. With a total of 3,000 votes in the village — only 400 of them belonging to the Muslim community — the construction of the mosque proved to be the key in the 2010 elections in the village.

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The candidates in the 2010 elections are the same as those planning to contesting this time — Rajesh Chaudhary and Pehlad Singh.

Chaudhary had openly supported the Muslim community on Wednesday in a panchayat meeting and asked the Jats in the village to allow the construction of the mosque. He was attacked the same evening and was forced to flee the village.

Singh, who is now claiming that the mosque is being built on land that belongs to the gram panchayat, had supported the construction of the mosque during the previous election.

“The land belongs to the entire village. This is not Waqf land. This is a sensitive issue and must be dealt with appropriately,” he said.

After the Faridabad district court ruled against the petitioners from the village in March and allowed construction, the Jat villagers filed another petition before the sub-divisional magistrate. “The question was whether the land belongs to the Waqf board or the panchayat. Eventually, the SDM ruled in favour of allowing construction. Construction began on May 21 in the presence of the police,” a senior district administration official said.

While many Jat and Pandit villagers maintained that the Muslim families should be allowed to return, the construction of the mosque still continues to be a bone of contention.

“The problem is not with the Muslims, but with the mosque. The land was given to them by the panchayat for a graveyard and not for a huge mosque, which would overshadow our temple,” Sanjay Sharma, a farmer, said.

Meanwhile, the district administration and police, on Monday, continued their attempts to bring the Muslim villagers back to the village. The Muslim families have been camping at the police station in the city since Monday.

“Our immediate demand is that those who attacked us, burnt our homes and desecrated our mosque be arrested,” Firoz Ali, a resident of Atali, said.

BJP MLA from Ballabhgarh Moolchand Sharma reiterated that the issue will soon be resolved. “Those who committed these heinous crimes will not go unpunished,” he said. Prohibitory orders are still in place at the village.

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