Madhya Pradesh’s Dhar town, which is home to the Bhojshala-Kamal Maula Masjid that both Hindus and Muslims claim as their own, is bracing for a tense Basant Panchmi. With the festival falling on a Friday (February 12), the administration is on its toes with both communities insisting on exercising their right to pray. Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), which protects the monument, allows Hindus to visit the shrine on Tuesdays and on the occasion of Basant Panchmi and Muslims on Fridays.
In 2013, the last time the annual festival fell on Friday, the town witnessed violence and police lathicharge after Hindu activists refused to vacate the premises or to honour the arrangement of allowing Muslims to offer namaz between 1 pm and 3 pm. ASI had asked Hindu devotees to pray from sunrise to 1 pm, and from 3 pm to sunset.
This year, however, both the district administration and the ASI are yet to take a call on how to deal with the situation.
Additional District Magistrate Amar Singh Baghel said, “We will take all precautionary measures. We are waiting for a word from the ASI.’’
“We have apprised the director general (of ASI) of the matter and are waiting for the decision,’’ said Superintending Archaeologist, Bhopal Circle, Zulfeqar Ali.
Advocate Nisar Ahmed, who is among leaders who represent the Muslim community in the town, said both sides were in talks but no solution had been found so far. “They (Hindus) are insisting that we don’t offer namaz for the day,’’ he added.
“No matter what arrangement they come up with, we will exercise our right to offer prayers throughout the day and won’t vacate the premises. We are ready to face the baton. Why can’t Muslims make a small sacrifice of not offering namaz for one day there,’’ said Ashok Jain, a Hindu activist who is at the forefront of the campaign that wants the shrine to be handed over to the majority community.
Meanwhile, a plea is pending before the Indore bench of Madhya Pradesh High Court for a permanent resolution of the problem. “ASI’s role is quite limited and is only of guardianship, maintenance and protection of the monument… Laying down the time of religious worship at historical and archaeological monuments is not their statutory role and function, and they are not equipped to deal with the situation,’’ argues the plea filed by several Hindus and Muslims.
Senior advocate Ashok Chitale, who is appearing for the petitioners, said only a judicial or legislative intervention can resolve the dispute that has been festering for a long time.
Both Chitale and Ahmed, however, accuse the state and the central governments of not filing their replies to the petition. The next date of hearing is scheduled for February 2.