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Sayedi Lukmanji dargah being demolished
Udaipur reformists protest against demolition of historic shrine
In the month of Ramzan Muslims generally turn inward, contemplate and connect with Allah. It is a month of charity, abstinence and peace. Even the Prophet Mohammed prohibited war and conflict during the holy month. But the orthodox Bohras (the Shabab group) of Udaipur do not seem to understand its significance and care little about the sanctity of the month. They are bent upon creating trouble and disturbing the general peace of the community.
This time the trouble is being fomented at the most central and public place in Bohrawadi – the dargah of Sayedi Lukmanji Saheb. For Bohras of Udaipur the dargah located in the heart of Bohra mohallas is like a village square, a common meeting place. Some people pay a visit to the dargah almost every day. No community function that is held in Bohrawadi is complete without a visit to the dargah. Sayedi Lukmanji is revered by Bohras from all over. Annually hundreds of them come to Udaipur from all over India and even abroad for ziyarat.
The dargah is a small classical structure with an old-time, sacred feel to it. Its white dome and four minarets made of stone and lime sit on a square framework. The glazed white walls inlaid with coloured glass, depict intricate designs and ayats from the Quran in exquisite calligraphy. Its scalloped door arches and filigreed patterns exude an architectural charm that is almost forgotten today. The wide open terrace in front (the sain) – across which one would dart during hot summer days, and enjoy its cool, welcoming touch in the evenings – is dear to all of us. Across its black and white marbled floor the hustle-bustle of daily life has taken place over the past two and a half centuries. And the dargah, quiet and brooding, has borne witness to many a tumultuous event that has marked the progress of the Bohra reform movement.
It is a historic building and represents our common heritage - a public place as well as a sanctuary of private memory. Every Bohra in Udaipur connects to this place in a very intimate, special way. No matter where they are, it never fails to tug at their heart. Given its historical value, its antiquity and its beautiful workmanship every effort should be made to preserve this building.
Instead it is being demolished. The marbled terrace has been dug up, and the demolition has reached the very foundation of the dargah. To see that pristine terrace in rubble is to see our collective heritage and private memory in ruin. It almost causes a physical hurt to see the dargah in this state.
The orothodox Bohras are responsible for this atrocity. It must be noted that the Dawat administration (the Kothar) is in the habit of “reconstructing” old, historic Bohra monuments. Instead of renovating and preserving, they raze these building to the ground and in its place either build new structures to promote “ziyarat tourism” or convert them to commercial use.
Sayedi Lukmanji’s dargah has been slated to suffer a similar fate. But this is Udaipur, and Udaipur reformists will not allow the Dawat to play fast and loose with their history and their monuments. Although the dargah complex which also includes the adjoining musafirkhana is under the management of the orthodox, its effective control is with the Shia Wakf Board headquatered in Jaipur.
Apparently the initial idea was only to re-do the floor and reformists agreed to it. But as days went by the demolition became wider and deeper. Alarmed by such extensive demolition reformists protested but were met with silence. When asked what they intended to do with the place the orthodox group refused to divulge their plans. Reformists approached the city administration but it would not intervene saying that as the property was under the control of the Wakf Board they have no say in the matter.
Helpless and cornered, with no one prepared to listen to them reformists were left with only one option: direct action. On August 7, 2011 they called a general meeting at the Rasoolpura masjid, and after much deliberation it was decided that the next day, August 8, a peaceful protest rally be held and a procession taken from Wajihpura masjid (which is close to Sayedi Lukmanji dargah) to the Collector’s office.
August 8, a Monday, was a working day, but people closed their businesses and took leave from work. They started gathering at 9AM even as rain clouds gathered above. There was much enthusiasm in the humid monsoon air. Soon it would rain on their parade but no matter how hard it rained it would not dampen their spirits and their rage. Hundreds of men, women, young and old - fasting and soaked - joined the procession which wound its way through the mohallas and ended at the Collectorate.
Speeches were made, slogans were shouted and the city administration was denounced for its inaction. The demonstration created quite a commotion around the Collectorate as the media came to record and report and traffic came to a halt. After a couple of hours of demonstration, the collector’s office gave a bland assurance that they will appoint an arbitrator and look into the matter. Reformists knew better than to accept this. They insisted that demolition be stopped forthwith and the floor be re-done as originally agreed.
When it was time for namaz, demonstrators performed Zohr/Asr namaz on the road, in front of the Collectorate. This was a rare spectacle of people’s commitment and steadfastness. They said they will not leave the place until their demands were met and if needed they will go on hunger strike. Leaders said they had no wish to disrupt the normal life of the city but they were compelled to do this as no one would listen to them. They said they wanted to live in peace and harmony with the orthodox group but they can’t sit quiet when their precious and beloved community heritage is being destroyed. The proposed – but undisclosed – reconstruction of the dargah they alleged was illegal and unauthorised.
Hours went by, demonstrators dug in their heels and were prepared for the worst. Around late afternoon their representatives were called into the Collector’s office and the administration agreed to have the demolition stopped and the floor reconstructed. Reformists were promised that future plans for the dargah will be mutually discussed and agreed upon by both parties. Demonstrators were elated by the news, their sacrifice and determination paid off. It was decided they all go back to the dargah in a procession as they came but this time silently and in gratitude. It was not the reformist style to gloat and crow about their victory.
Later city officials came to the dargah to review the situation. They took photographs and videos, and were alarmed at the extent of the demolition. Now they understood what reformists were talking about.
Later that evening, after iftaar at the community niyaz in the jamatkhana, the mood was infectious. Faces were lit up with renewed determination. People tasted victory in their haleem that night. It could not have been more delicious.Photo courtesy: bohraconflict.com and Feroze Nath.
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