Sunehri Bagh Masjid, a mosque located in New Delhi, has been much discussed in recent times. This is because of the possibility of demolition of the mosque, in turn related to alleged traffic congestion in the area, and the opposition to this possibility of demolition by a significant number of citizens, historians, lawyers and others on the ground that the mosque has historical importance in addition to being a place of worship for many people in a busy area. The livelihood of several people—Hindus as well as Muslims—is also linked to this mosque. This mosque has also also mentioned as a symbol of inter-faith harmony. It has been pointed that there is no serious traffic congestion resulting from this, and at the same time other efforts for improving traffic can be taken. Hence there are no such compelling reasons for demolition. Whenever there are some strong reasons for saving any building or monument of importance, alternative ways of easing congestion can be found and have been found. It is more a matter of having the will and the desire for making the necessary effort of making alternative efforts.
The issue is involved in a legal case the decision of which is awaited at the time of writing this. However what can certainly be stated is that there is a strong case for protecting the mosque and if necessary, there should be intervention from higher levels for this. At the present juncture, this effort for justice will be much appreciated in the country and internationally too. On the other hand, this demolition will send a very wrong message after so many efforts have been made and so many reasons have been advanced for protecting the Sunehri Bagh mosque.
On December 24, 2023 the New Delhi Municipal Corporation (NDMC) published a public notice in various newspapers seeking opinions on the demolition of this mosque, to ease alleged traffic congestion in the area.
Historians have traced its origin to over a century back or even earlier as well as its links to the freedom movement with freedom fighters like Hasrat Mohani having stayed here.
Firoz Bakht Ahmed, former Chancellor of Maulana Azad National Urdu University, is a known authority on several heritage sites of Delhi and his articles on such sites in several newspapers and journals have been read with great interest by readers over the years. He has presented a strong case for avoiding the demolition of this mosque, saying that any intended demolition “would constitute a grave loss to our shared heritage and values.” (The Indian Express, January 8, 2024) He says that apart from its architectural beauty this mosque is valued for the “religious, spiritual and historical values it represents.” He adds, “It is evidence of our pluralistic ethos and harmonious coexistence.”
One reflection of this is provided by the Hindus obtaining their livelihood at this mosque, such as by running a tea stall, to which the Hindustan Times has drawn attention in a recent report ( January 7). One of them told the HT, “the best thing about the mosque is that we can have a puja on Diwali while people offer namaj on the floor above. They hug us on Diwali and we hug them on Eid.”
This report in HT by Ashna Butani also tells that this mosque is designated as a grade III heritage structure by the Delhi government. Several lawyers and historians have written to the NDMC regarding the importance of this mosque, as well as suggesting alternatives for tackling traffic-related issues.
Hence there are strong reasons for protecting the Sunehri Bagh Mosque. A decision of the government for ensuring protection of the mosque, while taking alternative measures for easing the stated traffic problems, will be very well received nationally and internationally, particularly at this juncture when gestures of commitment to inter-faith harmony are needed more. Hence, if needed, high-level intervention of the government to protect the mosque should also be considered.
Bharat Dogra is Honorary Campaign, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include Man over Machine (Gandhian ideas for our times) and When the Two Streams Met (freedom movement of India).