Mumbai: For as long as Aslam recalls, men from the Muslim community have been congregating inside the Jumma Masjid in Jalgaon’s Erandol Taluka five times a day to offer namaz. The 800-year-old structure is an important place of worship in northern Maharashtra and a property registered under the Waqf Board.
But it has suddenly become inaccessible to the community after the district collector passed an interim restraining order while hearing a complaint filed by a right-wing organisation. The collector issued an order under section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, immediately banning prayers on the premises. In the order, the collector also directed police deployment in the area. The collector asked the tahsildar to take charge of the mosque, which he described as “disputed”.
While the collector’s interim restraining order and his power to pass it have been challenged before the Aurangabad bench of the Bombay high court, Aslam, a member of the Jumma Masjid Trust, fears that the unprecedented order marks the beginning of the communalisation of a centuries-old mosque in the state.
The centuries-old mosque suddenly became a site of controversy because of a complaint filed by an unregistered organisation called “Pandavwada Sangharsh Samiti”. The complainant, Prasad Madhusudan Dandawate, moved a petition before the Jalgaon district collector Aman Mittal in mid-May. Dandawate, according to his Facebook profile, is a member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Bajrang Dal. In his complaint, Dandawate claimed that the mosque was built over a Hindu place of worship and is illegal and should be taken over by the state authorities. The complainant also claims that the Jumma Masjid Trust has “illegally” encroached over the space.
The Jumma Masjid Trust members told The Wire that they were unaware of the claims made until they received a notice end of June. “By then, the collector had already been conducting hearings. In a restricted time, we were asked to defend our case. And on July 11, the collector simply passed a restraining order,” Aslam, one of the ad-hoc members of the trust committee, said…