Mohammed Afzal: Warrior of the fallen Golconda Fort

By Mohd Ismail Khan,,

Golconda/Hyderabad: Near the busy, bustling roads of newly urbanized suburbs of Hyderabad, Mehdipatnam and Tolichowki lies a tumbled fort which was once the base of Qutub Shahi dynasty and marks the beginning of rich heritage of this city of Nizams.

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Golconda Fort was the world’s first diamond market, where the diamonds like Darya-e Nur, Nur-Ul-Ain, the Koh-i-noor, the Hope Diamond, The Regent Diamond, Wittelsbach Diamond were preserved in the solid walls are now a dumping ground of wastes.

Golconda today appears to be under siege, not from an army but from exploitative commercial mindset of Hyderabad Golf Association (HGA) and ever slipshod Archeological survey of India (ASI). Andhra Pradesh tourism department, with the consent of the ASI, has leased 70% of the land in the fort to HGA to develop an international golf club.

Golconda fort is now virtually seized with barricades erected at each turn, guarded by one sitting guard keeping vigilant eyes on the visitors, all employed by HGA.

On the entrance is a seal of ASI stating warnings regarding any construction in the site or any destruction of the site. Ironically, the board of HGA near it manifests the construction (or destruction) works going on for years.

Mohammed Afzal

Mohammed Afzal: the heritage Warrior
Mohammed Afzal, who resides just near the foot walls of the fort since his childhood and has grown up seeing the different phase of destructions of this historic monument, has taken upon himself the herculean task of preserving the fort.

The read bearded crusader wears a serious look seeing the ‘glorious heritage of Deccan’ turning into ruins.

As Afzal enters the fort, the familiar security guards offer him ‘Salam,’ remembering him as the only frequent visitor and for his enormous dharnas against their mighty employer HGA on the main gates.

The main and direct ways to the historic monuments in the fort is being blocked by huge gates, with writings in bold highlighting the new ‘owner’ – Hyderabad Golf Club.

If one wants to take an inside peek of to the monuments in Naya Qila, one has to travel a sloppy and bumpy dry road which most people will think twice before taking. But for Afzal, who is in his early 50s, it has now become a habit to walk on riders to inspect the preservation of the monuments.

“Can you imagine tourists walking this road; even locals have stopped visiting the Qila after these restrictions were imposed by HGA,” says Afzal while trying to climb a mini foothill.

400 year old african burbub tree

After passing through a long dry road we finally reached a splendid monument. “This is Masjid Mustafa Kamal, build in 16th century by Abdullah Qutub shah in a rare Turkish architecture. Now it is disconnected with rest of the world,” says Afzal, staring at its well-crafted walls.

Then turning left, he points at the grass field of the golf course, and alleges that the golf course build stands on a historic grave yards, which was Wakf property.

“See all this well maintained green grass, beneath it are the graves of our ancestors,” Afzal says, adding, “This was a Wakf property but HGA, in collusion with the AP tourism department, has razed the graves to facilitate golf course, and turned our ancestral graves into a merry making spot.”

As the Wakf board did not raise objections, Afzal with the help of other heritage activists took it on his shoulders to protect the wakf land and approached the high court filing a PIL.

On the orders of Hyderabad High Court to file a status-report on the grave yard and historic mosque, wakf board carried a survey and presented in the court that filling and leveling work has been carried out in the grave yard and at the mosque with heavy machinery.

An estimate 800 crore worth of wakf land has thus been encroached. High court has ordered a fresh demarcation of the wakf land.

Afzal thus succeeded in saving at least few reaming portion of the historical grave yard.

ASI declaration on the entry of fort

The grave yard might have been razed down but the mosque still stands on the state of apathy and negligence by ASI.

Entering the mosque through its well-carved granite arch, one can see the graves of three ministers in the courtyard, crafted in Persian style. Inside the walls is dusty and depilated mosque. From its look one can guess that it might not have seen a congregation prayer for years now.

As a protected 16th century monument of ASI it is no different with other fort walls surrounding it. Granite walls, it appears, may fall down any time.

“It is a big scandal,” mumbles Afzal. “One cannot imagine that Golconda, which generates a lot of revenue to the government is not being allotted money for preservation,” he adds.

Afzal alleges that the ASI has turned into a “monument leasing authority than a preserving one.”

Fort walls

‘Conspiracy’ continues:
Afzal alleges that after the court ordered wakf board to protect the historic mosque, the HGA hatched a conspiracy in “British style” and created a dispute of Shia-Sunni.

“When the movement to protect the monument got momentum HGA declared that it was built by Shia minister of Qutub Shahi dynasty. Hence Sunnis have no right to fight for it,” Afzal says.

“Consequently some people from the Shia community gathered in the mosque and erected one red flag in the mosque, and prayed,” he informs.

Afzal, however, does not mind the new ploy of the HGA, as he believes that their own plan has turned against them. “It was good that they have made that claim and forced more people from the Muslim community in participating to protect the monument,” he says.

“Our aim was to protect the monument and to take the fight in public and HGA’s plan for sure has helped us,” Afzal says with a smirk on his face.

Heritage site being destroyed:
The narrow but wide stairs to the terrace of the mosque resembles that in the Charminar. As we reach the terrace, Afzal, still struggling to stand on the contours of the high walls, rejects the government’s argument that developing a golf course will boost tourism and give a world class rank to the fort.

He says, “This fort was world class as suggested by UNESCO for world heritage site. It was always in the map of the world, the fort might have boosted that golf course but HGA have certainly destroyed it.”

Once again pointing towards the lush green golf course, he informs, “when the digging process was going on workers on this site recovered many medieval gold coins and other accessories now kept in museum.”

Arguing against ‘misplaced materialism over cultural heritage,’ he argues that such historic site is a place for preserving history, heritage and culture not for destructing to enjoy a ‘foreign game.’

In ruins for years now:
Afzal narrates how this Quila has been in ruins for years, with little attentions paid to it. He explains how portions of walls were demolished to make way for club.

Medieval canons are lying on the towers. Some are taken away by military for decorating their camps, he alleges.

Returning back to the main road from the shoddy way, Afzal showed the granite stair case. One half was missing. “See they slashed down the stair case leading to the tower to facilitate fencing. Isn’t it a destruction, isn’t it against ASI rules,” Afzal laments; and then remorsefully answers, “I guess rules are for common people not for government. Neither for big corporations! or it’s just a writing on the paper.”

Walking deep inside the newly constructed concrete road one can see, Masjid Mulla Khayali, another 16th century mosque in the fort built in a memory of a poet. In front of it stands a 400 year old African Boabab tree.

The mosque is presently locked by the ASI for reasons not known to anybody. Another historic monument seems to be laid to rest like the person on whose memory it was constructed!

Its right side has been fenced with wires, to prevent any trespass in the much cared golf course, truly giving a vivid picture of government’s priority.

As we passed through the bushy medieval walls of the fort a contaminated lake falls under the bridge which is now turned into sewage, of course, out of the shadow of the golf course.

Informing that he, along with other heritage activists made several representations before the ASI, Afzal alleges that the ASI has been reduced to a ‘namesake, when it comes to practical protection of the monuments.’

Heritage sealed

Fighting like a brave soldier:
Mohammed Afzal is bravely taking over influential lobbies and ASI. Like a brave solider, with selfless goals, he is fighting to protect the fort which he considers as an integral part of Deccani heritage and culture.

He is, however, thankful to all those who extended support to him in his struggle. “I couldn’t have done this without the back support of many NGO’s like SOUL, Forum for better Hyderabad and other heritage activists even judiciary has helped us a lot in interfering in the illegal constructions,” Afzal says.

The heritage crusader believes that preserving a communities’ cultural heritage is paramount. “If one wants to destroy the history of a community, he can do it easily by destructing its heritage. If we want our history to be protected then we have to stand up to protect our heritage,” Afzal adds.