Mosque and Madarsa Partially Demolished in ‘Anti-Encroachment’ Drive in Delhi

Delhi Police personnel sit next to the main gate of partially demolished Madarsa Tehfizul Quran, in Delhi's Bengali Market | Photo: Arbab Ali

By Arbab Ali

Ahmed*, an 11-year-old boy, scrambles through the rubble of his madarsa, managing to pull out the mangled blades of a ceiling fan weighing nearly 4 kilograms. He, and other students, all wearing colourful caps, some with “786” stitched into them, search for parts of their almirahs, beddings, books and whatever else they can retrieve from the pile of concrete that a large section of their madarsa has been reduced to.

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At around 6 a.m. on April 11, the Union Urban Development Ministry’s Land and Development Office (L&DO) sent a bulldozer to an Islamic seminary, Madarsa Tehfizul Quran in Delhi’s Bengali Market, and partially demolished it, along with a section of the nearly 250-year-old mosque.

TCN visited the demolition site the next day, April 12. Both lanes leading up to the madarsa had been barricaded by police and paramilitary personnel, with over 50 paramilitary personnel stationed around the madrasa and at its main gate. Initially denied entry into the madarsa, this TCN reporter was granted access after seeking permission from DCP New Delhi, Pranav Tayal.

A demolished wall of the madrasa | Photo: Arbab Ali

Mosque committee claims no prior notice

Mohammad Murtaza, a Qari at the Madarsa, told TCN that officials from the L&DO and the police arrived at the madrasa and informed them that they had a court order authorizing them to demolish the madrasa.

When Murtaza asked the officials for the court order, they allegedly informed him that it had already been sent to the masjid committee. “We never received any demolition order,” Murtaza explained to TCN.

He claimed that the police pushed the madarsa staff and told them “not to get involved” because they have a demolition order. “We tried everything we could to persuade the officials to postpone the demolition because the case is already in court,” Murtaza added.

Murtaza claimed that they had filed a case in court, with a hearing set for April 13. He also said that the Delhi Waqf Board owns the land on which the structure was built. The case is about the ownership of the front section of the madarsa, which was demolished on April 11.  The L&DO claims it to be an encroachment on their property; the Waqf Board contests that claim.

Senior advocate Mehmood Pracha and Waqf board chairman Amanatullah Khan also arrived at the site, but the demolition had already begun.

A madrasa student walks across the courtyard of Madarsa Tehfizul Quran | Photo: Arbab Ali

TCN attempted to contact Amanatullah Khan several times via phone but received no response. This story will be updated if and when we receive a response.

Several videos on social media show Mehmood Pracha demanding to see the demolition order from officials. He was later seen being driven away in a police car. “He was not detained, but was removed from the spot and immediately released,” Tayal told TCN.

“I barely managed to avoid detention,” said the madarsa’s Imam, Mohammad Ahmad Kasim.

Rooms meant for children and their belongings razed

A significant portion of the madarsa was razed to the ground, including the wudu or ablution area, three water tanks, the madrasa’s only source of running water, a piped water line for drinking, cameras, and electricity boards and cables.

Three student rooms were also demolished. The madrasa is home to 85 orphan children from Bihar, West Bengal, and Uttar Pradesh. Before the Covid-induced lockdown, the madrasa housed 130 students. Besides the Quran and Urdu, the students are taught Math, Hindi and English at the madrasa. There are six tutors in the madarsa.

Paramilitary personnel guard a lane leading up to the madrasa | Photo: Arbab Ali

“Look around… they did not even spare the children’s belongings. Their books, beds, cupboards, everything is in ruins,” Kasim said.

“We don’t have many rooms for the students. We are currently adjusting them in the back rooms. It’s getting crowded there,” he added.

Some students can be seen walking to the police officials stationed at the madarsa, offering them flowers, innocently hoping for a change of heart of the uniformed men.

 ‘Recently put a new lintel over rooms of children’

Previously, the rooms where the students lived had a tin roof that would heat up during the summer and leak during the monsoon rains. The madrasa had built a lintel roof over the rooms two to three months ago.

“We appealed for and received donations in the hopes of providing a roof for these students, but they demolished it,” Kasim lamented.

Kasim estimates that the total damage by the demolition would be Rs15 lakh.

He also suspects that the demolition was deliberately timed in the early hours of the morning in order to prevent them from saving their belongings. “They know that we (Muslims) stay up at night and rest during the day during Ramadan.” When they came with the bulldozer, children were sleeping in the rooms,” he added.

TCN is awaiting a response from L&DO director Suvasish Das. The story will be updated accordingly.

A madrasa student retrieving a mangled fan from the rubble | Photo: Arbab Ali

Not the first demolition of Muslim sites in Delhi

In the last few months, Delhi has seen a number of ‘encroachment’ removal drives involving religious structures. The Public Works Department (PWD) removed religious structures at Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg near ITO and on April 1, and an ‘encroachment’ removal action was carried out at the site of an old dargah near Hazrat Nizamuddin in south Delhi, as TCN reported.

The New Delhi Municipal Council conducted a ‘encroachment’ removal drive on mazars opposite Sunehri Bagh mosque near Udyog Bhawan last Friday.

The Delhi High Court had observed in February 2023 that places of worship cannot encroach on public land and hinder developmental activities meant for the larger segment of the public.

 *name changed for privacy

Arbab Ali is a fellow at TCN-SEED mentorship program.