In the beginning there was a tree. A big piipal tree that housed hundreds (yes, really) of birds. I loved that tree, it had a very reassuring presence in the fast and unpredictable urban life. Then somebody decided to tie a thread along its trunk. Sometime later, somebody put a couple of small idols at the base. Some more time passed and there were bigger idols and consequently more devotees. Then the space around the was cleaned. More devotees. Then one fine day, somebody decided to construct a concrete platform. It is now a full-fledged temple with a lot of devotees.
All this happened while I was growing up, very near to my house, alongwith a tremendously busy road. Down the road, there was a smaller temple and there was a public toilet adjacent to it. Now, there is no toilet and the temple is much bigger than its original size with a priest to boot for.
Just in case you are starting to get some ideas, look at the following picture that was carried out by many newspapers recently, notably by Outlook.
The green structure (dargah) is clearly encroaching into the street. Now, the important question is whether the structure came up first or was the street constructed earlier. I have seen many such structures in my hometown as well. I have seen small (but popular) temples and dargahs dotting state-highways as well. If you are going to Faridabad from Delhi then near Badarpur, you would notice a large crowd gathered in the middle of the highway, blocking traffic and posing safety hazard to themselves and the commuters on at least one day of the week.
Why do religious structures come up at the most unusual locations, mostly near bus-stops, train stations, highways, busy roads and market places? I don’t know. May be we believe that these ‘holy’ structures would protect us during our travels and help us with our business. Sometimes, it is driven by monetary considerations.
In Aligarh, if you have even seen a movie at Tasveer Mahal, you would remeber a small, shabbily written slide during the intermission. ‘kripyaa seat par paer na rakheN, saamne mazaar hai’ (do not keep your feet on the seat, there is a grave in front). That mazaar is actually alonwith the road, in front of a popular dhaba nearby, whose owner uses the space surrounding the mazaar to seat his customers. These road-side temples and dargahs are a source of income to many people who act as caretakers and collect donations from the devout and sometimes, superstitious followers.
So, what does that tells us about to the dargah over which Indians were shot dead, Indians were stabbed, Indians were burnt and Indians got injured, the dargah of Rashiduddin Chishti. Nothing. While some people claimed that the dargah was two hundred years old and others claimed it wasn’t, nobody asked anything about Rashiduddin Chishti himself. Why is he venerated, what is his history, when did he live and most importantly, when did he die? As his name suggests, he belongs to the Chishti order of the sufis. If so, his sufi-lineage can be easily traced and his life period easily determined. Any sufi saint worth his salt would have a teacher and many disciples. In sufi orders, these things are very important and well documented. No Indian journalist spent any time to find out the real facts. In Gujarat and in discussions related with Gujarat, various sides are so much polalized now that nobody cares about the facts anymore. People are driven too much by the rhetoric, too little by the facts. So, we were led to believe that Muslims are anti-development (being against the construction of the road), anti-peace (for protesting against the demolition) and anti-Gujarat (for well, being Muslims). The Gujarat government is what it is. Isn’t it is too tempting to take sides and isn’t it too easy?
From what I have seen in India, many religious structures are illegal. Most of them encroach upon the public land. Our population is increasing everyday and consequently the need for infrastructure. This may not be a stand-alone case and issues such as these would continue to crop up in the future. There is a need of a long term, non-parochial policy to deal with such matters. That is, unfortunately, no where in sight.
Related: Vadodara – Some Thoughts by Confused Gatha and Anatomy of the Vadodara Riots by Cynical Nerd.
Also Cross Posted at Mohib.net.