Centuries-old mosque torn down in Indian capital

NEW DELHI: Bulldozers have knocked down a centuries-old mosque in India’s capital, a member of the building’s managing committee said Thursday, during a demolition drive to remove “illegal” structures from a forest reserve.

The demolition comes at a sensitive time in India with nationalist activists emboldened in their long campaign for the replacement of several prominent mosques with Hindu temples.

The Masjid Akhonji in New Delhi, which its caretakers say is around 600 years old, was home to 22 students enrolled in an Islamic boarding school.

It was torn down on Tuesday in a forest of Mehrauli, an affluent neighbourhood dotted with centuries-old ruins from settlements predating modern Delhi.

Mohammad Zaffar, a member of the mosque’s managing committee, told AFP that it had not received any prior notice before a demolition carried out “in the dark of the night”.

He said many graves in the mosque compound were also desecrated, and no one was allowed to take out copies of the Holy Quran or other materials from inside the mosque before it was razed.

“Many of our revered figures and my own ancestors were buried there. There is no trace of the graves now,” Zaffar told AFP.

“The rubble from the mosque and the graves has been removed and dumped somewhere else.”

The Delhi Development Authority, the city’s main land management agency responsible for carrying out the demolitions, did not respond to AFP’s requests for comment.

A heavy police presence had barricaded roads outside the grounds on Thursday and refused access to the site.

The demolition took place barely a week after Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated a grand new Hindu temple in the northern city of Ayodhya, built on grounds once home to the centuries-old Babri mosque.

That mosque was torn down in 1992 in a campaign spearheaded by members of Modi’s party, sparking sectarian riots that killed 2,000 people nationwide, most of them Muslims.

Hindu activist groups have also laid claim to the disputed Gyanvapi mosque in the Indian holy city of Varanasi, which they say was built over a Hindu temple during the Muslim Mughal empire centuries ago.

Hindu worshippers entered the Gyanvapi mosque on Thursday to pray after a local court gave them permission to do so.

Calls for India to enshrine Hindu supremacy have rapidly grown louder since Modi took office in 2014, making the country’s roughly 210-million-strong Muslim minority increasingly anxious about their future.

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