Chirag Delhi’s Sufi dargah caught in political slugfest over alleged Waqf corruption
Deep in the alleys of cramped Chirag Delhi, lies the dargah of 14th century Sufi saint, Khwaja Nasiruddin Mehmood Chirag Dehlavi, which is rarely crowded and devoid of activity that marks other prominent shrines of Delhi. Its majesty, however, overpowers century-old disputes regarding a piece of its land.
Of late, this shrine in south Delhi has become a bone of contention between the ruling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) concerning graft charges in Delhi Waqf Board — the statutory custodian of religious properties.
According to a Delhi assembly committee report, a portion of the dargah was sold to a property dealer by the caretakers in connivance with board officials. BJP cried foul, alleging that the AAP by naming only a section officer of the board, tried to shield the dubious role of AAP MLA Amanatullah Khan as chairman of the board. The Waqf Board was dissolved in 2016.
“The caretaker (khadim) and the section officer were hand-in-glove. We asked chief secretary Anshu Prakash to initiate criminal and privilege proceedings against a section officer for selling the property. There has been no FIR against any one for selling the land,” said Greater Kailash MLA Saurabh Bharadwaj, who had raised the question in the House in 2016.
The fresh dispute goes back to March 2016, when the caretaker allegedly sold a piece of land (69 bigha 15 biswa) to a private player. The locals interfered and stopped the construction of the two rooms that the caretakers said were part of musafirkhana (guest rooms) outside the main enclosure of the dargah.
BJP MLA and leader of opposition in Delhi assembly Vijendra Gupta said, “The former chairman of the Waqf Board, Amanatullah Khan, has a CBI probe pending against him. He is an AAP MLA. Isn’t the ruling party responsible for the graft in the board?”
Much before MLA Khan was appointed as the chairperson of the Waqf Board, the board and the caretakers had been fighting a battle over the ownership of the dargah, comprising mausoleums of the saint and his disciples and the enclosure outside. The board claims the shrine was gazetted as Waqf Board property in December 1970, while the caretakers, citing a Wajib-ul-Arz (record of rights) document dating back to 1880, claimed they were the legal heirs of the dargah since eight generations.
“Not just the shrine, we, like our forefathers, are also the khadims (caretakers) of the enclosure that was part of Chirag Dilli fort. The Waqf Board has no role to play here,” said Zameer Ahmed Nasiri, one of the caretakers.
Subsequent court orders since 1917 went in favour of both the parties — the board and the khadims. On October 20, 1966, Hasmat Ali Khan, the then commissioner of Waqfs, Delhi administration, while terming Wajib-ul-Arz a valid proof of ownership of the Khadims, said that it was “difficult to declare the land as Waqf as long as other evidence is not brought into light”. An order by the High Court of Judicature in Lahore in 1943 said that it was not “disputed that the whole of the village is owned by khadims of the dargah”.
“The dargah was gazetted as a Waqf Board property in 1970 after the death of then caretaker Mohd Ahmed. No one after him was the legal heir of the dargah,” said a member of disbanded Waqf Board, who is familiar with the controversy.
Amid all this, people of the village, irrespective of their religion, rever the saint. A mystic-poet and a Sufi saint of the Chishti order, Nasiruddin was born as Syed Nasiruddin Mahmood Al Hassani around 1274 in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh. He became ‘mureed’ (disciple) of Sufi saint Nizamuddin Auliya after leaving Ayodhya at the age of 40. Later, he became Nizamuddin’s successor. He died in 1356, when he was 82. The tomb was built by Firoz Shah Tughlaq, the king of Delhi in 1358.
The footfall difference apart, Nasiruddin, unlike his peer (spiritual master), Nizamuddin Auliya, did not listen to sema (audio/music), considered un-Islamic by a section of the Muslim intelligentsia during his time.
“That is why we do not organise qawwali here. Not more than 20 people, mostly locals, visit the shrine every day. Maximum visitors come on the day of Urs that falls on the 17th day of Ramzan every year,” said one of the caretakers Javed Ahmad Nasiri.
Not many would know that the present-day ‘Chirag Delhi’ — that developed around the dargah since 1800 — got its name from saint Nasiruddin Mehmood ‘Chirag’. Legend has it that the title ‘Roshan Chirag-e-Delhi” was awarded to the saint for his mystical powers of lighting lamps using water instead of oil.
“Whenever anyone is in trouble, a visit to the shrine helps. I think only maula will resolve this unending dispute,” said Surinder Sehrawat, a local, who calls himself Aashiq-e-Nasir (Lover of the saint).