Ahmedabad: The Hazrat Kalu Shaheed Dargah, which is located near Ahmedabad’s Kalupur railway station and is more than 500 years old, has been slapped with an eviction notice by the railway authorities to make way for redevelopment of the railway station.
The shrine’s management, which moved the Gujarat high court, says it has requisite documentation to disprove the railway authorities’ contention that it is an “unauthorised construction”. The court has ordered authorities to maintain the status quo.
The October 26 notice, issued by the Rail Land Development Authority (RLDA), Ahmedabad, and the senior section engineer of the Western Railways, said redevelopment work of the Ahmedabad station will be undertaken soon and directed the dargah management to remove the structure within 14 days. The notice labels the dargah “unauthorised” structure, noting that it is situated on the station premises.
It is from the Hazrat Kalu Shaheed Dargah that the nearby railway station and the nearby vicinity have derived their names: Kalupur railway station and the Kalupur Basti.
‘Dargah predates Independence’
Manzur Malek, the custodian of the dargah, is appalled by the notice. “The Holy Shrine of Hazrat Kalu Shaheed is more than 500 years old. Every day, at least 500 people come here to offer obeisance. It’s not just the dargah, Muslims also offer namaz in the Masjid existing in the dargah premises and have been doing so for centuries. How does the dargah become illegal overnight?” asks Malek.
Malek and locals claim that they have been seeking various permissions from competent authorities for several years, including for using loudspeakers and power connection, which they say, have been granted.
Though the RLDA notice says that the Dargah interferes with the redevelopment of Kalupur Railway Station, the Dargah administration says that the station has expanded and developed without removing or altering the existing structure. The Ahmedabad Junction Railway Station is the biggest railway station in Gujarat.
Firoz Khan Amin of the Sunni Awami Forum, an NGO, which has been raising the issues of mistreatment of Islamic shrines and mosques, says that Dargah has enough proof to substantiate that it is a recognised and authorised structure, predating 1947 and should not be demolished in the name of “development”.
A dated dargah
In its response to the notice, the shrine management has pointed to different instances, with documentation from the government, which verified and authorised the existence of the Dargah. In particular, the management has a document from 1912, which validates the structure and its attached premises.
The administration also mentions that in 1965, the divisional superintendent of the railways wrote to the Mujavar of Dargah informing that the Railway Board had decided to charge a license fee of Rs 1 per annum for religious edifices standing on the railway land from the date of their inception. Had the Dargah been “illegal”, the management says the authorities would have never charged license fee.
Later in 1972, in a letter, the divisional superintendent (works) informed the president of Kalu Shaheed Dargah that the licence fee was revised from Rs 1 to Rs 20 per annum from 1965 onwards. On July 23, 2022, when the Waqf Act, 1995, came into force, the Dargah was registered as “Hazarat Kalu Shaheed (RA) Dargah” and was given registration number (056-Ahmedabad) by the Gujarat State Waqf Board, according to the management.
Shamshad Pathan, a social activist and advocate, alleges that actual stakeholders who would “suffer” from the station “redevelopment” have been “sidelined” from the decision-making process. “Policies should be formulated keeping in mind the sentiments of the people who would actually be affected by the government’s decision,” adds Pathan.
Dargah, devotion and demolition
Contesting the notice, the management moved the Gujarat high court, which heard the matter on November 10. Justice Vaibhavi Nanavati ordered the parties to maintain the status quo. The matter will be next heard on January 16, 2024.
Raju Baldev Singh (56), who has been visiting the Dargah for 35 years, says that the dargah is close to his heart, as it is a peaceful and religious place. “It holds over 800 years of faith and history. It has existed even before railways existed. The Dargah should not be touched.”
Every Thursday, Singh travels 10 km to visit the Dargah, a symbol of Gujarat’s syncretism. For him and many like him, the demolition of the Dargah would be a personal loss.