Sunehri Bagh Masjid, located on Rafi Marg’s grassy round-about that was earlier known as Hakeem Ji Ka Bagh, should not be more than a five-minute walk from the busy Udyog Bhawan. It is in the news nowadays because the New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC) is planning to remove it.
NDMC believes that the small mosque, which pre-dates New Delhi, hampers the smooth flow of traffic. Through a public notice given in various Delhi-based newspapers, it has invited objections and suggestions to the proposed removal of Sunehri Masjid.
But should it be removed simply because it creates traffic hazard as NDMC claims?
“No,” says Atyab Siddiqui, an eminent advocate. “It is a heritage masjid. It was there even before New Delhi came up and became the capital of India. NDMC must think of some alternative to save the mosque.”
Swapna Liddle, noted historian and an expert on Delhi heritage, says that this mosque was not razed unlike many other structures when New Delhi was being built after 1911.
“The mosque was not only of architectural significance, but it was also in use. So it was decided to incorporate it into the town plan by placing it on one of the many roundabouts in the new city.”
She adds, “The mosque is a Mughal-era structure, still being put to the use for which it was built…. Its location on the roundabout is evocative of the town plan of New Delhi, which sought to incorporate many historic structures, particularly those in active use, as features of the new city plan instead of demolishing them.”
Sunehri Masjid is among more than two dozen mosques in Lutyens’ Delhi.
“Almost all of them are over 150 years old. Sunehri Masjid is thronged by the central government employees on Friday as there are many central government offices there,” says Umer Ilyasi, President of All India Imam Organisation.
“I have offered Juma prayers in Sunehri Masjid many times as my office was close to it. Honestly, crossing the road has never been an obstacle to reach the masjid. Besides, this is the only mosque that suits the muslims posted in Defence Ministry, Nirman Bhawan and other nearby offices,” says Dost Khan, a former Central government employee.
There is a story attached to the name of Sunehri Masjid.
Chronicler of Delhi, late R.V. Smith used to say that Sunhera Village was located around this mosque, which was the mosque of its residents. Hence the name. Sunhera also disappeared like many other villages when new buildings were coming up in Lutyens’ Delhi and its residents were given land in other parts of Delhi. However, the mosque remained.
Old timers would tell you that Sunehri Masjid was in a very bad shape before it was redeveloped by Hakim Ajmal Khan, the former President of Congress, in early part of 1920s.
Apprehending demolition of the mosque, the Delhi Waqf Board had moved the Delhi High Court. The Court, on assurance from NDMC that they would not act in contravention of the legal position, disposed of the petition.
Despite this, NDMC issued the public notice within a week. The notice has expectedly sparked a huge uproar.
Traffic choke points
While the NDMC has cited traffic-related issues around the Sunehri Masjid as the reason for its proposed removal, the civic body has not worked towards easing the traffic-related issues at the roundabouts of Gol Dak Khana and Gole Market, both of which are close to the NDMC headquarters in Connaught Place, old timers complain.
The 1932-built Gol Dak Khana remains choked throughout the day as heavy traffic moves from the roads encircling it. Traffic from several busy stretches, including Ashoka Road, Baba Kharak Singh Marg, RML hospital, Bhai Veer Singh Marg and the Kali Bari T-point, meets at this roundabout.
Commuters say the situation is no better at the Gole Market roundabout, which is not very far from Gol Dak Khana. Traffic from Bhai Veer Singh Marg, Mandir Marg, Paharganj and other areas merges here.
“Their focus is only on traffic at Rafi Marg junction. Perhaps the NDMC should pay attention to the traffic situation in other busy stretches in Lutyens’ Delhi also,” said Geeta, a Delhi-based writer.
“Their focus is only on traffic at Rafi Marg junction where Sunehri Masjid is located. Perhaps the bosses at NDMC somehow feel that Sunehri Masjid’s removal is the solution to smooth traffic flow,” said Geeta, a Delhi-based writer.
The fact is that Sunehri Masjid is located well within the roundabout and does not hamper traffic in any way. Further, there has been no pile-up of traffic on the roundabout due to the worshippers, as the crowd is not much and is manageable even on Fridays.
There has been no complaint in this regard. However, if considered essential in the future, a subway can be provided for the worshippers from the footpath of any one of the five roads converging on the roundabout. This can be exclusive for those going to the mosque. Visitors to the park adjacent to the mosque in the roundabout can be barred from using the subway.
Imran Khan left surprised
Once moving in New Delhi area towards Jama Masjid from his hotel at Sardar Patel Marg, the former Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan was surprised to see so many mosques around Lutyens’ Delhi.
He simply could not believe that there was a mosque (Sunehri Masjid) so close to the Indian parliament and Indian Air Force Headquarters. When his car moved towards Janpath, he saw another mosque at a small distance from Janpath Hotel. Later he saw two more mosques in Connaught Place, before the car carrying him entered Minto Bridge Road on way to Jama Masjid.
When he was about to reach his destination, he uttered, “Delhi mein bahut masjid hein (There are many mosques in Delhi).”
This writer, sitting in the same car, responded after a little pause, “Perhaps Delhi has more mosques than Islamabad.”
The cricketer-turned-politician said, “Perhaps you are right.”