ASI starts survey of disputed Bhojshala complex in MP's Dhar district

During the first day of survey, Muslim community members gathered to offer Friday prayers amidst tight security arrangements, officials said

Security personnel stand guard outside the Bhojshala/Kamal Maula Mosque complex in Dhar (photo: PTI)
Security personnel stand guard outside the Bhojshala/Kamal Maula Mosque complex in Dhar (photo: PTI)


The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) on Friday, 22 March, conducted survey of the controversial Bhojshala/Kamal Maula Mosque complex situated in the tribal-dominated Dhar district of Madhya Pradesh and made preparations for using carbon-dating equipment, officials said in Dhar district.

A 15-member ASI team along with senior local police and district administration officials readied the site for scientific assessments following a Madhya Pradesh High Court directive to conduct a 'scientific survey' within six weeks.

The high court on 11 March directed the ASI to carry out a 'scientific survey' within six weeks of the Bhojshala complex, a medieval-era monument that Hindus believe is a temple of goddess Vagdevi (Saraswati), while the Muslim community calls it Kamal Maula Mosque.

During the first day of the survey, members of the Muslim community gathered to offer Friday prayers amidst tight security arrangements, the officials said.

As per an ASI order issued on 7 April 2003, Hindus are allowed to worship inside the Bhojshala complex every Tuesday, while Muslims are allowed to offer namaz at the site on Fridays. Local authorities assured that customary practices, including Hindu worship on Tuesdays and Muslim prayers on Fridays, would continue undisturbed.

Dhar superintendent of police Manoj Kumar Singh confirmed that necessary arrangements would be made to facilitate these religious activities during the ASI exercise.

The ASI team worked until noon and left the spot for the day, Ashish Goyal, one of the petitioners in the matter, who was present with surveyors, told reporters. "Today they (ASI) did the ground-level preparations for conducting the survey. As directed by the HC, new technologies like GPS and carbon-dating equipment were used by the team," Goyal said.

He said members of the Hindu Front for Justice, an umbrella organisation representing petitioners like him, were also present during the survey. The superintendent of police said all the logistical support required by the ASI team was provided. "Adequate security measures were taken for the exercise and there is peace in the town," Singh said.

In a related development, a special leave petition (SLP) was filed by the Muslim community in the Supreme Court challenging the HC order. The SLP could not be taken up for urgent hearing and it has now been listed in the Supreme Court on 1 April.

Lawyer Shirish Dube, representing the Hindu Front for Justice, told reporters that since the SC refused to hear the matter on Friday, as mentioned by their lawyers, the survey will continue as directed by the high court.

Responding to the absence of authorised Muslim representatives during the survey, shahar qazi Waqar Sadiq raised concerns over the ASI's notification process. He emphasised the historical records and previous court responses regarding the site's identity as a mosque.

Sadiq said ASI reports of 1902 and 1903 are in its records and the first report on the site mentioned that "this is a mosque".

"A petition was again filed in the high court in 1998 by Vimal Kumar Godha on behalf of the Bajrang Dal and other Hindu bodies. Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the prime minister then. A reply was filed at that time that it was 'Kamal Moula Mosque' and the existence of Bhojshala was a mystery," he said.

This reply is in the HC records and the ASI cannot go back on its stand on the issue, Sadiq said. About the SC not taking up their matter after being mentioned, he said dates keep moving back and forth and the community will get a hearing.

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