This is a piece written by my dad who has been researching the heritage and architecture of the Dawoodi Bohra community in Sidhpur in Gujarat. The beautiful family homes there are today in a perilous state of disrepair - victims of cultural disrespect and neglect and now perhaps even falling prey to the ill wind of communalism blowing through Gujarat.
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A frightening scenario emerging in Sidhpur
Any observant visitor to Sidhpur cannot but help noticing that a very massive tract of land abutting the railway station and the Inter-city bus stand belongs to the minority Dawoodi Bohra Community. Part of this land is occupied by Community facilities like Roza/Kabrasthan (mausoleum); Masjid (mosque); Musafar Khana (guest house) and Jamaat Khana (dining hall) and the bulk of it by the heritage houses of Najampura and Harariya. The general residential areas of other communities begin nearly 1.5 kms away from the station (on its eastern side).,
For a very long time there have been soft, benign murmurs among the majority community that one day all these fine heritage houses will belong to them.
Perhaps with the intention of moving closer to the station; perhaps due to a rising demand for space, the majority community had begun buying property in predominantly Bohra areas at reasonable and market prices. There was no force, no intimidation and no coercion. The trend was starting to assume torrential proportions when the local Jamaat decided that enough was enough. This encroachment needed to be stopped. An arzee (petition) was sent to Aqa Maula (spiritual head of the Dawoodi Bohra community) and a farmaan (decree) was received aiming to plug this glaring violation. "No Bohra house was to be sold to anybody outside the community, no matter what the offer."
For a brief period matters appeared to be under control. Then a new virulent equation cropped up. Selling a house – and there are many reasons for selling -at reasonable, market price had become difficult owing to a very limited demand. So the house owners (mostly with large family trees and little stake in the property) began seeking recourse in demolishing the building; recovering a fair bit of the value and retaining a nuisance-free vacant site. Here was a classic case of "having your cake and eating it too". At least 15 houses were pulled down in an indirect response to a well meant farmaan. The disease having run its course, all the weak players have dropped off one by one. And now a frightening pattern is emerging. Over the last one year there have been umpteen cases of impertinent and in-your-face burglaries; of breaking into locked houses; damaging and stealing at random and often staying within for a week. At times the thieves have left notes threatening action against anyone who dares to inform or retaliate. The police on the other hand wave a lethargic arm and make only token efforts to apprehend the culprits. Something fishy is in the air. Clearly the intention is to intimidate. The initial sleepy response from the victim was a myopic belief that lightning never strikes any spot twice. The thieves having done with their house would now leave them alone. Passive resignation was followed by a forced amnesia.
Here is a useful insight. A few years ago a Chennai Jamaat group had been on a mission to prepare estimates for hosting Aqa Maula's Ashara Vaaz (10 days of Moharram) at Sidhpur. A constant refrain that came up then, among the shopkeepers, was – "if only all these closed houses were to open up, how much more would the local economy benefit". But alas! That was not to be. But the events on the night of Sunday 1 Dec. 2007 have thrown a blinding light on a frightening pattern. After a gap of nearly eight hundred years, Sidhpur has witnessed an act of deliberate sacrilege.
Riots have come and gone; Tempers have flared and cooled; Animosity has ebbed and flowed. But never has a sacrosanct place been violated or its keepers assaulted.
The highly venerated Kazikhan Maula's Roza Mubarak (mausoleum) – the beacon of Sidhpuri Dawoodi Bohras – has come under the malfeasant glare of a bizarre and conspiratorial mind, throwing open a wide ranging set of questions.
Who are these people? What is their motive? Have we stirred up a hornet's nest by conducting an economic survey? Is the game plan about land and space? Is it a communal problem? Are the chickens coming home to roost?
The Dawoodi Bohras of Sidhpur need to do a lot of introspection.