Jaipur: Provocative remarks by some Ajmer Dargah clerics after the Nupur Sharma row has hit local businessmen with a sharp decline in the number of people visiting the 800-year-old Sufi shrine, popular with both Muslims and Hindus.
The remarks made by three clerics came after now-suspended Sharma’s controversial remark on Prophet Mohammed during a television channel debate.
The brutall killing of a tailor in Udaipur by two men who said they were avenging insult to Islam further triggered communal tensions in Ajmer as well.
A total of six persons, including three clerics or khadims, have been arrested so far in two separate cases of provocative speech.
The impact of all this was a sharp decline in footfall at the dargah, cancellation of bookings in hotels and guest houses, low turnout at markets surrounding the area and and division on communal lines.
Narrow lanes usually bustling with crowds lead to the dargah. There are close to 10,000 shops, eateries, guest houses, and hotels in close vicinity of the shrine. Most of the shops are run by Hindus.
“Because of such controversial statements and calls, business in the market suffered badly. Booking in hotels were cancelled, and there were limited visitors.
“Every shopkeeper has suffered losses because of the speeches of Khadims,” Hotchand, president of the local market association and also runs a hotel near the market said.
He, however, said the number of visitors is now increasing.
Another businessman, Jodha Tek Chandani, said most of the shops near the dargah are run by Hindus, particularly the Sindhi community, and people, as well as shopkeepers, were scared because of the prevailing environment, leading to a dip in sales by 70-80 percent in the last 15 days.
However, stakeholders have started confidence-building measures like taking out an all-religion peace march, warning of action against those indulging in such activities and joint meetings to keep the dargah separate from this atmosphere and maintain its secular image.
“In the middle of all this, the sanctity of Ajmer dargah was hurt because the provocative speech was unfortunately delivered from the main gate of the shrine on June 17.
“This act was highly condemnable because this place has its sanctity and everyone has to maintain it,” Nasiruddin Chisti, chairman of All India Sufi Sajjadanashin Council, told PTI.
“There was definitely an impact on the footfall at the dargah initially because of such an act but with confidence-building measures, the situation is improving,” said Khadim Musabbir, one of the clerics at the shrine.
The dargah is frequently visited by many foreign nation heads, politicians, diplomats, celebrities, businessmen etc. from various parts of the world.
Expressing concern about the prevailing atmosphere, actor Raza Murad said no one should be allowed to make any provocative speech that calls for violence.
“Ajmer has been a pious land and known for the teachings of Khawaja Moinuddin Chistii. The dignity of this place has to be maintained by everyone,” the actor said.
“The fault is in the thought of certain people who made such remarks, and there is no place for things like calling for beheading or violence. This is unacceptable. This place is visited by both Muslims and non-Muslims and known across the world,” Murad, a frequent visitor to the dargah, said over phone from Mumbai.
Muzaffar Bharti, a local Muslim leader, said there is no discrimination at the dargah and people from all religions and societies come to the shrine. The personal thoughts of certain people should not be seen as a message from the Ajmer dargah, he said.
“Confidence-building initiatives are being taken up to restore the secular image of the shrine,” he said.
A cleric who did not wish to be named said, “The footfall remains around 30,000 during routine days but it saw a significant decline. The dargah wore a deserted look during the initial days but since this Friday, the number of visitors seems to be increasing.”
Vice president of the Dargah committee Munavwar Khan said the shrine committee has issued a warning of legal action against anyone making any controversial speech at the dargah. The committee also pasted an appeal on the issue inside the dargah.
“A joint meeting was held on Saturday which unanimously decided that no person associated with the dargah will issue anything which is contrary to the teachings of Khwaja Saheb and hinders the peace and prosperity of the country,” he said.
Ajmer district collector Anshdeep said an all-community peace march was taken out in Ajmer on Tuesday which was participated by religious leaders of different communities including Hindu and Muslim.
The three accused Khadims and three other persons who were involved in giving separate provocative speeches, have been arrested by the police.
A cleric named Gohar Chisti had delivered provocative speech from the main gate of Ajmer dargah on June 17. Four people, including one cleric, were arrested. Chisti who was absconding was recently nabbed from Hyderabad.
Video of another khadim Salman Chisti surfaced in which he offered his house to anyone who brings him the head of Nupur Sharma. He was also arrested later.
Another video had surfaced where Sarwar Chisti, secretary of Anjuman (body of Khadim) had called for economic boycott of Hindu shopkeepers in the dargah market for supporting a rally which was taken out by Hindus in support of Nupur Sharma.