Precinct 333

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Muslims Seek Taj Mahal Land (And Cash) Grab

The Taj Mahal is India's most recognizable symbol. Built as a tomb for the Mughal Empress Mumtaz Mahal by her husband, Shah Jahan, it is a symbol of the enduring love of a husband for his wife. Now a Muslim group has claimed ownership of the Taj Mahal and its grounds, on the basis that it is a Muslim cemetary.

The Sunni Waqf Board (SWB), a Muslim trust, was given ownership of Uttar Pradesh's Muslim graveyards by the Indian government itself.

The board has issued notices to the Archaeological Survey of India as well as the central government, seeking their reply to its demand by the end of March.

Speaking to the BBC, SWB chairman Hafiz Usman said that other than the graves of the emperor and his wife, several other Muslim graves were also located within the Taj Mahal's boundary.

The presence of a mosque and a tomb within the complex clearly brings it under the board's jurisdiction, he says.

The board has quasi-judicial powers and has threatened to take an ex parte decision if its end March deadline is not met.

Frankly, this action is outrageous. For a private group to attempt to steal this historic site from the Indian people goes beyond arrogance. It is part of the heritage of the entire nation, not a minority religious group.

Later in the story, we get to the heart of the matter -- money.

Mr Usman said once the ownership issue had been decided, the board would demand that 7% of the total earnings from tickets should be transferred to its coffers.

The board also wants the power to regularly audit the accounts of the monuments and ensure that the money is not frittered away but used properly for the maintenance of the building.

He said the board did not stake a claim to the monument earlier as it had not wanted to enter into any controversy.

See, what the group is after is a chunk of the cash that the government makes off of the admission fees. I'm not sure what that would come to, but I think we can presume that we are talking about a hefty chunk of change.


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