Two videos have surfaced on social media that show a heated confrontation between Muslim and Hindu communities at a place of worship. The videos show them arguing near two enshrined tombs. The Muslim group can be heard chanting “Allah Hu Akbar”. In one of the video chants of “Jai Shree Ram” are also heard. These clips were published by various news outlets to claim that Muslim men entered a temple and interrupted aarti.

Propaganda outlets Sudarshan News, OpIndia and Shiv Sena’s mouthpiece Saamana carried such reports. Sudarshan News editor-in-chief Suresh Chavhanke tweeted, “Jihadis entered a temple, stopped the aarti and chanted Allah Hu Akbar slogans. After the lynching of Sadhus in Maharashtra, who is supporting these jihadis to target holy shrines of saints? Jihad conspiracy on the land of Nath community at Malanggad in Maharashtra’s Thane (Machhindranath).” Chavhanke’s video gained over 18,000 views.

Times Nows aired a bulletin showing a man’s reaction to the alleged atrocity inflicted by the Muslim community against Hindus in Maharashtra. The man can be heard saying, “…these days anti-Hindu forces are being encouraged to the point that they enter Hindu temples and stop aartis. I ask Maharasthra CM Uddhav Thackery – how much atrocity do we have to face?”

India TV aired the same video and reported, “As Hindu devotees were performing the traditional aarti, members of the Muslim community entered the Machindranath temple and attempted to disrupt the service. The angry Muslim crowd raised slogans of ‘Allah-hu-Akbar’.” News Nation also reported the same.

BJP supporter Sanjay Dixit shared OpIndia’s report. He wrote, “A crowd of 50-60 Muslims entered the Machindranath temple and chanted ‘Allah-hu-Akbar’ slogans: Aarti interrupted: Video viral”. It gained over 1,500 retweets. Similarly, BJP supporter Asha Nakum and author Tuhin A. Sinha tweeted the report as well.

Jain Bhattaraka Swami Arrihant Rishi and Twitter users @SonuSri795 and @PiyushTweets1 shared the viral video. Each one of these tweets gained over 1000 retweets.

Multiple Facebook users either posted an article about the incident or the videos including the page ‘I Support Narendra Modi‘ that has over 15 million followers. This gained close to 10,000 reactions.

महाराष्ट्र के मंदिर में ‘शांतिप्रिय’ कौम का नया बवाल, आरती के दौरान लगाए गए मजहबी नारे, पूजा बाधित करने का प्रयास

Posted by I Support Narendra Modi on Wednesday, 31 March 2021

Where did the conflict occur and how does GoI recognise the place of worship?

The videos capture a conflict between Hindu and Muslim communities on March 28 at a disputed place of worship – Haji Malang dargah – situated on Malanggad hilltop at Maharasthra’s Konkan administrative block. A section of the Hindu community refers to the place of worship as Machindranath Samadi or temple. While the Muslim community recognises the same as a dargah.

In 1999, Yoginder Sikand explained the nature of the conflict for the online portal Sabrang. His article was the cover story for the ‘Communalism Combat’ column. He wrote that in 1986, “Shiv Sena kicked up a controversy over the dargah claiming that it was actually the site of 700-year-old Machindranath temple. Thane Sena leader Anand Dighe, in particular, espoused the cause in early 1996 and declared that they had been trying to ‘secure justice’ for several years now but the Congress government had paid no heed.” Sikand is currently a consultant at Henry Martin Institute of Islamic Studies, Hyderabad. As of today, the dispute stands and awaits the court’s verdict.

The video was recorded at Haji Malang dargah around 8 PM. Readers should note that this year both Hindu festival Holi and Muslim festival Shab-e-Barat were observed on March 28. However, the Haji Malang Trust informed that the festive celebrations didn’t have any role in the conflict.

According to the official website of Konkan, one of the six administrative divisions in Maharashtra, “Haji Malang is a 300-year-old dargah at Ambernath, where Baba Abdur Rehman Malang was buried. Malang was a Sufi saint who came to India in the 12th century AD from the middle east. Haji Malang, in true syncretic tradition, was one of the few dargahs where a Hindu vahivatdar (traditional priest from the Hindu Karandekar family) and a Muslim mutavalli (claiming to be distant kin of the saint), had both been officiating at religious rituals. Hazrat Qamli Shah Baba, this hazrat’s dargah, is near the dargah of Hazrat Haji Malang in Ambernath, thane district”.

In 1968, in the Supreme Court of India case Gopal, Krishnaji Ketkar vs Mahomed Haji Latif & Ors, referred to Haji Malang as a dargah.

Senior police inspector Manoj Khandare at Hill Line police station, Ambernath told Alt News, “It’s not correct to report that the video was shot in a temple. The correct terminology would be Samadhi or Mazar (enshrined tombs). People from both communities visit this place of worship.” He added that cases have been filed against men from both communities and necessary action will be taken.

The images below show the dargah on Google Maps.

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Alt News accessed Gazetteer of the Bombay Presidency Vol XVI published in 1882 on Wayback Machine Internet Archive. This document is attested by The Central Archaeological Library, New Delhi. Details of Malanggad can be found in the sub-section ‘Mahuli Fort’ on page 220 and 221 under the chapter titled ‘Places of Interest’. Among other facts, the document establishes that the tomb of Haji Abd-ul-Rahman exists in Malanggad. However, there is no reference to Machindranath’s tomb.

More significantly, the document says that in 1817 Kashinath Pant Kethkar [Ketkar] was proclaimed the guardian of the dargah. Ketkar is a Brahmin family that still continues to hold the responsibility. Haji Malang Baba Dargah is one of the few Muslim places of worship where legal guardianship belongs to a Hindu family.

Alt News spoke with lawyer Vijay Ketkar, kin of Kashinath Pant Ketkar. He said, “I am well aware that some news media outlets have falsely reported that this place of worship is a temple. As per the reported 1954 Supreme Court case, it is a dargah. I have informed the concerned authority and needful steps will be taken.”

Sudharshan News felt it was appropriate to use Uttar Pradesh’s Gorakhnath Temple as a reference image while reporting the story.

Based on the videos, it is evident that aarti was interrupted. However, the claim that Muslim men entered a temple requires greater scrutiny. This report is further divided into the following sections:

  1. Visual analysis
  2. Inputs from Haji Malang Baba Dargah Trust
  3. Inputs from Bajrang Dal

Visual analysis

YouTube account MKT NEWS uploaded an eight-minute clip on March 31. The following image shows that the conflict took place near a protected tomb also known as samadhi (as per Hindu community) or mazar (as per Muslim community).

A member of Haji Malang Baba Dargah Trust shared an image of the place where the conflict took place. The pictures show that the interiors do not resemble a temple.

Inputs from Haji Malang Baba Dargah Trust

Haji Malang Baba Dargah Trust shared the dargah’s incorporation certificate which was attested by the deputy charity commissioner, greater Bombay. According to the document, the trust was incorporated in 1953.

Nasir Khan, chairman of Haji Malang Baba Dargah Trust, told Alt News, “This trust was registered in 1953 and has members from both the communities. However, it is under the legal guardians hip of the Ketkar family. Since the issue was politicised in 1986, at least once a year aarti is performed at the dargah. But they (Bajrang Dal & VHP members) soon started referring to the dargah as Machindranath Temple. In the past few years, aarti is being performed every month and over the past three months, it appears that the timings of aarti have gained a structure. We have raised this issue with the local authorities multiple times. Such behaviour not only disrespects the religious sentiments of the Muslim community but can lead to conflicts.”

Alt News spoke with Nasir Khan’s son Rizwan. He was present on the night of March 28 when the conflict took place. “The Muslim community visits the dargah on a daily basis. Shab-e-Barat celebration had nothing to do with the conflict. That day the aarti extended well beyond the usual duration. When Muslim devotees approached the police personnel in charge to seek permission to perform rituals they were stopped. This aggravated the situation. That’s when Jai Shri Ram slogans were raised by a few Bajrang Dal members and in retaliation, some men chanted Allah Hu Akbar,” said Rizwan.

“In the past three years, the trust has complained about unceremonious aartis against the customs of the dargah to different government bodies such as minority cell, public grievance cell Bombay High court and the police,” he furthered. Below are press releases against unceremonious aartis in December 2020, February 2021 and the one that took place on March 28.

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Inputs from Bajrang Dal

Kokan-based Bajrang Dal member Sandip Bhagat gave his organisation’s version of events. “Since the past two years, each month on Purnima we perform aarti at Machindranath samadhi. We have been performing aartis since 1986 after Hindu groups raised this issue,” he said.

“About 25 Hindus were present on the day of the conflict. We had informed the local police prior to the aarti. We had a verbal agreement with the cops who permitted seven people to part take in aarti. As soon as our rituals began, several Muslim men interrupted the aarti and raised slogans. I personally believe they should not have interrupted the aarti. They could have raised their concerns after the aarti was completed,” he continued.

Bhagat connected us with Rajesh Mandrang Gaykar who was present at the site of conflict on March 28. Gaykar told us that he has been visiting Machindranath samadhi every month for the past 16 years. “There have been minor conflicts between the two communities in the past. But this is the first time an aarti was interrupted,” he said.

When informed that Muslims were referred to as ‘jihadis’ by several people, including Suresh Chavhanke, Gaykar said, “It is not right to call them such names.” In the same phone call, he added, “If the police don’t take action against the people who interrupted the aarti, we will conduct Satyanarayan havan in protest”.

A conflict between Muslim and Hindu communities at Haji Malang Dargah was further communalised by propaganda outlets and misleading media reports. While the aarti was indeed interrupted, Muslims did not enter a temple. The Haji Malang has been historically referred to as dargah, where both the Hindu and Muslim communities have been offering prayers for decades.

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About the Author

Archit is a graduate in English Literature from The MS University of Baroda. He also holds a post-graduation diploma in journalism from the Asian College of Journalism. Since then he has worked at Essel Group's English news channel at WION as a trainee journalist, at S3IDF as a fundraising & communications officer and at The Hindu as a reporter. At Alt News, he works as a fact-checking journalist.