‘The position of dewan is not a hereditary post and nobody can nominate a person as a dewan of their own will.’
The shrine of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti in Ajmer, referred to as the “Ajmer Sharif Dargah”, has attracted lakhs of pilgrims during the ongoing 806th Urs, but now, the shrine is also attracting a lot of controversy because of the rift between its dewan and khadims.
Last week at the Urs ceremony, the incumbent dewan of the dargah, Syed Zainul Abedin, announced his elder son Nasiruddin Chisti as the next Sajjadanashin (dewan), thus effectively making him the next heir to the post of dewan. The gaddinashins and the khadims that collectively form the Anjuman, protested against this move on the ground that the dewan has no such powers to announce an heir to the post of the dewan. The khadims blocked the dewan from entering the sanctum santorum of the dargah as part of their protest.
Syed Salman Chishty, 26th generation gaddinashin of the Ajmer Dargah, told The Sunday Guardian, “First of all, he is not any kind of spiritual head, he is a dewan which is a post that exists under the Dargah Act. Second, he is not the direct descendant of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti. The current dewan Zainul Abedin’s father was the closest among the kin of the Khwaja who chose to stay behind in India at the time of the partition. His ancestors might have belonged to Khwaja’s family, but were not his direct descendents. This is the reason why we protest against him.”
Syed Sarwar Chisty, a khadim at the dargah, shared documents with The Sunday Guardian, that are part of their evidence against dewan Abedin’s herarchial claims, and said, “We have been working on this for a while now and have collated documentary proof to contradict his claims because similar incidents have happened in the past as well. The dewan has been misusing his position; he has made statements in the past only to stay relevant in media circles, irrespective of what his life is like in real. It is evident that he has worn a political garb and is motivated to please certain sections, not for the improvement of the community, but for selfish reasons.”
The documents refer to the Dargah Khwaja Saheb Act (enacted in Parliament), Section 13, sub-section 1, which states that “the governor appoints Dargah dewan on the recommendation of the Dargah Committee when the vacancy is caused by the death of the previous dewan”.
According to Section 12, “There shall be remuneration made to the person for the time being holding the office of the dargah dewan of Rs 200 per mensem out of the revenues of the Dargah Endowment.” Another section that the document highlights is Section 3 which states, “The Nazim, the dargah dewan, the employees and servants of the dargah endowment are public servants, within the meaning of Section 21 of the Indian Penal Code.” The documents also list a series of events when dewan Abedin has allegedly violated the Dargah Act, as summarised by the Anjuman.
Sarwar said, “Our point is that the position of dewan is not a hereditary post and nobody can nominate a person as a dewan of their own will. There is the dargah committee that takes these decisions. But Dewan Abedin has tried to bypass the law. Be it matters of dargah property or making statements in the name of dargah, he has disrespected the dargah committee. He does not even own the keys of the sanctom santorium, the gaddinashins possess the keys. He is not even allowed to be the bearer of ceremonies when a special visitor comes to the dargah; the gaddinashins and khadims do that since the dewan is allowed to participate and not lead. The dewan is a figurative head of the dargah, he is supposed to work in co-operation with the dargah committee.”
Meanwhile, Syed Fakhar Kazmi, gaddinashin (there are in all nine gaddinashins of Ajmer Dargah) said, “The dargah is functioning smoothly. Our day to day activities are not being affected by any of this. We hope to resolve the issue soon.”
However, how the rift will be resolved remains unclear. While Dewan Abedin has said that he will take help of a lawyer to establish his son’s claim over the position of dewan, on the other hand, there is a possibility that its critics might file a case against him.
Dewan Abedin had made a statement against eating beef last year, saying that he has given up beef. The Anjuman had also made a statement saying that Khwaja had long back chosen to stop beef consumption in the dargah which is why the daily langar had also stopped serving it.