Powder keg: Alarm over Islamic college in Tirupati
The peace and tranquility of Tirupati has been disturbed by an international Islamic women's college set up by a mystery woman in this holy city.
Tirupati, in Chittoor district of Andhra Pradesh is the abode of Lord Venkateswara and Goddess Padmavathi and draws millions of pilgrims every year.
The Heera International Islamic College-Women's Arabic College, is a massive six-floor building at Chandragiri village in the suburbs.
This college, which is protected by a four-meter-high compound wall, has given rise to a lot of apprehensions in the minds of the people and Nowhera Shaikh, founder of the college, finds herself in the centre of a controversy.
Even prominent Muslim leaders warn that the institution will create distrust and misunderstanding between various religious groups in the temple town. Shamir Basha, a widely-respected Muslim businessman in Tirupati said the Islamic college established last year was shrouded in mystery. "Nowhera Shaikh claims she is from Tirupati. But nobody had heard her name before she started the college. This is going to be a major issue, perhaps more in intensity than the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid issue," Basha told The Pioneer.
Basha, who worships daily at the Lord Venkateswara temple, said the college was a matter of concern. "The college will draw a number of people from West Asia to Tirupati. We are not sure about the kind of people who will be visiting the city. Tirupati is already facing threat from various terrorist groups," Basha said.
Sorakayala Krishna Reddy, Tirupati's historian and chronicler said the Islamic college has been built on land reclaimed from a temple pond.
"The land on which the college has been built belonged to Thimmapuram Venkateswara Temple. This temple was built in 1542 by the grandson of Sant Annamacharya, the music composer. The temple was destroyed by Hyder Ali in 1782. The original statue of Lord Venkateswara measuring 14.5 feet was there in the temple land for a long time," said Reddy.
Krishna Reddy said the temple land had been given to the priests of the temple by the then administrators. "How this land reached the hands of the present owners is shrouded in mystery. A thorough probe should be ordered into the transaction details of the land," said the septuagenarian scholar.
The women's college is yet to get affiliation from any of the universities. Recently Shaikh held a Press meet and introduced the media to more than 300 burqa clad girls who are studying at a madrasa for which Shaikh has the permission.
Heera International Islamic College-Women's Arabic College is yet to take off though the social network media and websites are full of encomiums for Shaikh and her projects.
A senior Intelligence official in Tirupati said he was flabbergasted at the speed with which Shaikh amassed wealth during the last ten years. "She was a non-entity even in 2007. But she married two men in quick succession and was operating from West Asian countries," said the official.
Prasanna Kumar Reddy, Congress leader and former vice-chairman of Tirupati Municipality, warned that the college has all the potential to upset Tirupati's communal harmony. "There are hundreds of Muslims in Tirupati who daily pay their obeisance to Lord Balaji and Goddess Padmavathi. Islamists are known for their intolerance to idol worship. What will happen if they unleash a campaign is anybody's guess," said Reddy.
Adi Kesavulu Reddy, district president of the farmer's wing of the YSR Congress said the land on which the Islamic college has come up is temple land. "There are discrepancies and irregularities in the acquisition of this land by Shaikh. Moreover, there is a sensitive installation of the Indian Space Research Organisation here," said Reddy.
Shaikh is the Chief Executive Officer of Heera Group which she claims is a Fortune global company. But she declined to reveal information about her educational and professional background.
When it was pointed out that the world has a right to know about the academic qualifications of the self-styled educationist, Shaikh said she was educated in an Islamic school in Chennai.
Reacting to apprehensions expressed by the local BJP leaders about her college, Shaikh said it was sheer jealousy on their part which made them raise such suspicions. "There are 3.5 lakh Muslim voters in Chittoor district of Andhra Pradesh and there are six lakh Muslim girls here. I want all of them to get modern education," she said.
M Venkiah Naidu, BJP MP, said the setting up of the Islamic college at Tirupati was a matter of concern to all. "Muslims constitute hardly 0.9 per cent of the population in Tirupati. The college could have been set up at a place where there is a considerable Muslim population," Naidu remarked.
SV Badri, religious scholar, pointed out that the Heera Group claimed in its website that it functions according to the framework of the Shariah. "How can a group functioning as per the edicts of the Quran be tolerant towards the idol worshippers of Tirupati," asked Badri, grandson of late Kalyanam Iyengar, who introduced the world-famous Tirupati laddoo. The district administration too declined to reveal how Shaikh managed to usurp the temple land.