Courtesy: Vijayvani and BR Haran
Islamic University at the foot of Thirumala
The world’s busiest pilgrimage center; hundred per cent Hindu in character and identity; great religious, cultural and educational hub; rich in Hindu Temples and educational institutions - that is Tirupati! Ancient temples and the sacred Swarnamuki River assert the character and identity of this magnificent place. People owe their existence to Bhagwan Venkateswara and everything is done in Bhagwan Balaji’s name only.
Now the pilgrimage center is on the verge of losing its peace and piety due to the attempt of a Muslim business group to establish an Islamic University at the foothills of Thirumala. Heera Islamic Business Group, which has its head office in Hyderabad, is constructing a massive six storey varsity in a village called Chandragiri in Tondavada Panchayat, just 13 kms away from Tirupati town. Named Heera International Islamic College, the construction has caused huge concern in the minds of the local populace and the town could soon witness a series of protests and legal wars, thanks to the government authorities who have allegedly given permission for its construction without application of mind.
Religious significance of the place
SV Badri, a social activist and freelance journalist, and grandson of late Kalyanam Iyengar (“Laddu Iyengar”, pioneer of the internationally renowned “Tirupati Laddu”), explained the religious significance of the place: “As per the Sthal Purana, Bhagwan Srinivasa married Devi Padmavati at Narayana Vanam near here. After marriage, Bhagwan with His Consort shifted to Srinivasa Manga Puram (near Tondavada) where a temple for Bhagwan Srinivasa and Devi Padmavati exists. Both Bhagwan and His Consort used to go to a Shiva temple located on the banks of the sacred Swarnamuki River to serve Sage Agastya. This temple was said to be consecrated by Sage Agastya and hence the Deity attained the name Agastheeswara. Bhagwan Srinivasa served Sage Agastya at this temple for six months before shifting to Thirumala. In fact, Sage Agastya had consecrated five temples along the river Swarnamuki. It is really shocking that an Islamic Institution is being established in such a great Hindu pilgrimage center”.
Heera Islamic Business Group
The Group’s Mission Statement says, “It is guided by Iman, following Shariah Law engaged in Halal avoiding Haram. It is on a mission of spreading the knowledge of Allah to the four corners of the world.”
The history of the group and its CEO is interesting in the sense that such a phenomenal growth in just a decade is unimaginable! Ms Shaik Nowhera is the Founder and CEO of Heera Group. Her profile, as per her official website, says that Ms Shaik was born to Shaik Nanne Saheb and Shaik Bilkis in 1973 and that her grandfather Shaikh Kolkar Madaar Saheb started “SNS Transports” in 1920 and soon became successful in the wholesale business of fruits, vegetables and textile products. It adds that she inherited the religious, cultural and business traits from her father and started an Islamic School for women in Tirupati by name “Madrasa Niswan” in 1998 with 150 students, most of them from poor families.
Then comes the mindboggling information that she started Heera Gold Exports & Imports in 2008 in order to meet her expenses which increased along with the increase in the number of students. Within five years, she started many more enterprises under the banner of Heera Group of Companies – Heera Jewellers, Heera Pure Drop, Heera Textiles, Heera Granites, Heera Rice, Heera Electronics, Heera Real Estates, Heera Developers, Heera Foodex, and so on…
Nowhere in her official website are her educational qualifications mentioned; there are no details about her early life in school and university. However, under the title ‘Islamic Scholar’ there is mention of her starting a madrasa with six girls at the age of 19 to teach the Quran and the Hadith. This madrasa now supposedly has around 300 girl students.
At the same time, Shaik Nowhera’s rise as a business entrepreneur is stupendous. While there is absolutely no information regarding her grandfather’s transport business, which he supposedly started in 1920, her father’s continuation of it and the other wholesale business of vegetables, fruits and textiles on the Group’s official website (http://heeraibg.com/heeraibg/), her diversifying from Islamic teaching to gold trading is mentioned.
Having ventured into gold trading in 2008, she diversified further into many other fields (mentioned above), establishing branches in states such as Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Kerala, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Gujarat, West Bengal, and countries such as China, Canada, the Gulf and west Africa - 19 Companies in just five years!
While the web domain for the group was created only in December 2012, each company in the group has its own website. But none of the companies gives us details regarding turnover, balance sheet, etc. All websites carry the profile of CEO Shaik, but nothing, absolutely nothing, about other officials or board of directors. This gives a feeling of a sort of dubiousness about the business conglomerate.
Ms Shaik has a Facebook account (https://www.facebook.com/nowherashaik) since August 2013, where she blows her own trumpet, showing photographs of her sitting at the head of a table surrounded by men and women.
While construction of the Islamic College was going on silently in Chandragiri village, the Bharatiya Janata Party was the first to smell it locally. The official spokesperson of the State unit, G. Bhanu Prakash, convened a press conference and demanded an explanation from both Central and State Governments regarding the proposed establishment of an Islamic University at such a sacred Hindu town. Stating that the temple town and the hill temple have been on the radar of terrorists, as per various intelligence reports, he questioned the need for such a university when the local Muslim population is only 0.9%.
Another organization, Adi Hindu Parirakshana Samithi, also issued a protest statement. Its president, Kalluri Chengaiah, questioned the need to set up such a university in the sacred temple town particularly when it is on terrorist radar. He felt it amounts to buying trouble.
The US-based Global Hindu Heritage Foundation’s Prakasarao Velagapudi conveyed deep anguish over the development in Chandragiri village, “We have got much information from our contacts in Tirupati about the construction going on there. It seems it is being built on a Temple land and that it also violates the rules and regulations of Tirupati Urban Development Authority. Tirupati is a sacred temple town for Hindus worldwide and apart from the world famous Venkateswara Temple at the Seven Hills and the Padmavati temple at Thiruchanur downhill, we have several ancient temples in and around the town. When the Muslim population is almost zero in the town, we don’t understand the need for such a University there and we suspect there is more to this proposal than what meets the eye. We appeal to both the Central and State Governments to stop the construction immediately.”
Surprisingly, while the Heera Islamic Business Group with 19 companies in several countries, has its registered office at Tirupati, the locals seem totally unaware of such a big business conglomerate operating from their town. Congress politicians and former Municipal Chairman of Tirupati, Prasanna Kumar Reddy, said, “Muslims who live here are few in number and they revere Lord Venkateswara greatly. They mingle with us as brothers and sisters and this place is absolutely peaceful. However, this kind of an institution may bring students and faculties from outside, and over a period of time if they start indoctrinating the locals and impose Wahhabism on them, it would greatly affect the harmony and lead to untoward incidents resulting in division among people along communal lines”.
Adikesavulu Reddy, district president of YSR Congress farmers’ wing, said, “Tirupati is an important education hub of Andhra Pradesh. Sri Venkateswara University has lot of technical and academic institutions under its belt apart from primary and secondary schools. We have the Rashtriya Sanskrit Vidyapeeth also here. The local Muslims, who are just 0.9% of the town’s population, are truly satisfied with the available schools and colleges and their curriculum, and they live in harmony with us. So, there is no need for an Islamic University here. Moreover, it looks like the Heera Group has not obtained permission from the Board of Intermediate Education and the University Grants Commission to start either a College or a University. It must also be checked if they have violated the TUDA rules while constructing the building and there are allegations that they have usurped temple lands to construct their college.”
Shamir Basha, a market contractor for over thirty years said, “We are living peacefully here. Local Hindus also participate in our festivals. We have not heard of this lady or her business group until she started constructing this college. The local Muslims will not accept such an institution, which is shrouded in mystery. We do not want any controversy and I feel controversies may erupt when outsiders start coming and settling here. We are blessed by the Lord of Seven Hills and this beautiful town should not lose its peace because of outsiders.”
Manoharan, tahsildar of Tondavada, participating in an agitation against a separate Telengana, said permission was given for construction as the land is a patta land. He said the Tondavada Panchayat has given a No Objection Certificate.
Heera Group press meet
This writer visited Tirupati on September 17, 2013. After meeting the locals, the writer proceeded to Chandragiri village accompanied by SV Badri and was surprised to learn that a press conference had been convened by the Heera Group the same day. This was a stage managed and well rehearsed program. Hundreds of chairs were put under a shamiana and an overhead projector set up with a big screen to show audio visuals. Buses came in succession bringing hundreds of burqa-clad girls who took their seats obediently. Media persons were given seats and provided with a bottle of “Heera Pure Drops” packaged drinking water.
Suddenly the overhead projector and screen were removed without giving any reasons. Ms Shaik Nowhera came with two women and men and addressed the media for about half an hour, in Telugu.
She attacked the BJP spokesperson, “Bhanu Prakash of BJP has made a lot of baseless allegations against us. We have not done anything illegal. We are a big business conglomerate with 19 companies operating internationally. I am a local person; I hail from Tirupati; In fact, my grandfather had started a transport company by name SNS Transports here in 1920 and I inherited the business from my father and diversified and developed them to the present level. While focusing on business development on the one side, we pay our attention for the empowerment of Muslim women on the other side. As I belong to this place, I personally want to help the educational empowerment of the girl children. As there are 3.5 lac Muslims in the voter list of Chithoor district, we would like to serve at least 6 lac girls in this college. The BJP is making empty allegations. We are constructing this building on patta land which we bought and registered in our name. This is not temple land. We have got permission for construction. We will go step by step. The education which we impart in our Madrasa is equal to Secondary School Certificate, as we teach other subjects like Maths, Science, History, etc apart from Urdu and Arabic. We have value addition of Islamic tradition and culture. We also impart training in Nursing, Computers, etc.”
She went on and on, talking about Hindu-Muslim unity, secularism, human rights and her love for the Indian government which takes care of the minorities. She said, “I can start a university abroad or wherever I want. But, I want to serve the Muslim girls of India and I would like to start from Tirupati, my native place”.
A woman sitting next to her, introduced as the “Principal” of the institution, carried a bunch of papers and showed them whenever Shaik prodded her during the course of her speech. The girl students applauded at regular intervals by clapping. However, nothing was given to the media persons; no printed press statement was issued even after asking for it several times. And no explanation was given for not showing the audio visual.
Shaik failed to give convincing answers to pointed questions by the media. The journalists asked her why she was not popular locally despite being a native and owning such a huge business group; how she arrived at the figure of 6 lac Muslim girls from 3.5 lac Muslim voters; about the courses being offered; whether permission was obtained for construction of a college or simply a madrasa? She gave evasive answers. Asked about her educational qualifications, she first refused, but later said she studied in an Islamic school in Chennai.
Media persons were surprised to note that she could not speak even a few words in English despite being CEO of such a huge business conglomerate. One reporter commented privately, “Was it really Ms Shaik who addressed us? We have never seen her before. Had they shown the audio visual, we could have identified her. But now, we are not sure if the one who addressed us was the CEO of Heera Group”.
A State Intelligence Official who came to the meeting said she was not known in Tirupati at all until 2008 and that she had grown too big in too short a time, which could be possible only due to her Gulf connections.
Temple, Land, Water
Sorakayala Krishna Reddy, an academician and historian based in Tirupati, revealed that, “You could have seen the dilapidated temple tower very close to the college. This temple was built during the 16th century (1542), by Shri Thiruvenkata Nathudu, grandson of the great musical saint Annamacharya. The presiding deity was Bhagwan Venkateswara and this temple was later destroyed by the Islamic invader Hyder Ali in the 18th century (1782). The college which is being constructed now actually stands on the temple’s pond. It is not clear how the land got into the hands of this Heera Group. A transparent investigation must be done”.
Just outside the 12-foot high compound wall, the institute has placed a name board: ‘Heera International Islamic College’ and ‘Women’s Arabic College’. However the Group’s emblem has the abbreviation ‘HIIU’ meaning ‘Heera International Islamic University’. Below the name board stands a signage made of stone reading, “Swarnamuki River Rejuvenation Project – Construction of Sub-Surface Dam, Chandragiri”.
The project was undertaken with a mission to rejuvenate the Swarnamuki River. Some NGOs of Chithoor district formed a consortium under the leadership of the Rashtriya Seva Samiti (RASS) to take up the Swarnamuki River Rejuvenation Project. The project received support from CAPART, Ministry of Rural Development, Government of India and Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam (TTD).
RASS website (http://www.rassngo.org/natural_resources_management.html) says, “The implementation of the Swarnamuki River Rejuvenation Project is expected to bring about the augmentation of drinking and irrigation water in 400 habitations in nine mandals of Chithoor district; augmentation of drinking water supplied to important pilgrim towns like Tirupati, Tirumala and Sri Kalahasti, increase in bio-mass in 49,411 hectares of un-cultivable area; assured irrigation of 70,799 hectares of cultivable area and stabilization of agriculture; increase in per capita income and employment generation. This innovative project got afforestation not only in the country but at international level also.”
So, the main allegation that the land could not be a patta land cannot be ruled out. There is a possibility of manipulation of documents and the onus lies on the government to find out the truth behind the land on which the college is being constructed.
BJP Spokesperson Bhanu Prakash demands a Commission of Inquiry headed by a serving High Court Judge to find out the authenticity of the Heera Group, the antecedents of Ms Shaik Nowhera, the group’s financial resources, funds for the construction of the college, accounting and IT Returns, etc. He said the college would not be allowed to come up and widespread protests would be undertaken until the Government stops it. Kalluri Chengaiah, president of Adi Hindu Parirakshana Samithi conveyed similar sentiments.
This issue is similar to the situation which prevailed in 2006 when the then Chief Minister Samuel Rajasekhar Reddy, who was encouraging Christian missionary activities in Tirumala-Tirupati, released a GO saying Bhagwan Venkateswara’s assets were only two hills covering an area of 27.5 sq. kms., and the other five hills would be taken over by the government for converting them into a picnic spot with multiplexes, food courts, commercial, sports and entertainment infrastructures, including a rope-way to reach the top of the hills. He was forced to beat a retreat after fierce agitations by several Hindu organizations. The AP High Court also quashed the Government Order.
Rayalaseema and Coastal Andhra are already volatile with protests against the separation of Telengana. In this scenario, the onus lies on the Government to act decisively on this communally sensitive issue, as several questions remain unanswered.
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