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October 16, 2019

Another Babri Mosque episode in the making


October 16, 2019

It is well-known that many senior leaders of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are publicly promoting Hindu supremacy and ultra-nationalism in India at the expense of fundamental rights of minorities. In this connection, many mob attacks by extremist Hindu groups have continued against minorities in the country. Now after the destruction of Babri mosque, the issue of Gyanvapi mosque in Varansi has cropped up, creating anxiety among the Muslim circles.

The location of concerned mosque was questioned by local extremists, who have claimed rights to the land of the Gyanvapi mosque. After clashes with Hindu residents in 1936, the Muslims went to the court of Benaras, now called Varansi. The court ruled in favour of Muslims and allowed them to offer five time prayers and celebrate Urs of the Sufi saint buried in the courtyard of the mosque.

In 1991, PV Narasimha Rao government passed "The Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act", which states that all religious sites would be maintained as they were on 15 August, 1947. Despite this law, RSS activist Somnath Vyas in 1991 filed a case in a Varanasi civil court demanding that the mosque site should be handed over to the Kashi Vishwanath temple.

While filing nomination papers for the Lok Sabha 2019 polls from Varanasi (Kashi), UP, Prime Minister Narendara Modi had announced to materialise the construction of Kashi Vishwanath temple or Vishwanath dham. Being the constituency of Modi, the area and the Rupees 600 crore project has been high priority by the UP govt. Kashi is a sacred place of Hindus on the embankments of River Ganga, attributed to Shiv god.

Now after the announcement by Modi, UP authorities have stepped up the clearing activities and destroyed many old buildings and temples and the area is full of rubble. About 45,000 square feet of land surrounding the temple has been cleared while demolishing about 300 homes and displacing 600 families is in the process. Many local residents have also complained that their houses were got vacated or forcibly purchased. To register their disdain, locals have started protest activities. Local Hindu priests also seem furious over destruction of their temples. One Indian Swami claims that the government has destroyed 15 or 20 temples and numerous idols, which had been there since ancient times.

Shekhar Gupta, an Indian journalist, says, "The greater opposition, in fact, comes from Varanasi’s Hindu conservatives. Walk down the narrow lane connecting the temple precinct’s Neelkanth gate to the holiest Manikarnika Ghat, where cremations take place, and we run into well-known local writer and journalist/intellectual, Trilochan Prasad. He's furious. Who can dare to change what was never destined to change? They have destroyed our heritage, everything that was sacred, hundreds of crores have been wasted, a way of life has been destroyed and more.

"This, the redevelopment of a mere 4.6 hectares, involving the demolition of 296 buildings, is among the greatest risks Modi has taken in his constituency. Because this means annoying not just the liberal, but the most conservative residents of the Brahmin heartland, which takes pride in being eternal and unchanging."

According to a report by Prakash Karat: "In 1989, there was the first communal skirmish in the city. The turning point came in 1991. Just two days before the polling for the Lok Sabha elections communal violence broke out in the Beniabagh area of the city. The riots that followed led to ten people being killed, 126 injured and 117 houses demolished. The Muslim weavers suffered the brunt with Rs60 lakh worth of looms being destroyed. There were also horrific instances of violence such as two women being burnt to death along with the looms. This violence dealt a serious blow to the age-old relations between the Muslims and the Hindus living in the city.

"The next bout of violence took place in November 1991 with killings of people of one community on November 8 and retaliatory killings on November 13. The police entered the Muslim locality of Madanpura and a popular doctor Dr Anees was dragged out and beaten badly by the police. He died subsequently in police custody. Dr Anees was the nephew of Nazar Benarasi, a popular Urdu poet. This brutal police attack on an innocent Muslim doctor highlighted how the police force had got communalised in this period. The ex-DGP and BJP MP SC Dikshit was seen in the police control room directing events during these violence ridden days. This round of violence led to around 50 people being killed."

The minorities in India, a religiously diverse and democratic society with a constitution that provides legal equality for all, are facing serious challenges. The Indian constitution that allows all rights to citizens irrespective of their religion and prohibits religion-based discrimination is becoming non-functional every day. While there has been destruction of Hindu temples and desecration of Shiv ling places, the centuries old Gyanvapi mosque, which is adjacent to Modi's Kashi Vishwanath temple project, is in mortal danger. There have been attempts to bury idols to claim (on the lines of Babri mosque issue) to show that the mosque site was a Hindu site. But such attempts were thwarted. The Indian Muslims and other minorities in the country admit the levels of religious tolerance have deteriorated since the Modi Sarkar was first sworn in 2014.

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