India readies for temple start at site of razed mosque
LUCKNOW, India — As Hindus prepare to celebrate the groundbreaking of a long-awaited temple at a disputed ground in northern India, Muslims say they have no firm plans yet to build a new mosque at an alternative site they were granted to replace the one torn down by Hindu hardliners decades ago.
The groundbreaking ceremony follows a ruling by India’s Supreme Court last November favouring the building of a Hindu temple on the disputed site in Uttar Pradesh state. Hindus believe their god Ram was born at the site and claim that the Muslim Emperor Babur built a mosque on top of a temple there.
The 16th-century Babri Masjid mosque was destroyed in December 1992, sparking HinduMuslim violence that left nearly 2,000 people dead. The Supreme Court’s verdict paved the way for the building of a temple in place of the demolished mosque.
The court also ordered that Muslims be given two hectares of land to build a new mosque at a nearby site. But the ruling disappointed Muslims, who comprise about 14 per cent of Hindumajority India’s 1.3 billion people.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi will lay five silver bricks today as the temple foundation. Houses and other buildings close to the temple site in the city of Ayodhya are being painted yellow to recreate the look when the Hindu god Ram ruled there for thousands of years, according to the Hindu epic Ramayana.
More than 100,000 oil lamps will light up the city in celebration, said chief priest Satyendra Das.
A security clampdown, however, will allow only limited entry to devotees into the city because of the coronavirus pandemic. Last week, a priest and 15 police officers in the area tested positive for the virus.
The government-run Sunni Central Waqf (Endowment) Board’s chairman, Zafur Ahmed Faruqi, didn’t give a time frame for the building of a new mosque. Muslim community groups have not yet come forward in support of the project.
Hindu activists began preparing for the new temple in the 1990s, and prefabricated blocks of huge, ornately carved stones displaying Hindu mythology are ready for once the construction work starts. The construction is expected to take 31⁄2 years.
Zafaryab Jilani, who represents the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, said that while the Muslim community is not satisfied with the Supreme Court’s ruling, it will respect the decision and not protest the building of the temple.
Saeed Naqvi, a political analyst, said he didn’t expect any trouble between Hindus and Muslims over the issue. “Muslims by themselves have learned the hard lesson that if they oppose this issue, it only helps Hindutva [Hindu ideology],” he said.
Several prominent Muslim writers, academics and activists, who didn’t want to be identified, refused to discuss the issue, suggesting that the community was resigned to the new reality.
But some expressed fear that the new temple could embolden Hindu nationalists to target two other mosques in Uttar Pradesh.
“The Modi government should assure Muslims that Hindu outfits will not ask for the construction of temples in Varanasi and Mathura after demolishing existing mosques there,” said Iqbal Ansari, the main litigant in the Supreme Court case.
People light earthen lamps on the eve of a groundbreaking ceremony of a temple dedicated to the Hindu god Ram in Ayodhya, India, on Tuesday.