In­dia read­ies for tem­ple start at site of razed mosque

Times Colonist - - Canada / World -

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.

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