Hindutva’s next target — the Gyanvapi Mosque


Sultan M Hali

THE rule of Hindutva led by Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) Parcharak (activist)
Narendra Modi now feels emboldened to destroy more historic ancient mosques in India claiming them to be original temple sites. On 6 December 1992, Hindu nationalists led by RSS stalwarts like Advani, Modi et-al demolished the Babri Mosque, resulting in communal riots leading to over 2,000 deaths. Much has been written about Ram Janmabhoomi, literally translated, “Rama’s birthplace” is the name given to the site that many Hindus believe to be the birthplace of Rama, the 7th avatar of the Hindu deity Vishnu but a mythical character from the epic Ramayana, which states that the location of Rama’s birthplace is on the banks of the Sarayu river in the city of Ayodhya. Little evidence was supplied by the Hindu extremists, apart from planted ones nevertheless, the Babri Mosque was razed to the ground under this plea.
RSS parcharaks have prepared a list of thousands of mosques in India, which are targeted to be torn down and replaced by Hindu temples. Prominent in the list after the Babri Masjid are: the Gyanvapi Mosque in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh (UP), the Shahi Eidgah Mosque in Mathura, also in UP; Jamia Masjid at Patan Gujarat, the Kamal Maula Mosque in Madhya Pradesh, the Adina Mosque at Pandua, West Bengal; Jamia Masjid at Ahmadabad; Bijamandal Mosque at Vidisha, Madhya Pradesh and the Quawwat-al-Islam Mosque at Mehrauli. At the moment, Gyanvapi Mosque in Varanasi, needs immediate attention because it is in Hindutva’s cross hairs. On the eve of filing nomination papers for Lok Sabha 2019 from Varanasi (Kashi), UP, Narendra Modi had announced the construction of “Kashi Vishwanath temple or Vishwanath Dham” at a cost of Indian Rupees 600 crores. Kashi is a sacred site of Hindus, situated on the embankments of River Ganges, attributed to Hindu deity Shiva, generally symbolized by “Shiv Ling”. The project aims at clearing an area of around 45,000 square meters with dedicated 50 feet wide pathways. Being Modi’s constituency, the project is receiving extraordinary attention of the UP government under its Hindutva extremist Chief Minister Yogi Aditya Nath.
Interestingly, while fulfilling Modi’s electoral promise and stepping up clearing activities, UP authorities have destroyed many old buildings and temples too. So far, around 45,000 square feet of land surrounding the temple has been cleared but 300 homes have been demolished, displacing 600 families in the process. Many local residents have complained of forced vacation of their residences. The ire of local Hindu priests too has been ignited who have gone to the extent of expressing their rage at the destruction of their temples and even dare to allege that both “Modi and Aditya Nath” are proving worse than Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb, who is alleged to have been harsh on the Hindus.
Swami Avimukteshwaran, the head of the Sri Vidya Math, Varanasi and one of the disciples of Shankaracharya Swaroopanand Saraswathi, has been among the more vociferous opponents of the project. He maintains that over 15 to 20 temples and numerous idols, which existed since ancient times, have been destroyed. Varanasi residents also claim that the corridor is being built by crushing the soul of Kashi. Coming back to the issue of the Gyanvapi Mosque, which has been marked for demolition, is centuries’ old mosque which is adjacent to Modi’s Kashi Vishwanath temple project. Reportedly, some Hindu extremist activists tried to repeat the subterfuge executed at Babri Mosque by attempting to bury an idol of bull (Nandi) to claim that the mosque was constructed on a Hindu site, however, they were caught red handed and issue was hushed up.
Much like the history of the Babri Masjid site, Hindu groups have been continuously claiming rights to the land of “the Gyanvapi mosque”. In 1936, after disputes with the Hindu residents of the area, Muslims filed a suit in civil court in then Banaras (now Varanasi). In 1937, the court allowed the Muslims to offer 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, in 1991, RSS activist Somnath Vyas filed a case in a Varanasi civil court demanding that the mosque site be handed over to the Kashi Vishwanath temple.
As the work for the corridor has accelerated, so has the frequency of incidents related to the Gyanvapi mosque. Not long after the Allahabad High Court issued its stay on 25 October 2018, a government contractor demolished the Chhattadwar Chabutra, the boundary wall on the north side of the mosque site. The incident caused flare-up among the local residents. Muslims from the area gathered, and protested the Administration’s decision, stating that it would endanger the mosque. Meanwhile, the corridor project, ongoing demolition of structures surrounding the mosque site and posed dangers to the mosque, have also prompted the state government to increase the security. Since the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992, the area (Varanasi) has been also witnessing heightened Hindu-Muslim tension, which may erupt the Gyanvapi mosque like the Babri Masjid. Modi’s Kashi Vishwanath corridor has provided Hindu extremist groups a golden opportunity to demolish the mosque in pursuance of their heinous agenda to further Hindutva’s aim of establishing a Hindu Rashtra (state) where minorities and lower class is trampled by “superior” Brahmins and Hindutva prevails. The world conscience remains oblivious to the plight of Muslims and other Indian minorities but we must expose the ugly visage of Hindutva.
—The writer is retired PAF Group Captain and a TV talk show host.

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