Ayodhya dispute: Hindu nationalists talk temple ahead of SC hearings

Updated 29 Nov 2017

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TWENTY-FIVE years ago, Hindu extremists demolished the 16th century Babri mosque in Ayodhya, India, on Dec 6, 1992.—ANN
TWENTY-FIVE years ago, Hindu extremists demolished the 16th century Babri mosque in Ayodhya, India, on Dec 6, 1992.—ANN

NEW DELHI: Days before the final Supreme Court (SC) hearings in the Ayodhya land dispute case, the chief of India’s leading Hindu nationalist organisation, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, has announced that only a Ram temple will be built at the disputed site.

For over a century, Hindus and Muslims have been in a tussle over the Babri mosque in Ayodhya in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. Hindus claim the mosque was the birthplace of Lord Ram and that it was built after the destruction of a temple by Muslim invader Babur in 1528.

India’s apex court is set to begin the final hearings on Dec 5 on a clutch of petitions that challenge the Allahabad High Court verdict dividing the 2.77 acres of disputed land between the main deity Ram Lalla, Sunni Waqf Board and Nirmohi Akhara.

Exactly 25 years ago, on Dec 6, 1992, the Babri mosque was razed to the ground resulting in nationwide riots that killed over 2,000 people.

Muslims say they offered prayers at the mosque until December 1949, when some idols of Ram were placed in the mosque. The British rulers fenced the areas of worship as early as 1859 to pre-empt a clash, and the government of India locked its gates in 1949.

In 1984, the Hindus formed a committee to build a temple. Two years later, following a court order the gates of the disputed mosque were thrown open for Hindus to worship there. Muslims floated the Babri Mosque Action Committee to register their protest.

With the BJP swinging to power in 2014, the Sangh Parivar, or the family of Hindu nationalist organisations, has been rallying for the construction of a Ram temple in Ayodhya — a promise made in the BJP’s election manifesto for Uttar Pradesh.

The ruling BJP’s massive victory in Uttar Pradesh earlier this year and the subsequent selection of Adityanath, a controversial Hindu religious leader known for his anti-Muslim rhetoric as chief minister, the case for building a temple got a fillip.

Last week Mohan Bhagwat, the RSS chief, removed all doubts by announcing that a Ram temple at Ayodhya is becoming a “reality”.

Outspoken Muslim leader and member of All India Muslim Personal Law Board executive committee Asaduddin Owaisi says this is a move to vitiate the atmosphere.

“This is obnoxious, a deliberate ploy to vitiate the atmosphere. How can such a statement be made when the matter is in the Supreme Court? This is a title suit and the RSS is saying it is a matter of faith. I hope the SC takes note of it. This is dangerous.”

Earlier this year, Chief Justice of India J.S. Khehar suggested that the parties involved in the dispute consider peaceful negotiations instead of a pitched court battle. He even offered to help resolve the row.

The newest twist in the age-old disputed territory is the emergence of the Shia Waqf Board as a new claimant to the mosque built by Sunni Mughal Emperor Babur’s army commander Miq Baqi (who they claim was a Shia). Their bid for an out-of-court settlement is being backed by all saffron outfits.

The plunge by spiritual leader and founder of Art of Living, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, to help sort the matter amicably has also not gone unnoticed.

On Monday, a VHP leader infuriated the minority Muslim community further by claiming that Indian Muslims are descendants of Ram and hence they must help build the temple in Ayodhya.

“Hindus and Muslims are from the same lineage,” Singh said, while speaking to journalists in Jodhpur. “Here, no Muslim is a child of Babur. The Muslim here is a child of Ram. We may have different religious methods, but our ancestor is one.”

Rise of Hindu extremists has been spooking Indian Muslims. A Muslim was lynched over rumours of stocking beef in his refrigerator in 2015, and often the minority community is asked to prove its patriotism or “move to Pakistan”. In an increasingly intolerant India, where hate crimes are on the rise, Muslims are almost scared to make a show of their religious practices.—ANN

Published in Dawn, November 29th, 2017