Tight security rings India’s Ayodhya temple amid violence fears

Published January 22, 2024
A temple of Hindu deity Ram is pictured on the eve of its consecration ceremony in Ayodhya on January 21, 2024. — AFP
A temple of Hindu deity Ram is pictured on the eve of its consecration ceremony in Ayodhya on January 21, 2024. — AFP

NEW DELHI: Tight security has been clamped on Ayodhya town where a new temple will be inaugurated with state-sponsored fanfare by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday (today).

The star-studded event is expected to draw popular movie actors, cricketers and leading industrialists to the temple town. A newly commissioned airport in Ayodhya would assist.

Muslim residents of the erstwhile multicultural hub, however, say they have sent their children and women to relatives in neighbouring towns, fearing violence.

On Dec 6, 1992, a Hindu mob had razed the 16th century Babri Masjid in Ayodhya, claiming that Muslims had built it over the place of an ancient temple. The mosque destruction is celebrated as a day victory by Hindutva supporters, while for Muslims, it was a day of terror.

Modi to inaugurate temple today as Muslims seek security

Among those invited to the inauguration, stars Amitabh Bachchan, Alia Bhat, Ranbir Kapoor, Rajnikanth, Kangana Ranaut, Madhuri Dixit, Akshay Kumar, Anushka Sharma and cricketer husband Virat Kohli feature prominently.

The guest list also includes President Droupadi Murmu, Vice President Jagdeep Dhankhar, BJP stalwarts Murli Manohar Joshi, L.K. Advani, former prime minister Manmohan Singh. It is not clear if all would travel.

Congress leaders including Mallikarjun Kharge and Sonia Gandhi were also invited, but they have declined to attend the event. Some of the most senior religious leaders of Hindu sects are boycotting the event.

Sachin Tendulkar, chess grandmaster Viswanathan Anand, Sunil Gavaskar, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Sourav Ganguly, Anil Kumble, Virendra Sehwag and Indian cricket coach Rahul Dravid are invited. Actors Arun Govil and Dipika Chikhlia, who portrayed Ram and Sita in Ramanand Sagar’s popular TV series “Ramayan”, are on the list as are singer Malini Awasthi, sarod maestro Amjad Ali Khan.

Among the industrialists, billionaire Mukesh Ambani and his family, Ratan N. Tata, Gautam Adani, and Nusli Wadia of Bombay Dyeing, grandson of Quaid-i-Azam, are invited.

Paramilitary troops protecting the main temple to cordon off the sanctum sanctorum. The central force has been guarding the Ramjanmbhoomi since the late 1990s. Special state forces have the largest component, with 1,400 personnel from UP Police and PAC that will be deployed in the ‘red’ zone just outside the temple. Artificial intelligence, drones and CCTVs are being used as an added layer of security.

A local Muslim organisation submitted a petition to local authorities demanding strict security and vigil in localities with sizeable Muslim populations as well as other parts of Ayodhya which witnessed the demolition of Babri Masjid and communal violence in 1992.

In an interview with the Newslaundry portal, Arshad Madani, president of the Deoband Muslim seminary, expressed similar fears, and said he wanted Hindus and Muslims to live in amity. Muslims living in Ayodhya town say they are worried despite the Uttar Pradesh government’s repeated assurance that it would maintain peace and security in the area on the date of the consecration ceremony and afterwards, despite a likely influx of devotees.

Petitioners spoke of the past when Hindus and Muslims lived in peace in the town abutting Faizabad, the old capital of Oudh, until the 1990s. “In Ayodhya town, Hindus and Muslims have lived in peace, but in the past, due to mobs of outsiders at various events, the Muslim community has suffered loss of life, property and religious places,” stated Muslims’ petition to the police.

“From January 22, after inauguration of the Ram Temple, it is estimated that a large crowd of outsiders are slated to visit, hence Muslims residing in Ayodhya town are fearful of life, property and religious places. In view of previous experiences, we request for strict vigil and security in localities like Terhi Bazar, beside Teen-wali-Masjid, Gol Chauraha Sayyadbara, Begumpura, Durahi Kuan, Mughalpura, among others,” read a January 16 letter by the Anjuman Mohafiz Masjid-wa-Maqabir, an organisation of local Muslims, addressed to the Inspector General of police, Ayodhya division.

In Ayodhya district, 14.8 per cent of the nearly 2.5 million inhabitants are Muslims, The Hindu said. There are roughly 5,000 Muslims in a four-kilometre radius around the temple.

“Some Muslims have sent their children and women family members to relatives’ homes in Lucknow, Barabanki or other nearby districts. We tried to convince them as administration guaranteed security, but the fear of 1990 and 1992 communal incidents is difficult to forget for many people,” said Mohammad Azam Qadri, president of the Sunni Central Waqf Board sub-committee in Ayodhya.

“Hundreds of thousands of men were all over Ayodhya. They had sticks, swords and tridents. Our house was surrounded by them,” Anwari Begum, now 65, recalled the destruction of the mosque while talking to BBC.

“We ran from our homes. I ran with my six-month-old baby and small children. My husband was running behind us. When I turned, I saw that he had been caught by some men. We had to keep running for our lives,” she said.

The next day she found out her husband, Mohammad Amin, had been killed, one of at least 17 Muslims who died in shocking violence in Ayodhya that day.

Meanwhile, the court rejected the appeal by the 11 convicted rapists of a Muslim woman, who were given premature release from jail, to delay their return to prison. They are expected to be in jail on Sunday, a day before the grand event in Ayodhya being staged by those that set them free.

Published in Dawn, January 22nd, 2024

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