UNITED NATIONS: Follo­wing religious clashes sparked by the opening this week of a controversial Hindu temple in India, Pakistan has urged the United Nations to take action for the protection of Islamic sites in the country.

Pakistan’s UN envoy Munir Akram shared the plea during an OIC ambassadorial meeting at the UN headquarters in New York on Wednesday, condemning the recent consecration of the Ram temple on the site of the demolished Babri Masjid.

“Pakistan condemns in the strongest terms the construction and consecration of the Ram Temple on the site of the demolished Babri Mosque in Ayodhya, India,” he wrote in a letter addressed to Miguel Angel Moratinos, a top official for the UN Alliance of Civilisations.

“This trend poses a significant threat to the social, economic, and political well-being of Indian Muslims, as well as to the harmony and peace in the region.”

Shopfronts torn down

The letter came on the heels of local authorities’ drive in Mumbai tearing down several Muslim-owned makeshift shopfronts. The action by municipal authorities follows religious clashes sparked by the inauguration of Ram temple.

Minor clashes broke out Sunday in parts of Mumbai, including one incident where Hindus chanting religious slogans passed through a Muslim neighbourhood on the megacity’s outskirts, AFP adds.

No serious injuries were reported in the melee but by Tuesday, authorities had called in excavators to knock down more than a dozen shopfronts belonging to Muslims in that locality, according to media reports.

The following evening another 40 shopfronts were knocked down on Mohammed Ali Road, a major downtown thoroughfare and centre of local Muslim commerce that had also seen weekend clashes.

“We were undertaking deep clearing of the road in which some temporary hawkers and so forth were removed,” a local municipal officer, who declined to be named, told AFP on Thursday.

Numerous traders of all faiths often build makeshift shopfronts out of canvas and wood to shield their businesses and patrons from the city’s scorching sun and pounding monsoon rains.

“I cannot fathom why this was done,” Abdul Haseeb Khan, owner of a restaurant hit in the clearance drive, said. “If they didn’t want these structures here, they should have informed us and we would have removed it. This is no way to take action.”

Municipal officials told local media that the campaign was “routine” and planned before Sunday’s clashes, and that it was aimed at clearing illegal encroach­ments and easing pedestrian traffic.

So-called “bulldozer justice” has been an increasingly common tool of local officials in India to punish suspected criminals by demo­lishing their property.

Rights groups have condemned the practice as an unlawful exercise in collective punishment that disproportionately targets the country’s Muslim minority.

Islamic heritage

The letter by Pakistan’s UN envoy highlighted the urgency for intervention in safeguarding Islamic heritage sites in India.

“I am writing to seek your urgent intervention for the protection of religious sites in India. The United Nations Alliance of Civilisations must play a crucial role in safeguarding Islamic heritage sites and securing the rights of religious and cultural minorities in India,” the letter read.

This development brings renewed attention to religious discrimination in India, with concerns over the desecration and destruction of mosques. The situation extends beyond the Babri Mosque, with other mosques facing similar threats.

“Regrettably, this is not an isolated incident, as other mosques, including the Gyanvapi Mosque in Varanasi and the Shahi Eidgah Mosque in Mathura, face similar threats of desecration and destruction,” Ambassa­dor Akram said.

The statements from various ambassadors underscore the need for international attention to protect religious sites and ensure the rights of religious and cultural minorities in India. The upcoming OIC ambassadorial meeting is poised to address these concerns on a broader scale.

Published in Dawn, January 26th, 2024

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