The mosque debate becomes a religious fire in India

New Delhi (AP) — For nearly three centuries, Muslims and Hindus in the city of Varanasi in northern India have prayed to the gods in mosques and temples separated by a single wall. Many see it as an example of religious coexistence in countries where bouts of fatal community violence are common.

Its coexistence is currently under threat due to controversial proceedings.

Earlier this month, a district court filed a petition by a group of Hindus seeking access to pray on the grounds of the Gyanvapi Mosque, claiming it was built on the ruins of a medieval temple destroyed by Emperor Mugar. I started listening to. The petitioner states that the complex still contains Hindu idols and motifs. This is a claim being disputed by the mosque authorities.

The court struggle is the latest example of a growing phenomenon in which a Hindu group petitioned a court of request for land that Hindus claim to belong to Hindus. Critics say such incidents have raised concerns about the status of religious places for Muslims in India.

“The idea of ​​attacking the courts with so many petitions is to curb Muslims and boil down the communal pot,” said political analyst and commentator Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay. “This means that the expression of their public belief in India is no longer accepted and the humiliation allegedly accumulated on them by past Islamic rulers of the Middle Ages should be corrected now. It’s a way to tell Muslims. “

The proceedings against the 17th-century Gambapi Mosque in Varanasi, one of the most sacred cities of Hinduism, embody India’s modern religious conflict in many respects. A widely accepted consensus among historians is that it was built on a temple dedicated to the Hindu deity Shiva after being destroyed by the ruler of Mugar, Aurangzeb.

The two communities have stuck to their claims in the past, but have also confirmed that the conflict does not worsen. That changed last week when the District Court in Varanasi ordered an investigation into the mosque after five Hindu women filed a petition for permission to pray there.

According to Hari Shankar Jain, a lawyer representing Hindu women, a video study found it to be a symbol of Shiva in the mosque reservoir that Muslims used to bathe before praying. I found a stone shaft.

“The land on which the mosque is built belongs to Hindus and should be returned to us,” Jane said.

The representative of the mosque refuted the allegations. Rais Ahmad Ansari, a lawyer for the mosque committee, said the stone shaft allegedly found in the reservoir was the foundation of the fountain.

With the discovery of the alleged Hindu symbol, the District Court in Varanasi blocked the premises and banned large Muslim rallies inside. The Supreme Court of India later overturned the ruling and allowed Muslims to pray in the mosque. However, it also ordered local authorities to blockade and protect the area where the stone shaft was found, disposing of some of the mosques it had been using until this month to Muslims.

The mosque and investigation dispute is currently being taken up by the Varanasi High Court and will continue to be heard on Thursday.

A lawyer representing the Islamic side questioned the legal basis of the investigation, arguing that it violated the law and was a case recently upheld by the Supreme Court in 2019.

Indian Hindu nationalists have long claimed that thousands of medieval mosques were built on the site of a prominent temple destroyed by the rulers of Mugar. Many historians say that dozens of temples were actually destroyed, but the numbers are exaggerated, claiming that they are not religious, primarily for political reasons.

In the late 1980s, a Hindu nationalist group launched a campaign to regain these mosques. One such campaign culminated in 1992 when a Hindu mob destroyed the 16th-century Baby Mosque in the northern town of Ayodhya.

Hindus believe that the location of the mosque was the exact birthplace of their god Rama. The demolition caused massive joint violence across India, leaving more than 2,000 dead (mainly Islamic) and making Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party nationally famous.

A magnificent Hindu temple is now being built on the premises after the Supreme Court of India handed over the conflict area to Hindus in a controversial 2019 ruling. However, the court assured Muslims that this order would not be used as a precedent or pave the way for such controversial cases.

The court quoted the 1991 Place of Worship Act in its ruling. It bans the conversion of places of worship and stipulates that India will maintain its religious character as “existing” on August 15, 1947, when it gained independence from Britain. Colonialist.

A lawyer representing the Islamic side states that the Gyanvapi mosque proceedings violate its very judicial pledge.

“This act was considered sacred that it was there in order not to resume the old controversy. But allowing an investigation does exactly that — you scrape the old wounds. This meant banning it. ” Nizam Pasha, a lawyer representing the mosque’s committee, said.

The Gannva Pimosque case also applies to the story of Modi’s party, which has long campaigned to regain India’s lost Hindu past. Many leaders have openly proposed to tackle such a court battle head-on.

Critics say the party does so by providing support to Hindu nationalist groups who often challenge such cases in court. The Modi party denied this and said people couldn’t stop going to court.

Attorney Pasha said the proceedings were a “very carefully thought out pattern” aimed at strengthening Hindu nationalists.

He said the case was brought by ordinary Hindu citizens as plaintiffs who said they were believers in God seeking the right to pray in controversial places. When the matter was brought to court, he said, Hindu plaintiffs demanded a search of the site, built a media story, and presented evidence used to invigorate the masses.

“It’s not true to the people who were already influenced by the media at the time, it’s very difficult to convince them that this is a fountain,” Pasha said of the Gannva Pimosque case.

Meanwhile, Hindu nationalists have begun to look at more such mosques.

Last week, a district court alleged that some Hindus were built in the birthplace of the Hindu god Krishna at another mosque in Mathura, Uttar Pradesh, next to the temple. I have accepted the petition to hear. Similarly, another New Delhi court heard this week discussing the restoration of a temple that Hindu petitioners allegedly existed under a mosque built on the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Kutubuminar. The court said it would make a verdict next month.

While many other cases are expected to take years to resolve, critics say they will help Modi’s party in preparation for the 2024 election.

“These incidents help Hindu nationalists gain increased support for divided politics, and that’s what they need,” said political analyst Mukhopadhyay.


Associated Press writer Biswajeet Banerjee reported from Lucknow.

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