On February 01, a Varanasi district court allowed Hindus to offer prayers in the southern cellar of the Gyanvapi mosque. This decision came on the heels of the much celebrated consecration of Ram Mandir at Ayodhya on January 22, 2024.

Ram Mandir Prana Pratishtha at Ayodhya on 22 January 2024. Credit: PIB 

Next day, Allahabad High Court rejected the petition filed by Muslims against the Varanasi Court order. Now the prayers are taking place in what was considered as a disputed structure. 

A couple of days earlier on January 30, Delhi Development Authority (DDA) decimated the nearly 700-year old Akhunji Masjid at Mehrauli, built during the reign of the Delhi Sultanate’s Razia Sultana. The demolition was so unexpected and abrupt that even the imam of the mosque had no clue as he prepared to lead the early morning prayers.

Not just that, the DDA staff was so desperate to flatten even the historical graveyard that the students of the affiliated madrassa could not even collect books and other belongings. They were just hustled out as the bulldozers lent meaning to this mindless operation. DDA’s bizarre argument being that the mosque was not a heritage building declared by Archaeological Survey of India and hence an encroachment on the local land. The communal zealotry was so overpowering that there was no regard for the fact that the move was a direct assault on the centuries old heritage of India.  

In yet another ruling on February 5, on a 53-year old lawsuit,  a civil court in Baghpat,  Uttar Pradesh, quashed a plea by local Muslim bodies to “restrain Hindus from encroaching upon the land,  destroying graves and holding havan.”

The Baghpat case refers to a centuries old tomb of Sufi saint Badruddin Shah, which Hindus claim to be housing lakshagriha, an opulent palace mentioned in the epic Mahabharata, built by Duryodhana to trap and kill the Pandavas. The local court gave precedence to a technical lacunae that it did not show in the1920 records as a Waqf property or a graveyard and overruled the demand of the saint’s followers for ownership.

Number of similar disputes are being settled in favour of the majority community as  the Hindutva juggernaut rolls on, trampling upon everything it considers part of this country’s Islamic past. Understandably, demolition of mosques is at the core of its politics.

Like the Babri Masjid, the fate of the Gyanvapi mosque too is a matter of fait accompli.  

With a hawkish Yogi Adityanath at the helm in Uttar Pradesh, his followers are looking forward to a speedy execution of the Gyanvapi case.

There’s a litany of mosques, shrines and monuments of Islamic era that the ideologues of Hindutva claim were built over temples that were destroyed. They don’t care to produce any evidence. It’s all about myths and beliefs which is then transformed into a movement that takes off violently and is then finally settled peacefully through the court of law. 

A number of unknown, self-proclaimed historians have surfaced over the last decade or so to palm off myths, superstitions and religious beliefs as history. In different parts of the country, this mishmash of unverified history is weaponised against Muslims after running down the findings of the globally acclaimed historians like Romila Thapar and Irfan Habib by rubbishing them as anti-Hindu Marxist historians who present a distorted version of truth. 

Since its independence in 1947, India struggled with both democracy or its version of secularism. Against the pressure within his own party and from outside, India’s first Prime Minister, Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru, followed secularism as the founding principle of a new India. Despite that, majoritarian sentiments and practises dominated the country. However, due to a pro-Hindu party in power now, the impact of majoritarian politics has become more blatant and impactful than ever before. Many of its practices and icons have cheerleaders in the Bachchans, the Tendulkars and the Ambanis who turned out in their best at the consecration of Ram Mandir – a temple built over the ruins of a mosque that was demolished by mobs consumed by religious frenzy on December 6, 1992. The Ram Rath Yatra that preceded the tearing down of the mosque was led by L. K. Advani who went on to become deputy prime minister of India. 

The government recently honoured Advani with the country’s highest civilian award,  Bharat Ratna, acknowledging his contribution in BJP coming to power and also reshaping India as we see it now.

Expectedly, in the run-up to the consecration ceremony early this year, the mood on the streets was euphoric – especially across North India – something that ensures rich electoral dividends for the Bharatiya Janata Party.

So overwhelming was the religious sentiment in the northern India that many political parties who otherwise identify themselves as secular, including Indian National Congress. showed cheerful readiness to take credit for it. Though Congress and other political parties boycotted the event claiming it was “political,” they joyfully hung banners to lay a claim on the Ram Mandir dream coming true. A graffiti with pictures of Lord Rama and Rajiv Gandhi on top and a pantheon of Congress bigshots below said: “Rajiv Gandhi ka sapna hua sakaar, Ram Mandir ne liya aakar – Rajiv Gandhi’s Ram Mandir dream has come true.” This claim has a serious merit to it as in 1986, the Rajiv Gandhi government ordered the opening of the locks and gave Vishwa Hindu Parishad permission for Shilanyas (foundation stone ceremony), thus setting in motion a violent Ram Mandir movement. Three decades earlier, in 1949, it was under Nehru-led Congress government that the first major attempt to get the custody of the mosque was made by surreptitiously placing idols inside it. What the government did was it got the mosque locked. This was just a year after Mahatma Gandhi fell to the bullets of Godse, a follower of the Hidutva ideology that’s ruling India now. Pertinently, the Ram Lalla that was stealthily placed inside the mosque on the night of December 22-23, 1949 has also been moved into the temple and  placed on the throne.

It wouldn’t be an overstatement to say that every action of RSS and BJP, in one way or the other, can be traced back to the Congress. Not just the Ayodhya dispute, the cow vigilantism that claimed many Muslim lives too is only a violent extension of the pre-partition Cow Protection Movement. The only difference being that the Congress doesn’t brazen it out knowing where to draw the line. This political tragedy has been succinctly summed up by author-rationalist Hamid Dhobalkar: “BJP is programmatically communal while Congress is pragmatically communal.”  Congress has, from time to time, employed soft-Hindutva tactics to gain electoral benefits. 

As it’s unfolding in an unprecedentedly aggressive manner, we can see no end in sight to this dangerous brand of communal politics that helps the Hindu majoritarianism hold a vice-like grip forever. Most of the major political parties in India are watering this hateful and intolerant trend and in it the Muslim ‘other’ is getting sandwiched. 

Despite a serious existential threat, Muslims have shown exemplary patience and calm – both the common man and the political figures and clergy – which is highly commendable in the face of a vicious onslaught. 

According to a recent Amnesty report, 128 punitive demolitions were executed by five states of North India, mostly targetting the Muslims, from April to June 2022. According to the report, authorities used targetted demolitions and forced evictions as a form of “extrajudicial and collective and arbitrary punishment and retaliation against Muslims speaking against injustices and discrimination they were facing.” This bulldozer demolition tactic earned Yogi,  a hardcore Hindutva icon,  the epithet Bulldozer Baba. Demolitions, it must be borne in mind, is just one form of punishment that the Muslims are at the receiving end of. Besides lynching and other forms of persecution, India’s by far the largest minority has also to suffer a media campaign that’s no less severe than the notorious Radio Rwanda of yore. Myths like love jihad, land jihad, UPSC jihad are regularly floated by the mainstream media and a legion of social media networks associated with the Hindu right to tighten the noose around Muslims with an idea to make their lives more and more difficult and render them second grade citizens. Even a tragedy like Covid 19 was used against Muslims as the carriers of the virus.  Fake stories were run non-stop and a poisonous atmosphere was created against them. 

A steady dose of anti-Muslim hatred continues to be infused in the Hindu mind through tropes, stereotypes and a highly organised fake news grid which operates across the world, not just in India. 

The silence of the West and the Arab world has only emboldened the communal forces in India and aggravated an already precarious situation of the Muslims as also of other minorities, Christians in particular. There is a subtle move on the part of the Sangh Parivar to build a narrative to show Muslims as outsiders who came and dispossessed the Hindus of their land. This is one of the many Hindutva manoeuvres that have put the Muslims in harm’s way. Credible human rights bodies have constantly been raising an alarm against a potential Muslim genocide in India. 

While everything seems to be working for the Hindutva right now with everything under control, what does it mean for India? India as an idea, however flawed it may be. Does BJP getting stronger by the day mean India getting stronger as well or does it actually weaken India – a country fraught with serious fault lines? 

The Haldwani madrassa demolition on February 8 shows amply how situation can get out of hand and claim lives when you show utter disrespect and apathy towards the sentiments of an entire community and demolish their religious sites. The Haldwani violence claimed several lives in police firing on people who protested against the madrassa razing without any court orders shown to them. Despite the fact that the hearing in the court was scheduled for February 14, an overzealous district magistrate set the bulldozer upon the structure on February 8. It is yet another reminder to what dangerous level the country’s bureaucracy has been saffronised. It’s equally true for police as well, at least at lower levels. And the most alarming part is that it has crept into the armed forces too.  The statements that we see coming from senior commanders are more political than what the armed forces code of conduct demands. In a recent video that went viral on social media, a paramilitary personnel in Kashmir is seen grabbing an old man by his arm and prompting him to chant Jai Shri Ram and letting him go only after he repeats the Hindutva war cry after him. Last year, a contingent of soldiers led by an army Major raided a mosque in South Kashmir and forced the worshippers to chant Jai Shri Ram.

Fear and hopelessness has gripped the Muslim community. For long, they believed in the power of the country’s democracy and its institutions to protect their interests, but their hopes are fading as never before.

HistoryIndiaNarendra Modi

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On February 01, a Varanasi district court allowed Hindus to […]
Demolishing mosques to erase history or more?