Kashi, Mathura Are Not About The Past; They Symbolise An Iconoclasm That Continues Even Today

Kashi, Mathura Are Not About The Past; They Symbolise  An Iconoclasm That Continues Even TodayThe Gyanvapi mosque. (Wikimedia Commons)
Snapshot
  • Kashi and Mathura are not instances of Muslim iconoclasm and temple vandalism from some time in the distant past where despotic rulers had no compunctions about targeting Hindus.

    These problems are extant today in many parts of the Indian sub-continent.

A Varanasi district court’s order asking the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) to check if there was a destroyed temple under the Gyanvapi mosque has raised liberal and Muslim hackles all around.

The question they are asking: if the Ayodhya judgement, which gave the disputed land under the demolished Babri structure to Hindus, was supposed to end all such disputes about the past, the Varanasi court is reopening old wounds needlessly.

Asaduddin Owaisi of the All-India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen, went to town with several tweets blasting the order. One of the tweets read: “The legality of this order is doubtful. In Babri judgement, SC said, ‘A finding of title cannot be based in law on the archaeological findings which have been arrived at by ASI...’. ASI has acted as a midwife to all kinds of Hindutva lies, no one expects objectivity from it…”.

That’s a bit rich. Unlike Ayodhya, there has been historical consensus about mosques being built on the two holy Hindu sites. This includes the demolition of an existing temple at the site of the Gyanvapi mosque during Aurangazeb’s time. The temple was rebuilt in 1780 by Ahilyabai Holkar.

While one can agree that archeological evidence need not decide land titles today, we must also consider an additional point: the issue of mosques built on temple sites at Mathura and Kashi was buried by a 1991 legislation called the Places of Worship Act, which debarred litigants from raising any disputes in these two places. The only temple-mosque tussle that was excluded from the law was the case involving Ram Janmabhoomi. A legislation to bar legal disputes is by itself questionable. In a free country, there can be no bar on anyone raising legal disputes.

The broader question raised by “liberals” is this: how can we keep raising disputes from the past and expect peace and harmony to prevail in India?

Here is what Shekhar Gupta, Editor-in-Chief of ThePrint.in, wrote in his recent column: “What price is too much to pay for ‘righting the wrongs of history’? This, a resumption of 16th and 17th century wars in 21st century India will be an invitation to disaster. It will hold the future of our coming generations to ransom.…History is never to be taken lightly. That is why it is taught so widely and the reason it is so politicised. But, basing decisions impacting your future on your understanding of history is like driving on an expressway by looking not across the windscreen, but at the rear-view mirror. You are bound to hit something nasty soon enough, hurting yourself and others.”

There are two counters to this: one, can any country move on if historical wrongs are not even acknowledged? Could post-war Germany have moved on without acknowledging the horrors of Hitler’s gas chambers? Can Hindus move on by ignoring historical injustices meted out to the “untouchables” since the post-independence constitution abolished untouchability? Can Hindus and Muslims move on and be equal citizens in India if no school history book wants to mention systematic temple demolitions, and no significant Muslim leader today will go on record to emphasise that such things should not have happened in the past and should never happen again?

Owaisi’s tweet still talks of ASI’s archaeological findings in Ayodhya as effectively pandering to “all kinds of Hindutva lies… no one expects objectivity from it.” As Kartikeya Tanna pointed out in response to Owaisi’s tweet: “SC *did* consider ASI report (PIC 1]; 2) SC criticized SU Khan (Judge) of (Allahabad) HC for dismissing ASI report [PIC 2]; 3) What ASI report couldn't prove in specifically Ayodhya case is demolition [PIC 3]; 4) Doesn't mean ASI won't prove it in re Gyanvapi.”

The second argument which I as a Hindu will make is this: for me, the destruction of temples, including the ones in Kashi and Mathura, is not a problem left over from history which should be quietly buried. Even if I want to, I cannot move on for the mindsets of Muslim fundamentalists do not seem to have changed much since the time of Babar and Aurangzeb.

Temples continue to be destroyed in many Muslim majority areas not just in Pakistan and Bangladesh, but also inside India, and Hindus (and other minorities) have been repeatedly targeted for rape and abduction.

In 2012, the Jammu & Kashmir government admitted that 208 temples were desecrated or vandalised in two decades of militancy, and many of these temples were in Srinagar itself – which, as the capital city, should have been well protected.

So, we are not talking about the acts of Babar’s general or Aurangazeb’s religious zeal. We are talking about the attitudes of some Muslim fundamentalists – of whom there seems to be no shortage – today. In 2019 and 2020, temples were desecrated and murtis smashed when communal tensions flared up in Delhi. (Read here)

In Pakistan, temple destruction and abduction of Hindu girls have been the norm; in Bangladesh, the intimidation of hapless Hindus has become too frequent to be dismissed as an aberration.

Here are some stories on temple vandalism and oppression of Hindus from Pakistan (read here, here, here), and Bangladesh (read here, here, here). The sharp drop in Bangladesh’s Hindu minority population from 22-23 per cent in 1951 to around 8-9 per cent now is not a problem from the pre-partition past, but a direct result of many modern-day Muslim social attitudes towards “kafirs”.

The Bangladesh government of Sheikh Hasina may be friendly to India, but significant sections of the society she presides over continue to remain hostile to the non-Muslim minorities residing in this neighbouring country.

Here’s what a report of the Commonwealth Initiative for Freedom of Religion and Belief (CIFoRB) said on forced conversions and marriages in Pakistan: “It has been estimated that 1,000 women and girls from religious minorities are abducted, forcibly converted and then married off to their abductors every year (ref: The Aurat Foundation and the Movement for Solidary and Peace ). Former vice-chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Amarnath Motual, notes that 20 or more Hindu girls are abducted every month in Pakistan. The volunteer group, Responsible for Equality and Liberty, also estimates that between 20 to 25 Hindu girls are forcibly converted every month.” (Italics mine)

The UN Office of the High Commissioner, Human Rights (OHCHR), discussed a report on the treatment and demographic depletion of Bangladesh’s minorities in 2017.

It read: “Over the past 45 years… Bangladeshi Hindus, together with other religious and ethnic minority communities, are undergoing rapid decline. Since 1947, after the partition of India, Bangladeshi minority communities have suffered a systematic ethnic cleansing cycle that has dropped their population from 23 percent (in 1951) to 9 percent (in 2017). The current Hindu population of about 13 million is far short of the number one should expect based on population growth rates. The rate of minority population decrease has accelerated in recent years, and several districts of Bangladesh are now witnessing the decrease of their Hindu population in absolute numbers.”

The report continues: “Looting and burning of households, destruction of temples and religious idols, murder, rape, forced religious conversion, illegal occupation of property, extortion, threats to family structures and other soft and hard intimidations are reducing well-to-do households to paupers and forcing this population across the border to India. With the recent rise of political and militant Islam and its appeasement by the government, the possibility of Bangladesh turning into a monolithic Islamic country looms on the horizon. After 1971, at no time has the existential threat to the Hindu community been as great as it is now.” (Italics mine)

The World Hindu Federation says that persecution of Hindus increased during the recent coronavirus lockdowns in Bangladesh.

And yet, Owaisi was the one to tear up a copy of the Citizenship Amendment Act to fast-track citizenship for the people referred to above. Clearly, he was in no mood to acknowledge that Muslim fundamentalism and ethnic cleansings of Hindus are real problems even today.

To repeat, we are not talking about temple desecration and attacks on Hindus that predate independence or the pre-colonial period. We are talking about the here and now.

Kashi and Mathura are not instances of Muslim iconoclasm and temple vandalism from some time in the distant past where despotic rulers had no compunctions about targeting Hindus. These problems are extant today in many parts of the Indian sub-continent.

You don’t need to look through the rear-view mirror to note evidence of Islamist vandalism; you can see it from your windshield glass, if you want to see it.

Jagannathan is Editorial Director, Swarajya. He tweets at @TheJaggi.
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