May 26, 2024

Moon Desk: Just days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the Ram Temple in Ayodhya, constructed on the site of the historic Babri Masjid, a senior Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) leader has said several mosques were built over demolished Hindu temples.“Whether we should consider them mosques or not, the people of the country and the world should think about it,” he said.
The comments are a clear indication that the RSS, ideological parent of Prime Minister Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), is apparently hardening its stance in a decades-long sectarian dispute. Modi and the RSS chief led the January 22 consecration of the temple on the site of the 16th-century mosque demolished by a Hindu mob in 1992.
The fight over claims to holy sites has divided Hindu-majority India, which has the world’s third-largest Muslim population, since independence from British rule in 1947. Four days after the temple was inaugurated in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, a lawyer for Hindu petitioners said the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) had determined that a 17th-century mosque in the Hindu holy city of Varanasi, in Modi’s parliamentary constituency, had been built over a destroyed a Hindu temple.
The ASI did not respond to a request for comment and its findings in the past have been subject to sharp criticism for relying on unscientific methods. This week, senior RSS leader Indresh Kumar questioned whether Varanasi’s Gyanvapi mosque and three others, including the razed one in Ayodhya on the site where many Hindus believe Lord Ram was born, were mosques at all.
“Whether we should consider them mosques or not, the people of the country and the world should think about it,” Kumar said in an interview, referring to the sites in Gyanvapi, Ayodhya, one other in Uttar Pradesh state and one in Madhya Pradesh. “They should stand with the truth, or they should stand with the wrong?” In the group’s first reaction to the Gyanvapi findings, Kumar said, “Accept the truth. Hold dialogues and let the judiciary decide.”
‘Facing it Legally’
Muslim groups are disputing the assertions of Hindu groups in court. Zafar Ahmad Faruqi, chairman of the Sunni Central Waqf Board in Uttar Pradesh, said the group “has confidence in the judiciary that it will do what is correct.” “We want to live in harmony and peacefully while protecting the monuments as they are,” he said. “Nothing political about it, we are in the court and facing it legally.”
The Modi-led opening of the Ayodhya temple fulfilled a 35-year-old pledge of his Bharatiya Janata Party ahead of a general election due by May. The 1992 razing of Babri Masjid sparked riots across India that authorities say killed at least 2,000 people, mostly Muslims. Hindu groups have for decades said that Mughal rulers built monuments and places of worship after destroying ancient Hindu structures.
Indian law bars the conversion of any place of worship and provides for the maintenance of the religious character of places of worship as they existed at the time of independence — except for the Ayodhya shrine. The Supreme Court is hearing challenges to the law. The court this month halted plans for a survey of another centuries-old mosque in Uttar Pradesh, the country’s most populous and politically important state, to determine if it contained Hindu relics and symbols.

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