Growing Mandir-Masjid conflict: Find a way forward

K B Jandial
In a fast-polarising India, every action of Hindus to assert their religious right of worship at usurped, demolished and desecrated temples by the Muslim invaders is viewed as a part of “hate Muslim” campaign. And massive outpouring of public ‘hatred for invaders’ of the past, perceived to be fuelled by RSS-BJP combine and whipped up by the media including social media, is made out as “tirade against Muslims”. Whatever it be, it is threatening the composite social fabric of India, political dividend notwithstanding.

Straight Talk

Luckily, RSS supremo Mohan Bhagwat has tried to defuse the tension by favouring a possible reproachment through some agreement and restraining Hindus, “why look for a Shivling in every masjid?” At a Nagpur event, he said, “Gyanvapi matter is ongoing. We can’t change history. Neither today’s Hindus nor today’s Muslims created it. It happened at that time. Islam came from outside via attackers. In the attacks, Devsthans were demolished to exhaust the morale of those who wanted India’s independence.”
Revival of legal cases on Gyanvapi masjid, Varanasi and Shahi Eidgah mosque, Mathura have stoked communal divide and mutual distrust, worst after demolition of Babri masjid in 1992. There are cases against different masques or even declared monuments raised on demolished Hindu temples in different parts of the country. While the ASI’s stand on Taj Mahal and Qutab Minar is unambiguously clear that these are just historic monuments, Hindu do not appear to be in a mood leave it without a legal fight. Similar controversies have exploded recently in Assayed Abdullahil Madani Juma Masjid in Malali, Mangaluru and Tipu Masjid, Srirangapatna, Karnataka.
There are reports of hundreds of similar mosques standing on the demolished Hindu temples raised by the Mughal rulers (invaders). In 1990, a historian, Sita Ram Goel, along with other authors Arun Shourie, Harsh Narain, Jay Dubashi and Ram Swarup, published a two-volume book ‘Hindu Temples: What Happened to Them’. Goel traced over 1,800 Muslim structures that were constructed over the ruins of temples and/or using materials from demolished temples. Scratch a ‘vivadit dhancha’, you find a Mandir, he said. He published State-wise list of Hindu temples (not conclusive), destroyed under Islamic rule where masjids and dargahs stand today.
The book records 142 ‘vivadit dhancha’ in Andhra Pradesh, two in Assam, 102 sites in West Bengal, 77 in Bihar, 72 in Delhi, one in Diu, 170 in Gujarat, 77 in Haryana, one in Himachal, 192 in Karnataka, two in Kerala, two in Lakshadweep, 151 in Madhya Pradesh, 143 in Maharashtra, 12 Odisha, 14 in Punjab, 170 in Punjab, 175 in Tamil Nadu and 299 in UP. Goel claimed it to be a tip of the iceberg.
In Book’s sixth chapter- ‘Historians Versus History’, Ram Swarup mentioned the details of the destroyed Hindu temples that he found in the writings of British and Muslim historians. The British historians wrote about the cruelty and vandalism committed by Mughal rulers to justify their presence in India. On the contrary, Muslim historians detailed how Temples were destructed to glorify Islam and their immediate patrons.
There are sufficient records to prove that Aurangzeb ordered demolition of Varanasi’s revered Gyanvapi temple in September 1669 and construction of a mosque on its remains /ramparts. The temple’s plinth was left largely untouched to serve as the courtyard of the mosque, and the southern wall along with its cusped arches, exterior mouldings was turned into the qibla wall.
Recent video survey of Gyanvapi masjid ordered by a court, confirmed existence of Hindu religious features and motifs that are part of its masonry and structure, a common pattern in Mughal rule. Word ‘Gyanvapi’ originated from two words: Gyan (knowledge) and vapi (water reservoir). These are of Sanskrit origin and used for the “well of knowledge”, which finds mention in the Skanda Purana (dating 8th century CE) and in many historical accounts on Kashi. Oral accounts indicate that notwithstanding its takeover, Brahmin priests were allowed to reside in the premises of the ‘mosque’ and exert their privileges on issues of Hindu pilgrimage. The Gyanvapi site, especially the plinth, continued to remain a popular hub for Hindu pilgrims.
During Ram Mandir mass movement, the Parliament had enacted the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991 that prohibits “conversion of any place of worship and to provide for the maintenance of the religious character of any place of worship as it existed on the 15th day of August, 1947, and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto”.
The Supreme Court in its 2019 Ayodhya judgment endorsed this legal position and said that the Parliament was conscious of the possible traces of history at many places of worship, and it intended to put an end to claims that seek to set the clock back. It opines, “In preserving the character of places of public worship, the Parliament has mandated in no uncertain terms that history and its wrongs shall not be used as instruments to oppress the present and the future.”
The father-son lawyer duo- Hari Shankar Jain and Vishnu Shankar Jain had been pursuing six cases of Hindu places of worship for the last 30 years. These include Gyanvapi Masjid Varanasi, Shahi Masjid Mathura, Taj Mehal Agra, Qutub Minar Delhi, Teele Wali Masjid, Lucknow and Bhojshal, Dhar. The recent revival of these cases has triggered institution of many more similar cases in different parts of the country even though most of the 102 such cases filed by Hindus stood dismissed. These cases indicate unprecedented assertion by otherwise dormant Hindus, despite being in huge majority; mainly because of their newly acquired confidence under Modi rule in India. They feel that they too have right to worship at their historic pious religious places, vandalised and taken over for Muslim worship places.
Petition questioning the ownership of the Taj Mahal, claimed to be a monument of Lord Agreshwar Mahadev, and a suit alleging that a temple once stood at the Teele Wali Masjid in Lucknow was dismissed in local court. ASI clearly debunked Hindus’ case for worship at Qutab Minar saying that no worship is allowed in declared monuments.
During Narasimha Rao’s minority Govt supported by the communists, TMC and Ajit Singh’s Lok Dal, the Parliament enacted the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991 and put a ‘permanent status quo’ on the actual character of all places of worship as it stood on 15 August, 1947. Interestingly, BJP with 120 seats in Lok Sabha, had opposed it.
On the other hand, Shariat law says that a mosque can only be built on waqf (religious endowment) property or on land offered by the owner, said Mufti Arif Kazmi, professor of Islamic Law at Dar-ul-Uloom, Deoband. He also said ‘namaaz’ must not be offered on any property without the owner’s permission. “The Islamic teachings about building a mosque are very clear. One cannot even put up a mosque on a leased land forget constructing it on an illegal one. Building it on a civic property is even gruesome,” Maulana Qadeer Ahmad Ada-ul-Amiri, a prominent Barelvi scholar, said.
Even for Hindus, the sacredness of a religious place is lost when it is held in hostile possession for a century and desecrated like the holy Shivling area in Gyanvapi temple used for ‘wuzu’ besides defacing it. Its piety is lost and visiting this place would only outrage devotees’ feelings.
Besides Hindu temples and Temples and Gurdwaras, Christian churches, synagogues, and Zoroastrian had been converted into mosques. Several such mosques in the areas of former Muslim rule have since been reconverted or have become museums, including the Parthenon in Greece and numerous mosques in Spain, such as Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba, etc.
The spurt in court cases has created an unprecedented awakening on the wrongs committed on Hindus by Muslim invaders. Hopefully, with wise counsel by Mohan Bhagwat it may not reach a flash point as witnessed in 1992. With huge information of recorded historical wrongs on Hindus in public domain, there is hardly any need for proof of destruction of Hindus temples and construction mosques or Eidgah on these.
The Hindu activists seeking temple restoration argue that ‘the past lives in our present’. They contest that the idea that ‘forgetting the past does injustice to the historical memories that constitute the identity of a community. The idea that historical wrongs must be set right which is a universally accepted principle. Historical injustice, after all, is the basis for caste-based reservations in India”, they argue. Another strong argument is that, “If we, in a Hindu-majority nation, don’t get justice and correct the historic wrongs of the past, where else do we go for justice?” This has found resonance among the Hindus in different parts of the country.
Linking their identity with invaders, merely they being Muslims, and expressing loyalty to them is a strange stance of Muslims participating in TV debates. Hindu were their forefathers and not the Muslim invaders. With Hindu blood flowing in their arteries, why do they keep defending the tyrant invaders?
Religious sensitivity has made it a very complicated matter which has potential for bigger turbulence. Peace and harmony are more vital especially when India under Modi’s leadership is poised to be a world power. Can it afford to weaken its resolve to be the world power by fuelling inter-faith dissensions and defocusing its goalpost.
But then the perpetually hurt religious feelings of the suppressed Hindus in their own land on account of past wrongs are too critical to be buried under the carpet. As advised by Mohan Bhagwat, some mutually acceptable solution has to be found without taking grandstanding on this issue.
Chetan Bhagat, celebrated author and columnist, has offered a solution: make important sites as hybrid monuments- Mosples (Mosques +Temples). He quoted the example of Turkey’s Hagia Sophia church and mosque, officially known as Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque which is now world’s best tourist sites.
In India, Hindus, carrying a baggage of historical wrongs that bleed their hearts, too have to reconcile with the realities. Can they consider leaving their rights on most of the sites except for major sacred places of Mathura and Varanasi? Alternatively, will Hindu-Muslim agree to forgo worship and make these museums, symbolising Indian secularism and tolerance after renovating and restoring historical motifs and other revered religious symbols. Comparatively lesser important usurped places may be allowed to be used by Muslims with a caveat that these shall have a proper history conspicuously displayed at the site indicating the historical wrongs by invader rulers. This should be enough for the Hindus.