Gyanvapi mosque row: Time for enlightened community leaders to choose the path of discussion and reconciliation

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The reductionist contention promoted by India’s woke liberal cabal that the dispute over the Gyanvapi mosque is a vile expression of hate, a rabid exhibition of Hindu bigotry and a majoritarian excess is too simplistic to be plausible and too inane to be intellectually acceptable. The Gyanvapi mosque-Kashi Vishwanath temple imbroglio symbolises something far greater than a mere communal dispute over a place of worship. At stake is the ethos of a civilisation, the essential core of a religion and above all it represents a test of justice, of whether right will prevail or will the evil of a past stand tall to mock the moral order of the present.

Hate is an expedient terminology to brand one’s ideological adversaries as irrational and radical. A strategy that has been consistently employed to silence those fighting for the rights of Hindus.

Tavleen Singh in her weekly column (‘Evil Under the Sun’; 22 May 2022, Indian Express) avers: “The ugly truth is that once the genie of hatred is released, it is hard to contain. So, it is no longer about righting the wrongs of history or about reclaiming ancient temples, it is about how much we hate Muslims.”

Wrong. Opposing a wrong is not hate. Hate is what was done to the Hindus. The physical destruction of temple and its deity is a tangible expression of hate that surpasses any vocal vituperation; an act of unparalleled blasphemy far more offensive than any verbal indiscretion which no sane human can and should defend.

That this destruction involved the holiest of holy Hindu shrines adds insult to injury and magnifies the degree of the crime

The Kashi Vishwanath temple is the epicenter of Hinduism. Dedicated to the Hindu God Shiva, this temple houses one of the 12 jyotirlingas (symbolic representation of Shiva) and is arguably Hinduism's most sacred temple.

Archeological data and historical references date the Kashi Vishwanath temple to at least the first century AD. Religious scriptures place it even earlier. Over the years this sacred edifice has been destroyed by Islamic invaders and rebuilt several times. The last known destruction occurred at the hands of the Islamic Moghul Emperor Aurangzeb in 1669. Aurangzeb not only demolished this holiest of Hindu shrines but erected a mosque in its place- the Gyanvapi mosque which takes its name from the ancient wisdom well of the temple located close to it. Parts of the original temple however were retained and are expressly visible even today, nearly 300 years after the end of Mughal rule and 75 years after a predominantly Hindu government was established-constant reminders of the humiliation, hurt and agony of the Hindus.

The current Kashi Vishwanath temple was built Rani Ahilyabai Holkar the queen of Indore in 1777 adjacent to the original site.

Priests blow the conchs in the premises of Kashi Vishwanath Temple at an event on new year, in Varanasi on Saturday. ANI

The destruction of the Kashi Vishwanath temple was a spiritual apocalypse for Hindus; the ultimate desecration designed to crush their inner identity, dehumanize them and make them ripe for religious transformation. It is akin to St Peter’s Basilica being razed to the ground by marauding invaders and replaced by a temple of another denomination; a temple that continues to stand as a monument of hurtful ignominy even 300 years after the invasion has been repulsed.

That Aurangzeb demolished the Kashi Vishwanath temple and built a mosque in its place is not a historical conjecture open to debate or a fantasy of the Hindu right wing as some are prone to claim but a fact firmed by irrefutable historical evidence. Aurangzeb stands indicted by his own written order and by the documentation of partisan Islamic chroniclers.

Maasir-i-Alamgiri is an authorised account of Aurangzeb’s rule written by Saqi Mustad Khan a contemporary of Aurangzeb; it was completed in 1710 (three years after Aurangzeb’s death) and later translated into English by Jadunath Sarkar, the famous Indian historian. On page 55, Saqi Mustad Khan states: “It was reported that, according to the Emperor’s command, his officers had demolished the temple of Viswanath at Kashi.”

A copy of the firman/order is still available at the Asiatic Library in Kolkata. (https://www.rediff.com/news/report/hindu-devotees-cite-british-era-stand-in-gyanvapi-dispute-to-buttress-claim/20220523.htm).

Even the rabidly anti-Hindutva historian Audrey Truschke, an otherwise enthusiastic cheerleader for the Mughal ruler, Aurangzeb, in her book, The Man and the Myth, is forced to confess this crime: “Aurangzeb brought the bulk of Benares’s Vishvanatha Temple down in 1669. …. The Gyanvapi Masjid still stands today in Benares with part of the ruined temple’s wall incorporated into the building.”

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Arun Shourie in an article in the Indian Express (‘Hideaway Communalism’; 5 February 1989) references a book by a noted Islamic scholar Maulana Hakim Sayid Abdul Hai, a rector of the Islamic centre of learning Nadwatul-Ulama in which it is stated: “It is said that the mosque of Benares was built by Alamgir on the site of the Bisheshwar Temple. That temple was very tall and (held as) holy among the Hindus. On this very site and with those very stones, he constructed a lofty mosque and its ancient stones were rearranged after being embedded in the walls of the mosque.”

With five Hindu women recently filing a petition in Varanasi Trial Court on 18 April 2021 seeking permission to offer prayers at the mosque, the Gyanvapi Mosque-Kashi Vishwanath controversy has garnered renewed interest.

Despite the overwhelming proof (there are reports that the recent court sanctioned survey has thrown up additional evidence including the presence of a Shivling) can we afford to stifle this controversy by invoking the oft repeated adage that history cannot be rewritten?

True, history cannot be rewritten and such an approach may sound logical and sensible. But this is a digressive argument that fails to address the crux of the controversy; a faulty defense that misses the point. A more nuanced perspective and a more appropriate way to frame this dilemma is to ask this question: Can the wrongs of history be corrected?

The answer is in the affirmative and they should wherever and whenever feasible. By allowing evil to go unchallenged we not only condone wrong but become inadvertent protagonists of injustice.

However, redress cannot be violent or vindictive. Remediation should conform to certain norms: it should not target individuals or involve the loss of human lives. Material edifices like statutes of tyrants, usurped places of worship and names of cities and towns forcibly changed are fair game.

The Black Lives Matter movement has now given us a precedence for this. If the statues of Christopher Columbus can be toppled in the US for his alleged violence against indigenous people, if the statue of Edward Colston an 18th century slave trader can be pulled down in Bristol, UK and the monuments commemorating King Leopold II who exploited the people of Congo during the latter part of the 19th century can be dismantled in Belgium why is it that an edifice that symbolises a far greater evil and one that impacts 1.4 billion Hindus is allowed to stand is the million-dollar question?

Can this be dubbed as an act of vengeance directed against Muslims? Can present day Muslims be held accountable for the misdeeds of medieval Muslim invaders? The answer is a categorical no: They are not guilty per se.

But when Muslims defend these historical atrocities and seek legal help to preserve the status quo, they not only identify themselves with the perpetrator but also with the vile deed itself; in effect knowingly and deliberately accepting responsibility for the crimes of Muslim invaders. It is this polarising activism and domineering mindset that has vitiated the socio-political climate which makes them culpable in current times.

Recourse to the Places of Worship Act 1991 will not pass muster. That Act is a flawed statute discriminatory against Hindus in its syntax and violates the basic tenet of the Constitution by barring remedy of judicial review. It is a chimera to believe that secularism is tantamount to suppression of rights of the majority as implied by the Act. The sooner we scrap this Act the better.

Muslims cannot remain in a state of opportunistic denial. They need to acknowledge the wrongs of Muslim invaders or alternately disassociate themselves from those atrocities by willingly give up places of worship that rightfully belong to Hindus (starting with the Gyanvapi mosque) especially where the evidence is overwhelming. The best way to find a solution to the contentious temple/mosque issue would be to let local community leaders discuss the issue and find an amicable solution, rather than leaving it to courts. This will engender a sea of goodwill amongst Hindus and further Hindu-Muslim amity. The enlightened among the community must introspect and choose the path of reconciliation in lieu of prolonged rancorous confrontation for peace and harmony to prevail in the country.

The writer is a US-based author. Views expressed are personal.

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Gyanvapi mosque row: Time for enlightened community leaders to choose the path of discussion and reconciliation
Gyanvapi mosque row: Time for enlightened community leaders to choose the path of discussion and reconciliation
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