Indian Muslims braced for more confrontations

THE GANGES, the sacred river of Hindus, has lately gained a reputation as a swallower of kites. Up on the ramparts of an ancient palace in Benares at dusk a gang of boys duelled with kites, high above the river. With movements like semaphore, one boy manoeuvred his kite so that its string, coated with glass powder, knifed through his foe's line. The turquoise kite flopped in slow, dying circles towards the river.

In ordinary times, other boys would be waiting on the riverbank with boats. They would row madly into the Ganges and catch the downed kite before its paper wings, thin as a butterfly's, melted into the grey-green currents. But these are not ordinary times in Benares. This holy city was under curfew for more than 15 days last month because authorities fear that Benares could become the next flashpoint in India's communal fighting between Hindus and Muslims. Flying kites was one of the few freedoms allowed during curfew. But since the boys were confined to their rooftop, the kite, like hundreds of others lost during the curfew, sank in the river.

Hinduism runs deep in Benares, and it is here that zealots intend to fight their next battle with Indian Muslims. Hindu extremists want to demolish a mosque, Gyan Vyapi, in the heart of Benares, as they have already done to a 16th century mosque in Ayodhya. But the destruction of the Benares mosque, warn Muslims and some secular politicians, could set off a virtual civil war between the country's 600 million Hindus and its 120 million Muslims, who feel increasingly persecuted.

Hinduism has a deserved reputation for tolerance. It does not seek converts. It has no founder, and it does not rely on a single holy book such as the Bible or Koran. Like the Ganges, Hinduism is wide enough to contain many streams of thought and practice. And in 2,500-year-old Benares, you see the entire panorama of Hindu philosophy laid out in the temples and shrines lining the rivers. There are abstracted ascetics in white robes who chant Vedic texts ceaselessly. Downriver, you encounter the tantric sorcerers known as the Aghora - the fearless ones. At midnight, these sorcerers shoulder their way through the knot of men warming themselves beside the blazing funeral pyres to collect drippings of human fat for occult ceremonies. Hinduism encompasses it all.

But that tolerance is being discarded by many Indians who are using Hinduism as a force for reactionary nationalism. Their main adversaries are the Muslims, who ruled India before the British Raj. Having destroyed the Ayodhya mosque, these Hindu extremists now want to tear down the Gyan Vyapi mosque in Benares and another in Mathura. In both places the Moghuls 200 years ago destroyed temples and built mosques in the ruins. But many Muslims consider this historical revenge to be an excuse for an assault on their faith and their status as equal Indian citizens. The imam of Gyan Vyapi, Mulana Wasit, said: 'If anything happens to the mosque, this country will slide downhill rapidly.'

H N Triparti, a political scientist at Benares Hindu University, said: 'Since independence, Indian governments have lost their ideological sentiment. Political parties have become nothing more than machines for fighting elections. Today, these extremists are succeeding because they have managed to sell themselves as upholders of the true Hindu ethos.' He added glumly: 'Most students are enthusiastic about Ayodhya - they want to see the Hindus establish a psychological superiority over the Muslims.'

After Ayodhya, police put up wooden barricades around the Gyan Vyapi, and 25,000 Muslims showed up for prayer, about 10 times the usual number of faithful. The next day, rallied by right-wing Hindu leaders, more than 200,000 Hindus thronged Benares's narrow lanes, known as 'the gulleys', to visit the Vishwanath temple next to the mosque.

This show of force was not lost on the city's Muslims, who have begun sealing off their neighbourhoods with fencing and digging tunnels, as well as stockpiling arms and food for a lengthy siege. One third of Benares's 3 million inhabitants are Muslims, mainly silk- and carpet-weavers. Although many Hindu priests have publicly opposed wrecking Gyan Vyapi, the authorities claim that the mosque is vulnerable to a mob attack similar to what happened on 6 December in Ayodhya. The city's Muslims, backed against the wall, feel they have little choice but to fight. 'The time of your death is written,' said Mulana Wasit. 'You can't change when it comes.'

A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
Richard Dawkins dedicated his book 'The Greatest Show on Earth' to Josh Timonen
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB6, WinForms)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB...

C# Developer (Genetic Algorithms, .NET 4.5, TDD, SQL, AI)

£40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Full Stack Developer (.NET 4.0, ASP.NET, MVC, Ajax, WCF,SQL)

£55000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Full Stack ...

AIFMD Business Analyst / Consultant - Investment Management

£450 - £600 per day: Harrington Starr: AIFMD Business Analyst / Consultant - I...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

But could his predictions of war do the same?