Hindu nationalists demand demolition of one of India's biggest mosques during huge protest

Outrage as video shows marchers in Delhi calling for demolition of Jama Masjid. 'It's not about temples … It’s about hating Muslims, the reasons and demands keep changing'

Adam Withnall
Monday 10 December 2018 15:15 GMT
Hindu nationalists demand demolition of one of India's biggest mosques during protest

Indians have reacted with outrage on social media after videos circulated showing Hindu nationalist protesters calling for the demolition of one of the country’s largest mosques.

Thousands of demonstrators descended on Delhi on Sunday, in the latest planned protest to demand the construction of a temple to Lord Ram, one of Hinduism’s most revered figures, at the site of a ruined mosque in the northern city of Ayodhya.

It was organised by two groups closely affiliated to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and saw Hindus marching into Old Delhi, a part of the city known for its historic Muslim community.

Witnesses described hearing “anti-Muslim slogans” along the route of the march, and videos posted online showed demonstrators shouting “Ek dhakka aur do, Jama Masjid tod do” – “With one more push, destroy the Jama Masjid.”

Built in 1656, the Jama Masjid is one of India’s biggest and most important mosques. It was the royal place of worship for India’s ruling Muslim emperors for two centuries before the British invasion.

“It’s not about temples … It’s about hating Muslims, the reasons and demands keep changing,” one user responded to the clip on Twitter.

Ravi Nair, a journalist, wrote: “Just imagine if a Muslim organisation [was] asking to demolish a temple, how Modi govt and Mainstream Media would have reacted.”

Another who responded to the video was Rajdeep Sardesai, a prominent TV news anchor and author of the book: “2014: The election that changed India.”

He told The Independent that while such chants by rightwing groups were not new, the fact they had been so emboldened since Mr Modi’s Hindu nationalist party came to power four years ago was “worrying”.

“Jama Masjid is part of the shared heritage of this country,” he said. “This is a country not only of temples, but also of mosques, gurdwaras, churches. So if someone talks about demolishing Jama Masjid, they are talking about demolishing the uniqueness of this country, which is its shared diversity.

“It is one thing to chant it [going] up the road, but these are the same groups who tomorrow – in the name of so-called religious nationalism – will murder others, or use violence, as we have seen in recent times.”

The Ram Mandir (Ram Temple) issue dates back decades, with both Hindus and Muslims claiming the right to worship at the disputed site in Ayodhya.

Many Hindus believe it to be the birthplace of Lord Ram, and that a temple in his name once stood there. A medieval mosque, Babri Masjid, stood at the site for hundreds of years until 1992, when it was torn down by a Hindu mob.

Eyewitnesses have said the violence started that day with a similar chant of “ek dhakka aur do, Babri Masjid tod do”. Around 150,000 people swept past police lines and demolished the mosque, before going on to target Muslim-owned shops and homes in the city.

Around 2,000 people were killed across the country in the communal violence that followed.

After the demolition of the mosque, both Hindu and Muslim groups petitioned the Supreme Court to help resolve the issue. The court has sought more time to give its verdict, with the next hearing set for next month.

Mr Sardesai was among those on social media calling for Delhi’s police to take action against those seen chanting in the video.

The city deployed an additional 2,500 officers to police the route of the march to an open meeting ground just over 1km from Jama Masjid itself.

Responding to reports that the video was being widely shared, deputy police commissioner MS Randhawa told the Indian Express: “We have not got any video or a complaint. Only if someone approached us with a complaint will we take action as per law.”

The gathering was organised by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), or World Hindu Council, and addressed by senior figures from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the parent movement of the BJP.

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All three political bodies have persistently lobbied the government to issue an executive order stating a Ram temple will be built in Ayodhya. Both the government and the main opposition Congress’s stance is to wait on the verdict of the Supreme Court.

Speaking to the crowd, VHP leader Champat Rai said: “The gathering here is telling you that Hindus won’t sit back until the temple is built, and our wishes are respected.”

Asked about the chanting directed at the nearby Jama Masjid, another VHP leader Vinod Bansal defended it as a “spontaneous expression of rage”. He said: “Though I have not heard any such sloganeering, they did not harm anyone. Our objective was to send a message to the government that people are angry because of a failure to build the Ram Temple.”

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