In less than 24 hours, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is set to preside over the pran pratishtha (consecration) ceremony of Ram temple in Ayodhya, which political experts see as a trump card for the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.
For many Hindutva nationalists, the Ram Janmabhoomi temple is a symbol of endurance and a call for an Akhand Hindu Rashtra. But for Muslims living near the construction site, it brings up the fears of the violence that followed the demolition of Babri Masjid, leaving over 2,000 dead across the country. They also fear losing their houses and livelihood.
Eerie silence amid celebrations
As Ayodhya is painted in saffron hues and chants of Jai Shri Ram reverberate through the temple town, an eerie silence prevails in a few lanes near the construction site. Of the four lakh Muslims residing in the entire city, 5,000 live in the Old Ayodhya town.
The silence is heightened by frequent vigils by large police contingents. “We have been told not to entertain any guest from outside, and we are required to inform the police if any guest comes to stay with us,” said one elderly Muslim woman.
The local administration stresses that security has been beefed up as these localities are closer to the outer iron fencing around the new temple.
However, the locals see it differently. Many Muslims living in these areas have expressed the fear of repeat of violence that following December 6, 1992, when the 16th-century-old Babri Masjid was razed down brick by brick by kar sevaks (religious volunteers), resulting in death, destruction and displacement of Muslims across the country.
In 2019, the Supreme Court of India passed the verdict on the highly-contentious issue, and ordered construction of the temple on the land in Ayodhya where Babri Masjid had stood for hundreds of years.
The decision boost morale of the Hindutva brigade, who have been subsequently demanding the demolition of other mosques, claiming they were also built over temples. The Gyanvapi mosque, located adjacent to the Kashi Vishwanath in Varanasi is actively being pursued by the Hindutva community claiming the mosque was built after a part of the temple was destroyed by the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb.
Muslims grow anxious
Anxiety looms among the Muslims who fear losing their livelihood from potential threats, both from Hindutva activists and the administration. Many have made a conscious choice to remain indoors on Monday, the day of the inauguration ceremony.
For 43-year-old Abdul Waheed Quraishi, the anxiety is at its peak. His house is a few hundred meters from the construction site. Quraishi’s family was witness to the 1990 and 1992 communal riots in Ayodhya.
“We don’t know what the outsiders are thinking or planning. The administration assured us that no untoward incident would happen, but among lakhs of people, some elements have different motives. Our family has seen 1990 and 1992 communal incidents in Ayodhya,” Quraishi told The Hindu.
Despite assurances from the Uttar Pradesh state government that no untoward incident will occur, Muslims living in the vicinity of the temple are far from convinced.
According to a report by The Wire, a few Muslim houses were razed down that came in the way of the temple construction. though compensation was provided, Muslims seem to have accepted the fate. “The house of one of our neighbours was demolished a few days back and I will not be surprised if our turn comes next any time. I don’t know where my parents and I will go,” said a 16-year-old, while pointing towards the debris of a house close by.
Thirty-six-year-old Meraj, who makes Kharauns (special wooden footwear worn by Hindu priests) also shares the same concern. “We can’t even sit freely outside and just don’t know what will happen any minute. I keep praying to Allah for our safety,” he was quoted by The Wire.
On January 6, the All India United Democratic Front chief and MP Badruddin Ajmal asked Muslims to avoid travel between January 20 and 25 and ‘stay at home’. “There can be no problem if people do not travel for 3-4 days,” the AIUDF chief added.
More than 60,00 people are expected to attend the consecration ceremony of the Ram Temple, in which Prime Minister Narendra Modi will also be present.
‘Symbol of New India’
For many Hindutva nationalists, the Ram temple stands as a symbol of endurance and a rallying cry for an Akhand Hindu Rashtra.
VHP spokesperson Vinod Bansal takes pride in the ’emergence of the Hindu civilization’. “The Mughals tried to change us, then the English tried to change us, but the inauguration of the Ram Temple shows the world that our Hindu traditions, practices, and beliefs are still intact. New India will see a resurrection of the Hindu civilization,” he told CNN.
Echoing Bansal, Mahant Jairam Dar, a local RSS leader believes that mosques should not be built in India. “Go to Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, or a Muslim-dominated country. Why build a mosque like this in India,” he said.