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The movement to demolish the Gyanvapi Mosque will hurt India

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Gyanvapi Masjid
The Gyanvapi Mosque, Varanasi
Gyanvapi Masjid, Varanasi which is at the centre of this controversy


The attempts to demolish the Gyanvapi mosque in India will hurt India. India is a country of many religions. However, Hindu right-wingers are targeting the Muslim community. The present developments in the case have surprised everyone. Hindutva activists want to demolish the mosque.

Gyanvapi Mosque in India- Its history

The Gyanvapi mosque is located in the city of Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh. It is adjacent to the Kashi Vishwanath Temple. The Mughal Emperor, Aurangzeb built this mosque. It was built in the 17th century. But the conflict around the mosque continues in the 21st century.

What many people forget is. This mosque is a part of India’s history. Therefore, demolishing the Ggyanvapi mosque is like attacking Indian history.

Now courts are involved in the mix. The government in India is silent. Instead, people are running to the courts in this matter. The dispute is about India’s history.

In 1991, certain people asked the trial court to give them permission to worship in the Gyanvapi mosque. Presently, the trial court in Varanasi has ordered a survey of the structure. Consequently, the Archaeological Survey of India will conduct this survey.

We need to remember one key fact. It’s all the doing of a section of Hindutva activists. They want to destroy the secular fabric of the country. They use these issues to hurt the Muslim community. Further, they have gained confidence after the Supreme Court judgement in the Babri Masjid case.

What is the Babri Masjid case?

Let us now consider the Babri Masjid case. The Babri Masjid is a mosque in the city of Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh. Some Hindus believe this mosque was built on holy ground. According to their beliefs, a Hindu god Rama was born at that spot.

However, in the 21st century, this claim is impossible to verify. The litigation around this issue took decades. However, it came to a shocking end in 2019. The Supreme Court ordered the Babri Masjid to be demolished. The idea behind this was a compromise. The court wanted to satisfy the Hindu community. But to the Muslim community, it was an injustice.

Also Read: Communalism and Economic Marginalisation of Muslims

But the Supreme Court’s said this case was an exception. So demolishing religious structures was not going to be the norm. That is not proving to be true.

Present proceedings around demolishing the Gyanvapi Mosque

The present litigation started because of a petition filed claiming the Gyanvapi mosque was an illegal construction. The plaintiff asked for a survey and removal of the Gyanvapi mosque. In 2021, the trial court directed a survey. An appeal was filed before the High Court in Allahabad.

However, the Allahabad High Court stayed in these proceedings. The court referred to legislation called the Places of Worship Act, 1991. This law protects places of worship. Moreover, it prohibits anyone from changing their religious character.  

This is where things get interesting. The Places of Worship Act is considered a vital part of India’s Constitution. But in 2021, the Supreme Court decided to examine if that legislation was valid. This is an affront to the core idea of secularism.

Why is the Gyanvapi Mosque significant?

The significance of this dispute arises from the history of the mosque. Muslim rulers ruled a large part of India at that time. At present, people from the right-wing want to erase or malign this history. They have a sense of victimhood. Further, they exploit this to push their demands.

In addition, right-wing Hindutva groups like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh are pushing this campaign. They lead the attacks against the Babri Masjid. The Gyanvapi Masjid is their new battleground. Moreover, these groups have set their eyes on other mosques like the Idgah Masjid and the Taj Mahal.

This Gyanvapi controversy is nothing more than a smoke screen. India is facing issues like unemployment and rising inflation. People are unhappy with the government’s handling of the pandemic. The present Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government was elected on the plank of development. However, after almost 8 years in power, nothing has really changed.

These issues are being agitated in order to distract the public. In addition, elections in many states are due to take place soon. The country will go into a general election in 2024. So this becomes a great campaign tool. An issue like the demolition of the Gyanvapi mosque can help consolidate Hindu votes in India.

Why will this hurt India?

The government is however not looking at the cons of the agitation. It will hurt the country. Secularism is a founding principle of the country. But respect for all religions is also an important principle. How can the feelings of one religious group be discarded? India is a country for all its citizens. Not just Hindu citizens!

In addition, it does not send a good message to Muslims around the world. Muslim countries like the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Iran have trade links with India. They also co-operate on many issues. So it will hurt India’s relationship with the Muslim world.  Moreover, it tells the world that India is not a secular country. Or one that believes in religious harmony.

Also Read: Islam in India: Then and Now!

Conclusion  

The mala fides behind the present Gyanvapi stir are evident. It is not like Hindus don’t have a temple in that area. They have a temple adjacent to the Gyanvapi mosque. Is that not enough? Does India need to demolish the Gyanvapi mosque? The purpose of a temple or mosque is to pray to one’s creator. However, the way things are moving in India, that purpose seems lost.

Domestic Violence

What Does Shraddha Walker’s Murder Mean for Love in India?

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What Shraddha Walker's Murder Means to Love in India?

Earlier this month, India was shocked by the news of the murder of 28-year-old Shraddha Walker by her live-in partner Aftab Poonawalla. Aftab had killed Shraddha merely three days after they moved into their new home in Delhi in May this year. Aftab had cut the body of Shraddha into 35 pieces and stored them in a fridge. He was gradually disposing of the body parts in a nearby forest area.

Interfaith Couple and Sensational Murder Trial

After the news of Shraddha’s murder broke in mid-November following the arrest of Aftab Poonawalla, it became a sensational murder trial. The murder was debated on prime-time debates on TV.

While the murder was chilling and one could expect it to cause a sensation, it became a sensational murder trial for very wrong reasons in India. The fact that Shraddha and Aftab were an interfaith couple made it a sensational murder.

Even though Aftab has claimed that he killed Shraddha in a fit of rage while they were fighting, the police are yet to establish the motive for the murder. The media trial, however, has given a religious colour to the murder.  Some people, including those on TV debates, have dressed the murder in the language of religion.

Love Jihad?

The religious colour given to the Shraddha murder and the transcending of the murder beyond its context is a result of the Love Jihad discourse adopted by the ruling right-wing party BJP.  BJP used Loved Jihad as an electoral issue in many state elections.

At present, eleven states where BJP is in power have passed legislation against Love Jihad. The argument by the Hindu nationalists is that Muslim men intentionally fall in love with Hindu women and then these men force the women to convert from Hinduism to Islam.

Also Read: Love Jihad: A Conspiracy or a Political Campaign?

Demonizing Muslims

There are also attempts to demonize Muslims after the murder of Shraddha. A man from the UP state recently went on TV to support the actions of Aftab. He claimed to be a Muslim, named Rashid Khan and justified the cutting of Shraddha into 35 pieces.

When the police arrested the said man, it was found that he is a Hindu, named Vikas Gupta.

Vikas Gupta’s statement went viral on social media and Muslims were called out and demonized for his statement.

Also Read: Bollywood’s portrayal of Kashmir- Journey Of Representation From Heaven To Hell

A Setback to the Freedom to Love in India?

Shraddha’s sensational murder trial has raised questions about love in India. It will hurt the hard-won right of freedom to love.

There are two aspects to be considered. First is the freedom of young people to love or live in live-in relationships. Since the news of the murder reached almost every home in India, it will scare people from getting into live-in relationships. Further, society will also be suspicious of these relationships. Live-in couples already face difficulty in negotiating the conservative society in India and the case will only exacerbate it. For instance, live-in couples in India find it difficult to find a house or rented accommodation. Aftab and Shraddha also lived in rented accommodation. More people than ever before will now hesitate to rent their accommodations to live-in couples.

Second, as discussed above Shraddha’s murder will make it worse for interfaith couples to negotiate everyday life in India. Even though India was never a safe place for interfaith couples, the case is going to make society hostile to interfaith love. Those who were already against interfaith love will use this case to further cement their position on Love Jihad.

Further, society in general parents of young people in particular will turn hostile against love.

Also Read: The mainstreaming of anti-Muslim Hindutva Pop in India 

A Difficult Task Ahead

The sensational murder trial and the media trial of Shraddha’s murder by Aftab have raised questions about love in India. Further, the discourse of Love Jihad is also back. Hindu nationalists will make sure that the case is exploited to its full to make a case for Love Jihad.

For those in India, who want to preserve the hard-won right of freedom to love, the task ahead is very difficult. Even though the case has already become sensational, they must make sure that it is restricted to its immediate context. If the case transcends its immediate context, hate will win against love. Love must triumph!

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Kashmiri Journalists Caught in the Battle of Narratives

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Kashmiri Journalists Caught in the Battle of Narratives

A proscribed militant outfit in Kashmir recently made anonymous online threats to over a dozen journalists belonging to several media organizations. The outfit published the threat on a website and people circulated it on social media. The Kashmiri journalists were accused of being “collaborators”. Five of the journalists who were threatened have already resigned.

Subsequently, the Jammu and Kashmir Police registered a case under the anti-terrorist law Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) and launched an investigation. On November 19, police raids were underway at the residences of journalists Gowhar Geelani, Qazi Shibli, Rashid Maqbool, Khalid Gul, Waseem Raja, Sajad Kralyari & militant Momin Gulzar, Mukhtar Baba and advocate Abu Adil Pandit.

The police alleged that The Resistance Front (TRF), which is an offshoot of Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), was behind the threat to journalists. The security agencies further found that journalist Mukhtar Baba was the mastermind behind putting out the list of journos accusing them of being informers for security forces. Baba, who is currently based in Turkey, is has worked as a journalist in Kashmir. He is familiar with the media environment in Kashmir. The police also revealed that Baba is very close to Pakistani intelligence agencies.

The police requested media houses “not to fall for sensationalism in discussing names of victims in reporting and also to behave responsibly and not endanger the safety and security of their fellow journalists”.

Battle of Narratives

The ongoing battle of narratives in Kashmir between pro-India and anti-India has created a false and dangerous binary in Kashmir. Journalists, who work for various media houses and newspapers in Kashmir, increasingly face themselves choosing sides between anti-India and pro-India narratives. Choosing sides has led journalists into a trap. If they report and support the pro-India narrative, militant groups accuse them of being collaborators. If they report anti-India narrative, the Indian security agencies accuse them of supporting terrorism in the region. In this vicious cycle, many journalists have lost their lives, and many are languishing in jails.

Also Read: Political Activities Resume in Kashmir after Three Years

Kashmiri Journalists Face Killings and Jail

The same Let killedpProminent Kashmiri journalist Shujaat Bukhari in 2018 in Srinagar. The police alleged that Sheikh Sajad alias Sajjad Gul was responsible for his killing.

In February this year, the police booked and arrested Fahad Shah, the Editor-in-chief of the online news magazine, ‘The Kashmir Walla’, under anti-terrorism law and sedition for his reporting on Kashmir. He continues to be in jail. His online magazine faces several cases for reporting controversial news. The security agencies have alleged that Fahad was propagating fake news through his portal.

In August 2018, the police arrested Aasif Sultan, an assistant editor of the magazine Kashmir Narrator, under the anti-terror law. The police accused him of “harbouring known militants”.

There are several other stories of Kashmiri journalists being harassed by militants and police alike. While militants make death threats to journalists, the security agencies in Kashmir arrest and intimidate the journalists. There are several cases where chilling details of threat and intimidation of journalists by police have emerged. 

In October this year, Indian authorities prevented Pulitzer-winning Kashmiri journalist Sanna Irshad Mattoo from travelling to the US. Mattoo, a freelance photojournalist, was part of a Reuters team that won the Pulitzer Prize for feature photography for their coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic in India. She was flying to the US to receive the award. Earlier in July this year, Indian authorities prevented Mattoo from travelling to Paris.

This was not the first time that Indian authorities prevented a Kashmiri journalist from flying abroad. Several other journalists were prohibited from flying.

Also Read: India Gags-up Media in Kashmir

Journalists in Dilemma

The threats by the militants and the harassment by the Indian agencies have put Kashmiri journalists in dilemma. They do not know when their reporting will invoke the wrath of Indian agencies or the militants. It is a huge risk to invoke the wrath of any one of them.

As a result, political reporting in Kashmir has become very difficult. Various news agencies, in order to evade the binary, do not cover political issues. They just restrict their reporting highlighting societal issues. 

Hence, in this battle of narratives, objective political reporting has become the real victim.

Also Read: The Rise of Hybrid Militants in Kashmir

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The Forgotten Jammu Massacre

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Jammu massacre during the partition of Indian subcontinent

In November 1947, thousands of Muslims were murdered in Jammu by paramilitaries under the command of Maharaja Hari Singh’s army, the Hindu Dogra ruler of Jammu and Kashmir. Although the precise number of victims in the killings that lasted for two months is unknown, estimates range from 20,000 to 237,000. Nearly half a million Muslims were compelled to flee across the border into the recently formed country of Pakistan. These Muslims had to settle in the part of Kashmir that is under Pakistan’s administration. The massacre of Muslims in Jammu and the forced migration of others set off a chain of events that included a war between India and Pakistan, two newly independent countries. These incidents also gave rise to the Kashmir issue. The massacres occurred as part of a British-designed strategy to divide the subcontinent into India and Pakistan, as millions of Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs crossed the border from one side to the other.

An Orchestrated Massacre

Before the two-decade-long massacre against Jammu’s Muslim majority really began, The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) leaders from Amritsar met in secret with the Maharaja and his officials. They chose Poonch as the beginning place for the massacre of Muslims because of its record for fierce resistance. A two decade long and horrifying anti-Muslim pogrom began with the murder of a herdsman in the Panj Peer shrine and a Muslim labourer in the centre of Jammu city in the first week of September. Extremist Hindus and Sikhs committed the murders with the help and complicity of the Maharaja Hari Singh-led armies of the Dogra State. The RSS leaders and workers were complicit in organising and carrying out the atrocities.

Idrees Kanth, a fellow at the International Institute of Social History in Amsterdam who studied the history of Kashmir in the 1940s, told Al Jazeera that the immediate impact (of partition) was seen in Jammu. “The Muslim subjects from different parts of Jammu province were forcibly displaced by the Dogra Army in a programme of expulsion and murder carried out over three weeks between October-November 1947,”.

The Dogra Army personnel started evicting Muslim peasants from Jammu province in the middle of October. The majority of the refugees were housed in refugee camps in the districts of Sialkot, Jhelum, Gujrat, and Rawalpindi after being directed on foot toward West Punjab, which would eventually become a part of Pakistan.

On November 5, Kanth claimed about the Dogra Army forces’ planned evacuation of Muslims that  “Instead of sending them to Sialkot, as they had been promised, the trucks drove them to wooded hills of Rajouri districts of Jammu, where they were executed.”

Also Read: How Practical is the Secular Democracy of India? Curbing of Religious Freedom in Kashmir

Demographic Changes

After the deaths and expulsion, the Muslims, who made up more than 60% of the population in the Jammu region, became a minority. According to a story from The Times, London, dated August 10, 1948: “2,37,000 Muslims were systematically exterminated – unless they escaped to Pakistan along the border – by the forces of the Dogra State headed by the Maharaja in person and aided by Hindus and Sikhs. This happened in October 1947, five days before the Pathan invasion and nine days before the Maharaja’s accession to India.”.

According to historians, the executions carried out by the Sikh and Hindu ruler’s armies were part of a “state sponsored genocide” to alter Jammu’s demographics, which had a predominately Muslim population.

Reports mention that Muslims who earlier were the majority (61 percent) in the Jammu region became a minority as a result of the Jammu massacre and subsequent migration.

According to PG Rasool, the author of a book The Historical Reality of Kashmir Dispute “The massacre of more than two lakh (two hundred thousands) Muslims was state-sponsored and state supported. The forces from Patiala Punjab were called in, RSS was brought to communalise the whole scenario and kill Muslims.”

Also Read: India Revives Controversial Village Defence Committees (VDCs) in Jammu and Kashmir

Covering up of the Jammu Massacre

While it is unknown how many people were killed during the two-month-long killing spree, Horace Alexander’s report from The Spectator on January 16, 1948, is frequently cited. Alexander claimed that 200,000 people had died and that nearly 500,000 people had been displaced across the border into the recently formed country of Pakistan and the region of Kashmir that it controls.

India has ever since tried to free itself from the accountability of the past. The Jammu massacre has not only been left out of J&K’s historical narratives by the Indian state, but it has also been openly denied in its entirety.

Khurram Parvez, a noted human rights defender in Kashmir, told Al Jazeera that the ongoing conflict in Kashmir has its roots in 1947 massacre. “It is deliberately forgotten. Actually, the violence of that massacre in 1947 continues. Those who were forced to migrate to Pakistan have never been allowed to return,” he said.

Also Read: The Rise of Hybrid Militants in Kashmir

What Does the Jammu Massacre mean for Kashmir today?

The Jammu massacre gave India the opportunity to rewrite history, therefore relieving the Indian government from owning up to any responsibility for the atrocity. The Indian government is attempting to replicate this pattern in the Kashmir valley by systematically killing and exterminating Muslims and then covering it up. As more and more Indians obtain Kashmiri citizenship and are granted the ability to vote in state elections, this provides the necessary motive and encouragement for non-Kashmiris to relocate to Kashmir. While the right-wing BJP government has been milking the targeted killings of Kashmiri pandits in Kashmir. The communal violence against Muslims and the Jammu Massacre is the least talked about and written about in the history of the region.

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