The historic wrong must be righted
It is wrong to project the row of Gyanvapi Mosque and Kashi Vishwanath Temple as an expression of hatred; in fact, it is an attempt at course correction
To dismiss the controversy between the Gyanvapi Mosque and the Kashi Vishwanath Temple as a vile expression of hatred, Hindu bigotry and majority excess is too reductionist to serve any constructive purpose. A more in-depth examination of this issue – which takes into account Hindu sentiments and examines historical and archaeological data – is necessary to reach an equitable solution. Hatred is an apt terminology to label its ideological opponents as radicals and is constantly used to silence those who fight for Hindu rights.
Challenging injustice is not hate. Hate is what was done to the Hindus. The physical destruction of a temple and its divinity is a tangible expression of hatred that surpasses any vocal vituperation; an unprecedented act of profanity far more offensive than any verbal indiscretion that no sane human can or should defend.
The fact that this destruction involved the holiest of Hindu shrines adds insult to injury and amplifies the crime. The Kashi Vishwanath Temple is the epicenter of Hinduism. Dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva, this temple houses one of 12 jyotirlings and dates back to at least the first century AD. Religious scriptures place its date of existence even earlier.
Over the years, this temple has been destroyed by Islamic invaders and rebuilt several times. The last known destruction was authorized by the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb in 1669, who erected a mosque in its place – the Gyanvapi Mosque, named after the ancient well of wisdom in the Hindu temple.
The current Kashi Vishwanath Temple was built by Rani Ahilyabai Holkar, Queen of Indore in 1777 alongside the original site. The destruction of the Kashi Vishwanath temple was a spiritual apocalypse for the Hindus; the ultimate desecration designed to crush their inner identity, dehumanize them and make them ripe for religious transformation.
That Aurangzeb demolished the temple of Kashi Vishwanath and built a mosque in its place is not a debatable historical conjecture or a fantasy of the Hindu right as some are inclined to claim, but a fact confirmed by irrefutable evidence. . Aurangzeb is indicted by his own written order and by documentation from partisan Islamic chroniclers.
Maasir-i-Alamgiri, an authoritative account of Aurangzeb’s reign, states: “It was reported that, by order of the Emperor, his officers had demolished the temple of Vishwanath at Kashi” (pp55. English translation by Jadunath Sarkar). A copy of the firman/order is still available at the Asian Library in Kolkata. Archaeological artifacts at the site of the mosque also confirm the demolition. Can we stifle this controversy by invoking the adage that history cannot be rewritten? Of course, history cannot be rewritten. But it’s a digressive argument that fails to get to the crux of the controversy. A more appropriate way to frame this dilemma is to ask this question: Can the wrongs of history be righted?
The answer is yes and they should, wherever and whenever possible. By allowing evil to go unchallenged, we not only condone evil, but we become unwitting protagonists of injustice. However, reparation cannot be violent or vindictive; it must not target individuals or involve the loss of human life. Material edifices like statutes of tyrants, usurped places of worship, and forcibly changed names of towns and villages are fair game.
The “Black Lives Matter” movement has now put us first. If statues of Christopher Columbus can be toppled in the United States for his alleged offences, and if monuments commemorating King Leopold II – who exploited the Congolese people – can be dismantled in Belgium, why is it that a building which symbolizes a far greater evil and whoever affects 1.4 billion Hindus is allowed to stand is the million dollar question?
Agreed, Muslims today cannot be held responsible for the misdeeds of medieval Muslim invaders. But when Muslims defend these historic atrocities and seek legal assistance to preserve the status quo, they identify not only with the perpetrator but also with the despicable act itself; knowingly and deliberately accepting responsibility for the crimes of the Muslim invaders. It is this polarizing activism and authoritarian mindset that has tainted the socio-political climate that makes them guilty now.
The use of the Places of Worship Act 1991 will not pass. This law discriminates against Hindus in its syntax and violates the fundamental principle of the Constitution by prohibiting the use of judicial review. It is a chimera to believe that secularism is tantamount to the suppression of the rights of the majority as the law implies. The sooner we remove this law, the better.
Muslims cannot remain in a state of opportunistic denial. They must acknowledge past wrongs or dissociate themselves from these atrocities by voluntarily abandoning places of worship that rightfully belong to Hindus. This will engender a sea of goodwill and greater friendship between Hindus and Muslims. The ball is in the Muslim court.
(The author, a US-based academic and political commentator, writes frequently about current affairs in India. Opinions expressed are personal.)