Some Muslims around major India temple fearful ahead of opening
AYODHYA, India (Reuters) – Like many other Muslims, Indian tailor Safi Mohammad plans to send his wife and two sons away before thousands of pilgrims arrive at his hometown of Ayodhya next month for the inauguration of one of Hinduism’s most sacred temples.
The temple, built on a site Hindus believe to be the birthplace of Lord Ram and where a Mughal-era mosque once stood, stirs bitter memories for Mohammad. The 38-year-old said he remembers when a Hindu mob destroyed the Babri mosque in December 1992, sparking religious riots across the country that killed nearly 2,000 people, most of them Muslims. The dead included his uncle.
“My family has gone through a lot already,” he said as he worked at his sewing machine in his home, located a few metres away from the temple. “Anything can happen anytime.”
Ayodhya, in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, is home to some 3 million people, including 500,000 Muslims.
Officials say at least one-tenth of these Muslims live in the immediate vicinity of the newly built Ram Temple, and some of these residents said they are still fearful of Hindus, especially visitors, because any incident could potentially escalate into a major event.
At least a dozen Muslim men said they too planned to send their families to relatives outside the city ahead of the temple’s opening ceremony which is due to take place on Jan. 22.
“We cannot say what will happen around the opening – people in the community are a bit fearful,” said Parvez Ahmad Qasmi, who runs an Islamic school in Ayodhya and lost his father-in-law to the riots that occurred more than three decades ago.
Even as some of the residents around the temple expressed apprehension, several Ayodhya Muslims said there had not been any major violence under the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which also rules Uttar Pradesh, adding that the boost to the local economy from the pilgrims would help them too.
The Ram temple is expected to boost the chances of the Hindu nationalist BJP at next year’s general elections, as it fulfills one of its main campaign promises. Modi himself will inaugurate the temple more than four years after the Supreme Court ended a dispute over the site and awarded it to Hindu groups.
Sharad Sharma, a Hindu, said everyone in Ayodhya would benefit from the temple and the pilgrims who visit.
“Ayodhya is now a new city which will be an example of communal harmony,” Sharma said. “There has not been any violence or unease in the last decade.”
Officials expect Ayodhya to receive 4.5 million Hindu pilgrims a month. Some Muslims said the sheer number of visitors makes them worry about their safety.
“It’s up to the government what kind of security will be provided to the Muslims with so many people from outside visiting,” said resident Haji Acchan Khan, 62.
Ayodhya police chief Raj Karan Nayyar said the authorities would bring in reinforcements, which would be “sufficient to ensure the security of every person, not just one community”.
The court order that allowed for the construction of the Ram temple also said authorities must set aside land for a mosque, and construction on that site, about 15 miles (24 km) from the Ram temple, is expected to start next year.
A recent boom in property prices in Ayodhya ahead of the pilgrimage has, however, driven some people to try and illegally grab land allocated to other mosques and even Muslim cemeteries, Mohd Azam Qadri, a leader of the Muslim Sunni Central Waqf Board, said in a letter to local authorities this month.
Ayodhya District Magistrate Nitish Kumar, however, said he had not received complaints about land grabs but said: “in case they come to us … we will look into the matter and take action accordingly”.
Writing by Krishna N. Das; editing by Miral Fahmy