«ESTHER WAPSTRA Thesis submitted for MA degree Supervisors: Dr. Laurens G. H. Bakker Prof. Paul J. C. L. van der Velde 30 August 2013 COMMUNAL HARMONY ...»
Nonetheless, some quantitative data might 7 give some tentative insights and an interesting addition to the interviews. When asked, most respondents say they view the 3 co-existence of the Vishwanath temple and Gyanvapi mosque slightly as a symbol of Hindus Muslims harmony, although Muslims a bit more Symbol of harmony (M=7.9, SD=2.5) than Hindus, who are also Symbol of conflict much more divided in their answers (M=7.2, Figure 13. Co-existence of the Vishwanath SD=3.8). Another question in the temple and Gyanvapi mosque a symbol of questionnaire asked people to what extent harmony or conflict Interview with Mr. Parvesh Chaturvedi, Dashashvamedh, 12 January 2012 Interview with Mrs. Husna Anzaari, Varanasi, 13 February 2012 they think the co-existence of the Vishwanath temple and Gyanvapi mosque is a symbol of conflict. Overall, Hindus are neutral about this, but with many differences between them (M=6.1, SD=4.1); Muslims see the situation as not really a symbol of conflict (M=3.7, SD=3.4) (see Appendix G, Q8-9).
5.2.1 Positive perceptions about the co-existence of temple and mosque Some interviewees talk about the situation as a “symbol of religious tolerance” or as an expression of brotherhood.76 One person holds the opinion that “It develops the feeling of national integration.” while another interviewee takes the argument further: “at present, this is a unique example. Not only for India, but for… the world”.77 Some interviewees make a direct link with conflicts and riots, stating that none have taken place in Varanasi because of the con-existence of the temple and the mosque.
Puzzled I asked Mr. Hassan Siddiqui, a lawyer to elaborate on this as many people had told me that the situation did provoke conflicts and riots he responded very strongly “There is no riots about, about this. No is no, no such riots… occurred due to this temple and mosque”.78 Mr. Mukesh Gupta, an insurance agent, is more subtle: “There has not been any difficulty here. When some political movement arrive then the matter of unity comes forward.... Well, if there is not such political movement then people live with comfort, they use to participate in each-other’s functions.”.79 He touches on an issue which is mentioned by many interviewees: the role politicians play in conflicts (see chapter 7). Both are right as far as the fact that although the co-existence of the temple and mosque is a sore to some people, it seems that at least some outbreaks of riots between Hindus and Muslims in the past were ignited by other reasons, such as economic or political circumstances (see sections 3.3, 7.1, and 7.2). Yet it seems quite naïve to state that without these relationships are totally harmonious and to imply that the co-existence of the temple and mosque has no share in communal violence at all.
A very interesting suggestion about why people in Banaras are not much worried about the co-existence of temple and mosque and the history of the destruction of the previous temple and subsequent construction of a mosque on its remains is given by a French lady who has been living in Banares for over twenty years. She theorizes Interviews with Mr. Mukesh Gupta, Vishwanath gali, 23 January 2012 & Mr. Irfan Malik, Kashpura, 20 January 2012 Interviews with Mr. Abdullah Jha & Mrs. Shabnam Jha, Kachahari, 22 January 2012 & Mr. Hassan Siddiqui, Chowk, 27 January 2012 Interview with Mr. Hassan Siddiqui, Chowk, 27 January 2012 Interview with Mr. Mukesh Gupta, Vishwanath gali, 23 January 2012 that in Hindu philosophy, time is a continuous circle of creation, maintenance, and destruction; therefore she argues that perhaps it’s not in their mentality I think, a keep thing you know. We in the West want to keep monuments. Want to keep monuments. So that… but also, maybe more, in Varanasi. They know in this world, so many... So why… you know, to maintain? One day it has to collapse!80 5.2.2 Negative perceptions about the co-existence of temple and mosque Mr. Abishek Dutta, a businessman in sārīs whom I met on the top floor of his house on the ghāt, told me the situation is an extremely sensitive issue and illustratively likens it to a wound that is torn open once in a while and is still a sore, indicating lameness as it were. “When I read our old history then it seems that someone has opened-up a long existing wound!” He wonders whether tourists would be deceived into believing a syncretic Hindu-Muslim culture exists when they see a temple and a mosque standing side by side. He exclaims: “That is not a culture but a wound! You cannot consider a wound as culture!”81 Mr. Kamal Rao, a chāī walā (someone selling tea) whom I met in his home where he served us lunch after the interview, also uses the metaphor of a wound when talking on the history: “Why would not be angry?
Whatever they have been, they are our ancestors only, na! There would be an anger! Would someone ever forget his wounds?”.82 He mentions an important characteristic of why this dispute always carry elements of present relevance and why it never expires, which is the importance of ancestral cultural heritage: the stories and histories that are passed on from generation to generation carry weigh in the present. The words of Mr. Narendra Iyengar, the astrologer, illustrate this point very clearly: “India is a traditional country, if I say my grandfather and my grandfather was king and I am still belonging from their empire, then why you are not realizing that my grandfather have done the wrong things and I am obliging....
You have to come and take one step: my grandfather have done mistakes and now I don’t want the violence.”83 In the West this might be seen as a very odd viewpoint, as it is more focused on the future than the past. Yet, in the West it is not unknown to make excuses for wrongs in the past, for example the Australian government admitting their wrongdoings towards Aboriginals. The point of historical relevance is also made by a respondent who at the same time refers to sentiments that are frequently mentioned with regard to the co-existence of temple and mosque. Ms.
Interview with Mrs. Ama, Shivala ghat, 10 February 2012 Interview with Mr. Abishek Dutta, Dashashvamedh, 13 January 2012 Interview with Mr. Kamal Rao, Khalispura, 14 January 2012 Interview with Mr. Narendra Iyengar, Dashashvamedh, 11 January 2012 Harshita Agrawal writes that “Since then  this co-existence of the temple and the mosque has become the thorn in soft flesh of the hearts of people of Kashi.
Hindus have started looking at it as a symbol of insult and humiliation, whereas for Muslims it has become a symbol of existence and pride.”84 In sharp contrast with the interviewees who are positive about the co-existence of temple and mosque, opponents tell they riots have taken place due to the current situation. One interviewee for example states that “there have been the most inhuman riots in Varanasi for 7 or 8 times over the issues related with that place.”85 This experience of riots has led to a fear that the issue can be exploited by malicious persons at any time to create chaos and intercommunal antagonism. In this regard, some people strongly oppose the temple and mosque to be at the same location and hold that the mosque should be elsewhere. Mr. Kamal Rao for example, holds that “Ours and their cultures are entirely different. Being Hindus we say that the mosque should stay at distance from the temple. There has been a fear of slash all the time.”86 When I asked him whether only mosques should be at distance from the temple or all religious structures, including churches and gurūdwārās he clarified that it is particular for mosques because of the constant clashes and continuous fighting between Hindus and Muslims. Mr. Narendra Iyengar, the astrologer, makes the same point when he mentions that Hindus do not mind mosques as long as they occupy a new piece of land; places where a temple was destroyed in favour of a mosque should be handed back to Hindus. An elderly priest of the Vishwanath temple says that people in Varanasi keep quiet in the current situation, because they are helpless and know nothing is about to change, but that this quietness is only pretence and “there are hidden emotions in their hearts” about the conversion of temples into mosques. I found it particularly striking what he told me next: “We have filed a case about that, still we are fighting the legal battle on the mosque in the court that earlier it was our temple and it should be returned to us now. The underground portion below there, that was in our possession for several generations!” When I asked him what he would do if the ground would be handed back to him, his response was, very naturally “These minarets and these domes only need to be removed from there; [the] rests are the parts of our temple only. Vishwanathji would be established just under that.”87 Interview with Ms. Harshita Agrawal, BHU, 6 February 2012 Interview with Mr. Abishek Dutta, Dashashvamedh, 13 January 2012 Interview with Mr. Kamal Rao, Khalispura, 14 January 2012 Interview with Ram Sahai Shankar, Dashashvamedh, 18 February 2012 Here, too, the questionnaire provides interesting information. When asked whether anything should change in the situation of the Vishwanath temple and Gyanvapi mosque one of the respondents gave back that “Hindus think that the mosque should be displaced at the earliest!... About 90% Hindus think that it is good if the mosque is displaced from there.... Hindus think that the mosque should be displaced as early as possible so the importance of the temple can increase.”88 Yet, for the same question only eight people (9.2%) indicated that they want the mosque to be removed from the situation. Four more (13.8%) if the people are included who indicated that they only want the situation to change if both communities can come to an agreement (see section 8.1). Twenty-four people (27.6) indicated that they would prefer the situation not to change, double the amount of people who do want a change! Admittedly, amongst the people who argued against change a few explicitly mention that they do not want the situation to change because they know it would lead to societal disturbances. Obviously, this fact is widely known. In the questionnaire I tried to obviate this by asking respondents whether they would like to see change in the situation given the fact that it does have societal consequences and the same question taking the purely theoretic mind game that there would be no societal consequences. However, this distinction appeared problematic in practice as apparently people had difficulties to distinguish between the two.
Lastly, the questionnaire asked respondents to rate the extent to which they tolerate and the extent to which they accept the co-existence of the Vishwanath temple and Gyanvapi mosque. A difficulty with this question again is that respondents might not have understood the exact difference between tolerance and acceptance. If tolerance is the passive acceptance of a situation which one cannot change and acceptance the intrinsic acceptance of a situation one does not wish to change, it logically makes sense that people who accept the situation also tolerate it. However, there seems to be no link between the former and latter question. Taking this aside, the answers both questions can individually be seen as an indication of the extent to which people either tolerate or accept the situation. The most salient finding is that Hindus are only slightly more positive than neutral (M=7.1, SD=4.1 for tolerance and M=7.0, SD=4.2 for acceptance), whereas Muslims are much stronger in their tolerance and acceptance of the situation (M=9.1, SD=2.9 and M=10.3, SD=1.6, respectively).
Again, the general pattern that Hindus are more divided than Muslims develops (see Figures 14 and Figure 15). Both groups are also fairly accurate at estimating the extent to which their own community tolerate and accept the situation, although Muslims overestimate the extent to which Hindus tolerate and accept the situation
and Hindus underestimate the extent to which Muslims tolerate and accept the situation (see Appendix G, Q10-11).
Apparently, for many interviewees, the co-existence of the Vishwanath temple and Gyanvapi mosque is an example of integration and harmonious living. Opponents of this view consider it a thorn in their flesh and a symbol of the intolerance of Muslims;
the Muslims who overthrew the temple in favour of the mosque as well as those who refuse to change the current situation. Whereas the former deny that the coexistence of temple and mosque is the reason for communal violence, the latter group holds that many riots occurred because of the sensitive issue. In general, the tolerance as well as acceptance of the co-existence of the temple and mosque is higher among Muslims than Hindus.
5.2.3 The importance of the (co-existence of) temple and mosque Interviewees mention three main reasons for the importance of the Vishwanath temple. Firstly, the Vishwanath temple is amongst India’s twelve jyotirlingas.
According to Eck, mythologically, “The linga of light was the first linga. After that, Shiva vowed that this unfathomable linga would become small so that people might have it as an emblem for their workship.” (Eck, 1999, 109). Nowadays people believe jyotirlingas have come into existence by themselves and are therefore important places of pilgrimage. The astrologer put it this way: “as there are twelve jyotirlingam in our religion. And the very important and powerful jyotirlingams is called Vishwanath jyotirlingam.”.89 Another reason for the temple’s importance is the fact that it is located in Kashi, or Shiva’s city (see section 3.2.1). Some people say that Varanasi is the most important place in Hinduism. This point is also made by Mr.
Anees Abdul Khan, one of the main leaders from the Gyanvapi mosque, who illustrates: “Here, Banaras is religiously as important for Hindus as Mecca is for the Muslims!”90 A last factor that adds to the importance of the temple is a political one. The insurance agent, Mr. Mukesh Gupta, says in this regard: “And for past 10-15 years this temple has gained so much importance! After 1991, the Babri mosque, HinduMuslim riot, the security arrangements of this mosque has been tightened!”.91 When
asking whether the mosque also grew in importance, he added: