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«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 ...»

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Yes! As Hindus started gathering there in more numbers Muslims too started doing the same thing! As that became popular and Hindus attracted towards that! Earlier very few people used to go there! After 1991 all the Muslims started going there to offer namāz [Islamic obligatory prayer] on every Friday and to show their unity.... After the Babri mosque was demolished they said that one day the Gyanvapi mosque of Banaras too will be demolished like the Babri mosque was demolished, this is a harmful thing! So to show their unity that way they started to be gathered there in form of crowds with the maximum possible numbers... so that no such incident can take place there! To build a pressure! As Hindus have been giving much importance to the Baba Vishwanath….maximum followers come from the South India, indeed, there are the followers from the neighbourhood as well but the majority of the crowd is from the South India! Those who are from Varanasi can go to Til Bhandareshwar, to BHU where the new Vishwanath temple is situated but the crowd coming to here is basically from the South.92 Mr. Mukesh Gupta comes up with two interesting points. Firstly, he explains how the numbers of visitor of the Vishwanath temple has increased in response to its popularity. As for the amount of visitor of the Gyanvapi mosque, it has also increased but following, and in response to the fear resulting from, the Babri mosque issue in Ayodhya (see section 1.1). Commonly, the increase in number amongst Muslims specifically is held by Hindus to be due to the former’s trying to form a block against Interview with Mr. Narendra Iyengar, Dashashvamedh, 11 January 2012 Interview with Mr. Anees Abdul Khan, Peelee Kothee, 25 January 2012 Interview with Mr. Mukesh Gupta, Vishwanath gali, 23 January 2012 Ibid.

the latter and Muslims explicitly showing their presence in the area. The businessman frames this in more positive words, explaining that Muslims strive for unity to stand up against potential harm that might be done to the mosque. The French lady analyses reasons for the rise in numbers differently: “For one reason is that they have more facilities on train.... Many of them have a little more money..

.. Now, it’s well organized.... So maybe it’s made easier that way. It’s easier and they have more money.”.93 These more practical (rather than ideological) reasons for an increase are also mentioned by Veer, who observes three main reasons for the increase in pilgrimages. According to him the improved infrastructure, the patronage of pilgrimage centres by wealthy landowners, and the discourse on the importance of pilgrimage and religious centres have contributed to a steady increase of pilgrims from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries on (Veer, 1994, p. 122). Another interesting point Mr. Mukesh Gupta makes is the observation that most of the visitors are people from South India. Already in 1979, Vidyarthi noticed that 100% of the Hindus pilgrims in Varanasi visited the Vishwanath temple (Vidyarthi, 1979). Many interviewees acknowledge that Banarasis used to go to the Vishwanath temple but stopped doing so after the situation changed (see section 5.3.2). Interestingly, Vidyarthi noted in 1979 how locals preferred to go to other temples (e.g., the Sankat Mochan temple) over the Vishwanath temple. This was far before the destruction of Babri mosque in Ayohdya and the subsequent change of the situation due to security arrangements (Vidyarthi, 1979).

Hindus seem to be quite convinced about the importance of the Vishwanath temple.

Muslims seem to be more divided in their appraisal of the importance of the Gyanvapi mosque. One of my interviewees says, as if very natural, “Well, it is like the Jama Mosque of Varanasi! It is considered as a big mosque! So, indeed, it is important!”.94 For Muslims it seems to be no question whether this mosque is important as it is a holy structure, but most interviewees allege that this particular mosque has no specific importance as all mosques are equally important. A woman from a weaving family explained: “No, all the mosques are equal! The only thing is that more people, good people reach there to offer namāz, to pray! Here, in this neighbourhood, common men go to offer namāz in the mosques nearby! This is the only difference.”.95 She makes one more remark: for women the mosques are not important at all, as they do not go to the mosque for prayers but stay in the house.

Mr. Anees Abdul Khan, the Gyanvapi mosque leader, takes the argument a step further, explaining that all mosques except one are equal; the “most auspicious one” Interview with Mrs. Ama, Shivala ghat, 10 February 2012 Interview with Mr. Irfan Malik, Kashpura, 20 January 2012 Interview with Mrs. Husna Anzaari, Varanasi, 13 February 2012 not being this Gyanvapi mosque but Masjid al-Haram (‘the Sacred Mosque’) in Mecca to which Muslims go on Hajj (see footnote 69). This is exactly what Hindu nationalists use as proof for the idea that Muslims ‘are not loyal to India’: the most important structure in their religion is outside India. The French lady who has been living in India for over 20 years also holds that the mosque is not more special than any other mosque. She maintains that the Vishwanath temple is very important for Hindus and when they come to Banaras they have to visit it; in contrast “When the Muslims come to Banaras, they don’t have to go to this mosque. So if there is another mosque and it is quite shanti [peaceful]… That’s true, no?”96 She argues that as the mosque is similar to other mosques in holiness or auspiciousness Muslims will assumedly prefer doing their prayers in other mosques where it is quieter or the situation easier.





When looking at the statistics from the questionnaire, we not surprisingly find out that Hindus and Muslims acknowledge that the Vishwanath temple is most important for Hindus and the Gyanvapi mosque most important, although both are equally important for both groups. Mr. Faisal Banarasi, who teaches at a madrasa (an Islamic primary school), tells me that the Gyanvapi mosque is important as it “is the place for worship”. 97 When asking him what he thinks about the importance of the temple, he simply says that “They do their worship as we do ours! It is obvious that that too

is equally important.”. Strikingly, the statistics of the questionnaire show just this:

Hindus indicate that the Vishwanath temple is just as important to them (M=9.5) as Muslim indicate the Gyanvapi mosque is to them (M=9.3; see Figure 16 and Figure 17). As for the question whether both groups think the temple and mosque are important to Hindus and Muslim, it also strikes that similar pattern is discernible as in the question of the extent to which both groups think the co-existence of the mosque is tolerated and accepted (see section 5.2.2). Both groups are fairly accurate at estimating the importance of the Vishwanath temple and Gyanvapi mosque for people from their own community. But when it comes to estimating the importance for people from the other community, Hindus underestimate the importance of the temple for Muslims. And Muslims, who expect Hindus to find the temple and mosque to be almost equally important, overestimate the importance of the mosque for Hindus (see Appendix G, Q2-3).

Despite the fact that most locals hardly visit the Vishwanath temple, they consider it very important. Its importance is based on its position as one of the twelve

–  –  –

increased; among pilgrims it is the number one temple to be visited. According to interviewees the mosque is also very important, although not as important as the mosque in Mecca. Interestingly, Hindus and Muslims rate the Vishwanath temple and Gyanvapi mosque, respectively, as equally important. Yet, Hindus fail to acknowledge the importance of the Vishwanath temple to Muslims and Muslims are wrong in their supposition that the temple and mosque are equally important to Hindus.

5.3 Change in the situation of the temple and mosque

Many interviewees refer to the situation in Ayodhya in comparison to Varanasi. Mr.

Kamal Rao compares the situation of the Vishwanath temple and Gyanvapi mosque to the situation of the Ram Janmabhoomi and Babri mosque because both issues are equally sensitive. Mr. Narendra Iyengar reveals how sensitive it is, expressing how undesired the situation is in his view: “We don’t want beside the mosque!... if you have some place other, you keep your mosque there, we don’t want to disturb you, this is my thought.... Same in Ayodhya, same in... Varanasi.”.98 He wonders why Muslims have to build their mosques on places of important temples; there is so much free space elsewhere and it would be fine if they build their mosques there. He calls it an “understood problem”, a situation everyone knows is a problem but whose status quo is at the same time accepted by everyone. He predicts that if people start Interview with Mr. Narendra Iyengar, Dashashvamedh, 11 January 2012 questioning the status quo a situation similar to Ayodhya will evolve. In an informal conversation someone told me that the situation with the temple and mosque is like a ‘sleeping volcano’: it is important for both communities, but both realize that other issues are more important and nobody wants to take responsibility and find a solution. However, he adds that when it comes to an ultimate clash, Hindus will choose for Hindus and Muslims for Muslims. Mrs. Geeta Belwar foresees a situation like in Ayodhya would also happen if there were no security arrangements; yet she asserts that nothing can happen in Varanasi because the city is blessed by Shiva.

The guesthouse owner remarks that it seems that after de destruction of the Babri mosque in Ayodhya the situation in Varanasi evolved from a local issue to a national issue. This is corroborated by a young man and his mother whom I came across in the streets. He told me that he did not know there was a mosque before the situation in Ayodhya. There are two interviewees who not only refer to the situation in Ayodhya, but mention similar situations in the Ram Janmabhoomi in Ayodhya, the Krishna Janmabhoomi in Mathura, and the Vishwanath temple in Kashi. This is in line with the demand of the VHP and RSS to hand these places back to Hindus, as a compensation for the 30,000 destroyed temples and the 3000 mosques built at their place (Times of India, 2003a, 2003b, 2003c).99 Most interviewees opine that the situation was better before the situation in Ayodhya and that the difficulties in the current situation in fact started with the demolition of the Babri mosque. They state that “Earlier [before the destruction of the Babri mosque in Ayodhya] people used to come and go freely and in an easy way.” and “With the demolition of the [Babri] Mosque troubles began.”.100 On the other hand, the journalist for example argues that the situation was on its climax around that period, whereas it is much less sensitive nowadays.

5.3.1 Reasons for and necessity of security Some people attribute the tight security of the Vishwanath temple and Gyanvapi mosque to characteristics of the relationship between Hindus and Muslims, like Mrs.

In 2003, VHP leader Praveen made an appeal to Muslims to give the Ram Janmabhoomi in Ayodhya, the Krishna Janmabhoomi in Mathura, and the Vishwanath temple in Kashi back to Hindus.

This way they can redeem themselves and compensate what VHP calls the “enormous massacres, exploitations, atrocities, abductions, enslavements, destruction of the temples and conversions of the non-Muslim communities on the strength of sword by their earlier generations in Bharat as also outside” (http://vhp.org/movements/shriram-janmabhumi-mukti-andolan). If they do this, Hindus will forget about the 30,000 temples that were destroyed and the 3,000 mosques that were built in their place (Times of India, 2003a, 2003b, 2003c).

Interviews with Mrs. Kavita Bhardwaj, Dashashvamedh, 10 December 2011 & Ms. Madhuri Banerjee, Dashashvamedh, 10 December 2011 Geeta Belwar, who argues that the security guarantees that both communities worship in their own area and cannot interfere in each other’s worship and doings.

Besides, “[s]pecial security arrangements are done for them during their festivals, for instance, on Fridays! There has been a separate way to/from mosque for them.”.101 However, the idea that there are separate entrances is not correct. As described earlier (in section 4.3) the mosque can be reached through one of the four entrances to the sacred complex only, and entrance visitors of the mosque have to share with visitors of the temple. Others attribute the tight security to characteristics of the temple, for example the fact that the dome is made of gold or the fact that the Vishwanath linga is one of the twelve jyotirlingas.

However, most people attribute the tight security to possible attacks, bad elements, and terrorists. A retired businessman who works as a social worker nowadays, Mr.

Shekhar Mallah, beliefs that “bad elements and bad activities could kept away from the society, so that the area’s atmosphere remain safe and peaceful! It is done so for the security reasons.”.102 Several interviewees hold that there have been a number of attacks in which terrorists have tried to destroy the temple, which has made people fearful. Mr. Hashim Anzaari asserts that Any time it [the sensitivities surrounding the temple and mosque] can be released. So that’s why the government is very much cautious and government has deputed a lot of security… person there.... Because [the] government don’t want to take any risk, if unfortunately there is any type of incident like terrorist type of incident take place, so [the] government will be charged; so that’s why [the] government doesn’t want to take any risk so that’s why use number of protections...103 One of the security guards confirms that the security is tightened because of one or two terrorist incidents that have taken place. The other security guard insists that these terrorists come from the Muslim community, as Hindus would never damage

the mosque. The chāī walā, Mr. Kamal Rao, shares this theory:



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