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Why it is important to remember a Temple, a Gurdwara, and a Masjid on August 5

By Nikhil Mandalaparthy
August 5, 2021 is a day to remember three houses of worship, from three different religious traditions, in three different countries. Each of these houses of worship belong to minority communities in their respective countries, and they have each been targeted by those who subscribe to majoritarian political ideologies.

Ganesh Mandir, Pakistan

On August 5 this year, a Muslim mob numbering in the hundreds vandalized a Hindu temple in the town of Bhong in Pakistan’s Rahim Yar Khan district, in the southern Punjab region. According to local police, around 100 Hindu families live in the area.
A few weeks ago, a nine-year-old local Hindu boy was arrested under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws for allegedly urinated at the library of a local Muslim seminary. He was later granted bail by a local court, and the local Hindu elders apologized to the seminary leaders -- but soon after, a social media post urged local Muslims to “take revenge for the desecration.” The mob who gathered at the temple smashed the temple’s windows, doors, and murtis (images) of Hindu gods and goddesses. Protesters also blocked a local highway for hours.
As we have previously written, Pakistan’s draconian blasphemy laws have long been used to criminalize and target non-Muslims (Hindus, Christians) and even those whom the Pakistani state refuses to recognize as Muslim (Ahmadis).
Although Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan has promised to rebuild the temple, this incident is part of a long trend of Hindu temples being attacked in Pakistan. In the last year alone, seven temples have been attacked across the Pakistani provinces of Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and Singh.

Oak Creek Gurdwara, United States of America

Nine years ago, on August 5th, 2012, a neo-Nazi white supremacist attacked the Sikh gurdwara of Oak Creek, Wisconsin. He opened fire on the congregation while they were worshiping, killing six community members: Paramjit Kaur (age 41), Satwant Singh Kaleka (65), one of the gurdwara’s granthis, Prakash Singh (39), Sita Singh (41), Ranjit Singh (49), and Suveg Singh (84). Another granthi, Baba Punjab Singh, was shot in the head, and died from his injuries last year.
Each year, our Sikh siblings have commemorated this horrific incident by honoring the lives of those who were lost, celebrating the resilience of Oak Creek’s Sikh community, and reminding us that white supremacy is very much alive and well in America today. According to Sikh scholar and community activist Simran Jeet Singh, the Oak Creek massacre serves as a reminder to all of us that “ending racism is a matter of life-and-death.” Our friends at the Sikh Coalition pledge that “We remain relentless in our efforts to combat hate through the legal system, policy change, education, and community mobilization--and we continue to draw strength from the resilience and chardi kala spirit of the Oak Creek sangat.”

Babri Masjid, India

One year ago today in the northern Indian city of Ayodhya, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi conducted the Bhumi Pujan (ground-breaking ceremony) for a temple to Lord Rama which is being built over the ruins of a medieval mosque known as the Babri Masjid. Since the 19th century, both Hindus and Muslims have laid claims to the site of the mosque. Throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s in particular, Hindu nationalist organizations across India mobilized Hindus to demand the destruction of the Babri Masjid by claiming that the mosque was built over the birthplace of Lord Rama.
On December 6, 1992, a Hindu mob stormed the mosque and illegally tore it down. This act of violence triggered Hindu-Muslim riots across India, and resulted in “retaliatory” attacks on Hindus in Pakistan and Bangladesh. Since then, Hindu nationalist organizations and political parties, namely Modi’s BJP, have demanded the construction of a temple to Rama on top of the illegally-demolished mosque.
On November 9, 2019, India’s Supreme Court agreed in a controversial decision to grant the disputed land of the Babri Masjid to Hindus, clearing the way for the construction of a Rama temple. Muslims were to be given another plot of land on which they could build a new mosque. And on August 5th, 2020, the construction of this temple began, inaugurated by the highest leaders of the Indian state.
As we have previously shown, many Hindus have also spoken up against the demolition of the Babri Masjid and the construction of a Rama temple over its ruins. Yugal Kishore Shastri, mahant (priest) of Ayodhya’s Ram-Janki temple, opposes the BJP’s politics of hate and believes that the construction of the Rama temple over the Babri Masjid is wrong. He told us, “Lord Ram is very personal to me. He lives in you and me, and doesn’t need a temple.” Similarly, HfHR board member Sravya Tadepalli writes that “the faith of the Bharatiya Janata Party and other Hindu nationalist groups is not my faith. My Rama is not the same as their Rama. I grew up hearing stories about the Rama who believed every person in his kingdom needed to be treated equally. My Hinduism is not the same as their Hinduism.”

Victims of Majoritarian Ideologies of Hate

Each of these houses of worship -- Pakistan’s Ganesh Mandir, the USA’s Oak Creek Gurdwara, and India’s Babri Masjid -- were attacked by seemingly different groups or individuals: a Muslim mob, a white supremacist, and a Hindu mob. What all the perpetrators share is a commitment to a majoritarian, exclusive, ultranationalist ideologies in which certain minority groups are seen as perpetually foreign, suspect, and unwelcome.
On this day, let us resolve to speak up for the rights of oppressed minorities across the world, irrespective of their caste, class, religion, gender, sexuality, or nationality.
I want to close with a few lines by an Indian Urdu poet, Jagan Nath Azad (1918-2004). Journalist Saquib Salim writes that on the day the Babri Masjid was destroyed, “Azad was flying from Jammu to Delhi.”
Azad’s writings reveal that “a co-passenger informed him that a dome of Babri mosque had been demolished. This news pained him deeply and he wrote a three-stanza poem while onboard. Upon reaching the home of his son he was informed that the mosque had been completely razed. Engulfed in anguish he wrote further stanzas to the poem, one which helps us understand the shock and sadness that all Indians – Hindus and Muslims alike – felt. For Azad, this destruction harmed not just Islam but also Hinduism. Being a Hindu himself, he feels that this act shamed the whole religion. At an international stage, India lost its reputation of being secular.”
In these lines, Azad is speaking from the perspective of a Hindu horrified by the demolition of the Babri Masjid. But these sentiments are undoubtedly similar to a white American horrified by the attack on the Oak Creek Gurdwara, or a Pakistani Muslim horrified by the destruction of the Ganesh Mandir.
This August 5th, and each day going forward, let us pledge to stand up to violent, majoritarian, exclusionary ideologies, and do everything we can to stand up for minorities in our communities.
***
Your deed has not harmed Islam a bit
But you have stabbed a knife into
the heart of the Hindu religion
You have mutilated the face of India
You have planted thorns in its path to progress
Mosque and temple, both are the abode of God:
My Hindu religion has taught me only this much
This is not religion, but the politics of hate
You have been taught a satanic lesson
This mosque is still intact in the hearts of loving people
Do you know this, destroyer of the mosque?
This country is not yet empty of good people
Those who heal broken hearts still reside here
- Jagan Nath Azad (translated by Saquib Salim)
---

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