V aranasi has long remained a shining example of communal harmony, even in the face of provocations. The city remained peaceful after the demolition of the Babri Masjid. It did so after the March 8, 2006, blast which killed 20 people and injured over 50 at the Hanuman temple called Sankat Mochan on a busy Tuesday evening while the aarti was being performed. A simultaneous blast at the busy Cantt railway station killed five people. In December 2010, a blast at the Dashashwamedha ghat while the Ganga aarti was under way, in which a child was killed and many people were injured, was also unable to create communal fissures. Now, however, communal harmony seems to be giving way in the city. On March 8, Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid the foundation of his ambitious Kashi Vishwanath Corridor project at the Vishwanath temple complex. He said that he had been called by “Ganga maiya” in 2014 to “liberate Baba Vishwanath” from suffocating encroachments.
The State government has been acquiring and demolishing houses and shops around the Kashi Vishwanath temple complex to open up a corridor from the temple to the Ganga. The project has opened up the area around the adjacent Gyanvapi mosque, which was earlier surrounded by three layers of houses and shops that acted as a safety ring. Now, the original remains of the old temple and the Nandi bull statue, atop which the mosque stands, are exposed. Muslims are restive, fearing an Ayodhya-like situation. The Anjuman Intezamia Masajid, which manages the mosque, had approached the Supreme Court seeking a stay on the demolitions, but the plea was rejected.
The mosque administration, no longer able to trust the administration, now has its own security round the clock. It has plans to increase the height of the barricade around the mosque and install CCTV cameras. This erosion in faith is dangerous in a city like Varanasi where the two communities live in close proximity. The government has made no attempt to allay the fears of Muslims. The Hindu householders and shopkeepers who had to make way for the corridor initially made feeble objections but are now silent, and some of them even told Frontline that the corridor was a welcome development.
Congress leaders who did not want to be named told this correspondent that the BJP, having milked the Ayodhya issue dry, was now preparing the ground in Varanasi for another emotive issue. The party’s dilemma is that it is unable to take it up for fear of being dubbed anti-Hindu.
The Modi years have been marked by violence by mobs who feel emboldened if they can project themselves as Hindutva champions. In Bulandshahr on December 3, Inspector Subodh Kumar Singh was shot dead while trying to control a crowd agitated by rumours of cow slaughter. Significantly, he had been looking into the Dadri lynching case and was reportedly on the hit list of some Hindutva outfits. Muslim men married to or in relationship with Hindu women have been targets of attacks. A case in point is that of Kerala’s Akhila alias Hadiya, whose father opposed her marriage to a Muslim, saying that she was coerced into converting to Islam and that she would be forced to join the ISIS. Her husband moved the Supreme Court after the Kerala High Court in May 2017 annulled the marriage. The Supreme Court overturned the High Court order after a National Investigation Agency inquiry found no evidence of “love jehad” in the case.
Social media has provided a platform for Hindutva radicals to spew venom. In April 2018, Satish Mylavarapu, a sales and marketing manager in Bengaluru, posted a list of 100 mixed-faith couples and called on “Hindu lions” to hunt down men who were carrying out love jehad. The government, as usual, acted late but eventually asked Facebook to take measures to stop such activities on its platform. Mylavarapu was blocked by Facebook. No action, however, was taken against goons who boasted that many of those 100 couples had broken up because of their “valiant efforts”. The terror attack in Pulwama in February was followed by attacks on Kashmiri Muslims and Muslims from other parts of the country were also targeted.