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The WRATH OF RAMA : A Fight Over a Mosque on Ground Holy to Hindus Has Reignited India's Ancient Feud

May 19, 1991|MARK FINEMAN | Mark Fineman is The Times' New Delhi bureau chief.

For days and weeks, bloodshed washed the Indian landscape. Scores of sadhus and saints were gunned down by paramilitary forces in subsequent assaults on the mosque. Mobs of rejoicing Hindus in villages and towns for hundreds of miles around systematically trashed Muslim neighborhoods, killing 250 and beating and stabbing others while shrieking, "Long Live Lord Rama." Muslims retaliated with knives.

As far away as Hyderabad, a Muslim stronghold more than 1,000 miles south of Ayodhya, more than 100 died in just two days of religious carnage: After their Friday prayers, Muslims massacred Hindus. Then the Hindus took revenge. Inspired by speeches by local revivalist leaders offering bounties for dead Muslims, mobs beat, stabbed and burned women, children and entire families in their homes. At Osmania General Hospital, emergency-room physician Dr. Anand Dayal shook his head in the midst of the panic and said, "This is the worst kind of religious violence since independence. They are professionally polished, knowing where the organs are and how to cut them to make our job difficult." And Hyderabad's police commissioner, M. V. Bhaskara Rao, pointed to the north as he blamed the "unseen forces" that had ignited this urban powder keg.

"This fundamentalism--be it Hindu fundamentalism or Islamic fundamentalism--has come to stay," Rao said as violence raged in his city. "It will take a long time for these people to throw it away. Today, you have a rallying point. Before, it was nebulous. It's an emotional issue, a religious issue, an economic issue with political overtones. And now, they've managed to permeate it down to the grass-roots level."

But, in the hours immediately following the first successful assault on the 16th-Century Babri Mosque, Singhal, lying in his bed at the Lord Rama Hospital in Ayodhya, smiled as he described the importance of what had happened that day.

"The significance is that the Hindus cannot be taken for granted in this country anymore," Singhal said, his head bandaged from a police-baton blow. "Their voice will be heard in this country. This pseudo-secularism of Muslim appeasement has exploded in this country today, and it will explode further. . . . Now neither the politicians nor the administration can give the Muslims any assurance or guarantee of security. Their security now will depend only upon their relations with the Hindus."

WHEN MIR BAQI, A LIEUTENANT of Emperor Babur, ordered construction of the Babri Mosque at Ayodhya 463 years ago, the three-domed structure was intended as a shrine to Babur, the first of the Mogul conquerors to strike east from their throne in Kabul, now the capital of Afghanistan. Inscriptions carved into the mosque, which endure today, proclaim, "By the command of Emperor Babur, whose justice is an edifice reaching up to the very height of the heavens, the good-hearted Mir Baqi built this alighting place of angels. . . ."

There is, however, no mention of any Ram temple destroyed to make way for the mosque. In fact, there is no historical record whatsoever to support the claim of the Hindu politicians and saints that there ever was a temple to Rama on that spot. Historians and archeologists have filled thousands of pages of Indian newspapers and magazines debating the issue as the controversy mushroomed in recent years. Ironically, it was a handful of British archeologists and anthropologists, working for the colonial regime that ruled India's Hindus for 150 years, who first popularized the theory that such a temple had existed. That Babur, by far the gentlest of Mogul emperors and known for his deep respect for Hinduism, left no sign of a temple is taken as additional evidence that none existed. The only concrete evidence of a previous temple at the site are a dozen or so pillars buried beneath the mosque that are distinctly non-Islamic in design--but not necessarily Hindu, either.

This is not the case at the sites of the other two mosques targeted by Singhal's movement. The historical record clearly states that, in the 1600s, Mogul Emperor Aurangzeb, a descendant of Babur so evil that he murdered his brothers and jailed his father and sister to take the throne, ordered the demolition of the birthplace temples of Krishna and Siva and outlawed Hindu-god worship. In the Lord Krishna birthplace temple in Mathura, archeologists uncovered the original, centuries-old Krishna shrine in the basement of the mosque during a 1960s excavation, and Hindu pilgrims today walk through the mosque to get to it.

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