Fr Anand: With the Ayodhya temple, I hope for peace between Hindus and Muslims, and greater attention for the poor
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Sunni representative Iqbal Ansari were present at the laying of the first stone of the new temple dedicated to the god Rama (where the old Babri mosque stood). In 1992 the conflict over the site led to the death of over 2,000 people, mostly Muslims. Aid for the development of the poor is as important as building temples and cleaning the Ganges River.
Ayodhya (AsiaNews) – “I hope for all Indians that the construction of the Hindu temple and a mosque in Ayodhya will end the historical hatred between Hindus and Muslims, and will give harmony and hope to the new generations,” said Fr Anand Matthew of the Indian Missionary Society (IMS).
The clergyman spoke to AsiaNews a few hours after the ceremony that saw Prime Minister Narendra Modi laying the first stone (a 40 kg brick of silver) in what will be the Sacta sanctorum of the temple dedicated to Rama in Ayodhya (Uttar Pradesh).
The temple is going to be built on the site of the Babri Masjid (mosque) that was destroyed in 1992 by members of Sangh Parivar groups (Hindu nationalists linked to Modi's party, the Bharatiya Janata Party).
The new temple is set for construction after the Supreme Court ruled in 2019 that the land where the mosque stood had to be ceded to Hindus, but five acres of land had to be offered to the Muslim community in the village of Dhannipur to build a new mosque.
As an initial token of reconciliation, Iqbal Ansari, representative of the Sunni Waqf Board, took part in the laying of the foundation stone. In the past few years, he defended the rights of Muslims against the destruction of Babri Masjid and the seizure of the land.
For centuries, the sacred place of Ayodhya has been a source of clashes and violence. According to a story found in the Ramayana, a major Sanskrit epic, the Hindu god Rama, incarnation of Vishnu, was born in Ayodhya.
In the 16th century, the Mughal dynasty built a mosque (Babri Masjid) on the site where god Rama was born. In the mid-1800s there were disputes and unrest between Hindus and Muslims over possession of the place.
In 1992, some 150,000 militants from Hindu Sangh Parivar groups razed the mosque to the ground; riots ensued across the country, which resulted in the death of over 2,000 people, mostly Muslims.
The complaint filed before the Supreme Court led to a ruling on 9 November 2019. The Court recognised that the place belonged to Hindus. At the same time, it condemned the destruction of the mosque as an illegal act and gave Muslims the right to build another place of worship.
Only a hundred guests took part in the first stone laying ceremony and the offering of fire to the deity (Bhumi Pooja) given pandemic restrictions on gatherings. However, many Hindus crowded the roads leading to site regardless of the restrictions. The ceremony was broadcast on national television.
According to Fr Anand, "the basic principle of leading the nation should be to support the development of the poor, not just the construction of temples or the cleansing of the sacred Ganges."
The priest noted that millions of migrant workers lost their jobs and are struggling to survive due to the lockdown. Thousands of them, to escape hunger, have tried to go back to their villages on foot, marching for hundreds of kilometres. Several of them died along the road.