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Dilli Log #3: Interreligious Life in a confined space

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Date03 Nov 2021

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09.07.2021

On Hospital Road in the Jangpura district there is an area that houses four places of worship: the Sikh temple Mai Da, behind it a Hindu Shiva temple, in the immediate vicinity St. Michael's Church and next door the Buddhist temple Bhogal Buddha Vihar. In Jangpura, there are at least sixteen places of worship - for different Hindu faiths, for Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jainas and Christians - in an area of about two square kilometres. This interreligious life in a very confined space is exemplary for India.

The coexistence of the different religions leads to cultural fusions. For example, the goddess Santa Durga - a mixture of Goddess Durga and Mother Mary. Or the Muslim holy tombs, which are venerated by Muslims and Hindus alike. Nevertheless, there are quarrels between the religions. Especially between Hindus and Muslims there are hostilities that often end in bloodshed.   

Think of Germany: as long as our Muslim fellow citizens pray in invisible backyard buildings or remote industrial estates, this is approved of. However, many Germans reject the construction of representative mosques. In 2020, the German authorities registered 901 crimes with an Islamophobic background nationwide.

In India, - whether in big cities or tiny villages - mosques and temples exist in close proximity. Since the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power in 2014, the government has pursued a Hindu nationalist course and propagates the superiority of being Hindu. Accordingly, other faiths are allowed to live in India, but only on the terms of the Hindu nationalist movement.

The dilemma is rooted in Indian history. For example, the Kashi Vishwanath temple in Varanasi was destroyed and rebuilt several times during India's Muslim period. Most recently by the ruler Aurangzeb in 1664, Aurangzeb built the Gyanvapi Mosque on the ruins. In 1780, the temple was rebuilt in the immediate vicinity of the mosque.

In April 2021, the media reported that the Varanasi District Court had allowed the State Archaeological Institute to investigate the Temple Mosque complex. The court ruling emboldens those who want to make the mosque land accessible to Hindus. That resembles the long bloody dispute in Ayodhya in northern India, where a mosque finally had to give way to a Hindu temple.

In Ayodhya, the archaeological facts were unclear. In the case of the Gyanvapi mosque, the story of the temple's destruction is widely accepted. But Indian law provides that all places of religious worship shall be preserved as they existed at the time of independence, 1947. For as soon as the legitimate existence of a place of worship is doubted, it ignites communal riots. But the ruling party BJP does not shy away from this.  

In early July, however, the head of the Hindu nationalist and right-wing radical organisation RSS, Mohan Bhagwat, declared: "If a person says that Muslims should not be allowed to live in India, then that person is not a Hindu.” According to Mohan Bhagwat, only dialogue between Hindus and Muslims can foster solutions for peaceful interreligious life in India. Statements that Faizan Mustafa, Rector of the prestigious NALSAR University, commented that Mohan Bhagwat had what it takes to bring about perestroika between Hindus and Muslims.

Since 2019, Narendra Modi has been taking constitutional steps that target the minority Muslims. Could RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat finally usher in a policy of understanding - that would be real progress.

If you want to follow the Dilli Log series in German as a podcast, check it out here!

Written by: Antje Stiebitz

Photo Credit: Vince Russell - Unsplash

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