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India Hindu Temple Opening Stokes Religious Minority Fears

Decades-Long Campaign Led to Demolished Mosque, Deadly Communal Riots

A man waves a flag with the Hindu god Ram to celebrate the opening of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya city, India, January 16, 2024. © 2024 Altaf Qadri/AP Photo

Saffron flags and posters of religious deities and Prime Minister Narendra Modi are dotting streets across India to mark the January 22 consecration of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh state. However, public euphoria around the ceremony has also raised fears of violence and discrimination against India’s religious minorities, particularly Muslims.

The occasion is widely seen as a culmination of Hindu majoritarian and political demands led by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its affiliates. The temple was constructed around the site where the 16th century Babri Mosque stood until a Hindu mob demolished it in 1992. Many Hindus believe that the mosque had been built on the ruins of a previous temple marking the birthplace of the Hindu god Ram. Thousands died in religious clashes and riots across the country following the demolition, including deadly violence in Gujarat state in 2002.

While the authorities secured the area during the ceremony, Ayodhya’s Muslim residents expressed concerns for their safety. One group wrote to the police requesting law enforcement remain vigilant as devotees from throughout India visit the city over the coming weeks. Some have sent their families away from the city. Many Indian Muslims on social media have also cautioned against impending violence and have called for community members to avoid traveling by public transportation.

Hindu religious processions in India have turned violent when triumphalism transforms into provocation and violence. While the event passed peacefully, the previous day a group of men in Madhya Pradesh state shouted religious slogans, climbed atop a Christian church, and affixed a flag representing the new temple to the church’s cross.

Prime Minister Modi performed numerous pilgrimages and rituals ahead of the temple’s inauguration. Aware of global criticism of the BJP’s failure to protect religious minorities, he said that those celebrating the temple should “show faith, not aggression.”

However, while many businesses remained closed to join the celebrations, others stayed shut to prevent vandalism. BJP supporters committing violence in the past have often done so with impunity and been emboldened by political patronage.

The temple has come at a cost, as many Indians now simply fear each other.

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