Past wrong destroying our future

May 9, 2022

Rohit Dhankar

For last few days a continuous row is going on on the issue of video-graphy of Gyanvapi Masjid, build on destroys Kashi Vishwanath temple. More than one cases are pending in the courts connected with this mosque. The most recent is regarding right to daily worship of what is termed as Shringar Gauri, represented by a statue said to be in the outer wall of the mosque. Another case regrading archaeological survey by Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) is said to be pending in the Allahabad High Court. A number of pictures of the masque are available on the internet and are circulating on the social media which have clear telltale signs showing that the mosque was built on a temple.

Another high profile temple-idgah dispute brewing is that of Krishna temple and Shahi Idgah in Mathura. Many more such disputes are ping to arise, in spite of the Places of Worship Act 1991 which provides “for the maintenance of the religious character of any place of worship as it existed on the 15th day of August, 1947”. Ram Janm Bhoomi-Babari Masjid was considered an exception to this act, which is now settled by the Supreme Court.

Most people attribute flaring of these disputes to BJP’s Hindu identity politics, which seems to be only a partial truth. Partial because BJP did not create these disputes, and it could not have created, if there were not a festering wounds on the Hindu psyche and corresponding Muslim pride, if not in the acts of vandalism themselves, but in the bravery of the historical charters who inflicted this wound to Hindu civilization. No serious effort was ever made for reconciliation on this medieval barbarity. Our historians tried to whitewash these shameful acts of destruction of temples and building mosques on them through spacious theories of temple destruction being a common practice by kings in that era. This last even to the extent that the NCERT1 book suggests that the destruction of Somanatha temple by Mahmud Ghazani was same in character as Rajendra I, the Chola King, carrying away statues of deities from the temples of defeated Hindu kings. The combined effect of this white washing, equating two very different motives of the kings, often expressed pride by Muslim leader in ruling hover Hindus for eight hundred years like slaves (Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, as the most famous) never allowed the Hindu wounds to heal. I have talked to many Hindus on this issue, and what rankles them the most is denial that there were any such atrocities perpetrated on their ancesters. BJP found this festering wound useful in its politics and used it. But in its own right any democratic and justly secular nation should have addressed it through its normal politics. Now all these temples which were destroyed and particularly ones converted into mosques or built mosques forcibly on their grounds will open up. Neither BJP can stop it nor the extremely biased so-called liberals who killed secularism in India by completely distorting it.

Richard Eaton2, one of the historians who white washes these atrocities himself gives a list of eighty prominent temples destroyed by Muslim kings. Sita Ram Goel takes this number to thousands. Many of these destroyed temples were converted into mosques or built mosques on the same site with their material. Arun Shourie3 in an interesting artile titled “Hideaway Communalism” gives a list of seven such mosques: Qawwat al-Islam Mosque, The Mosque at Jaunpur, The Mosque at Qanauj, Jami (Masjid) at Etawah, Babri Masjid at Ayodhya (this one settled by the Supreme Court), Mosques of Alamgir (Aurangzeb) (the Gyanvapi Mosque), Mosque at Mathura at sitev of Govind Dev Mandir. The list is based on a book written by very reputed Islamic scholar Maulana Hakim Sayid Abdul Hai. Proper research may reveal dozens, if not hundreds, such mosques. Sooner or later they all will become part of the raging controversy in the country.

The Hindu-hardliners will demand control of all these mosques. In the first phase, for many of these mosques some so-called secular historians will come forwards and will try to obfuscate the issue by saying that there is no conclusive proof whether this of that mosque was constructed on a temple, or whether on an abandoned temple or on an active temple after destruction. It would be tough work for them now, as too much material is available to all public and this ruse will not work. In the second stage the fundamental Islamic principle of “once a mosque always a mosque” will be quoted, which will get a legal support from the waqf principle that once a property becomes invested in waqf can not be taken back. This tangle will be unresolvable and will further communalism the society. Distrust and hatred between the two community will keep on spiraling up.

The country should make all efforts to arrest this dangerous development and return to sanity, the communities in question should re-establish trust, and mutual goodwill towards each other. Resolving the issue of medieval temple destruction and converting them to mosques alone will will not solve our problems, but it will remove one painful point and may prepare ground for resolving other issues.

What could be done?

It seems to me to stem the mandir-musjid acrimony one has to be completely honest and fist has to acknowledge the wrongs done by Muslim kings without ifs, buts and without propounding unsustainable theories. A joint commission of historians and religious people from both sides can ascertain at the least the prominent temples destroyed and mosques built on them. Acknowledging that can be the first step.

As a second step hardliner Hindus have to understand that the barbarity of bigoted Muslim kings of that era can not be revisited on the nation again in the 21st century. Acknowledgment of the atrocities and considering them subhuman acts of religious bigotry should be enough. The ownership of the mosques should remain where it is today. No handing over, or changing the character of the place of worship. We are no more barbarians even if some are pushing us to be.

The Muslim community, and particularly the Islamists, have to learn not to throw these acts of bigotry on the face of their Hindu compatriots as heroic acts and stop taking pride in them. And in those who committed them.

All such mosques should always remain under the supervision of the Archaeological Survey of India. Their ownership should remain with the Muslim community as it is today, but they should not be able to change these structures in a manner that the evidence of their history gets destroyed. Therefore, every change, addition, renovation, restoration should happen strictly in the supervision of ASI and with its clear written approval with maps and all.

Every such property (mosques, idgah etc.) should have a board prominently displayed in front of each gate of its premises giving brief but clear history of the place. Who built the original structure, when, who changed/destroyed, when, in whose ownership is it today, etc.

This should be done once and then the chapter closed.

A simpler way could be that once the historically ascertained facts about prominent temples and mosques are established and agreed upon, the leader of both communities should sit together and come to an agreement that some of them which are considered of crucial importance may be peacefully handed over to the Hindus. But that kind of magnanimity does not seem to be possible in Islamic thought, as far as I understand it; even if many individual Muslims want such a solution it perhaps will never materialize.

A rhetorical whataboutery is often raised whenever one talks about destruction of temples by Muslim kings: what about the Buddhist monasteries and stupas destroyed by Hindu kings? Well, if (1) we have sufficient evidence of particular monasteries and supas which are in the possession of Hindus today, and (2) if there are Buddhists claimants them them, then (3) the Hindus should voluntarily hand them over to Buddhists. If the Hindus are adamant and do not agree then the same treatment as to the mosques should be mated out to them as well.


1NCERT, Oour Pasts II, page 66.

2Richard Eaton, Temple desecration in pre-modern India, FRONTLINE, DECEMBER 22, 2000