India begins construction of controversial Hindu temple at centre of bloody communal violence

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Hindus say the site was holy for them long before the Muslim Mughals, India’s most prominent Islamic rulers, built the Babri Mosque there in 1528.

Members of the Socialist Democratic Party of India (SDPI) hold placards and shout slogan against the ground breaking ceremony of a Lord Ram temple in Ayodhya, in Chennai on August 5, 2020. ARUN SANKAR/AFP via Getty Images

Hindu protesters demolished the mosque in 1992, triggering riots in which about 2,000 people, most of them Muslim, were killed.

Many Muslims in Ayodhya have welcomed construction of the temple in the hope that it would end years of acrimony with Hindus and help bring economic growth but an influential Muslim group spoke out against it.

“Usurpation of the land by an unjust, oppressive, shameful and majority-appeasing judgment can’t change its status,” the All-India Muslim Personal Law Board said on Twitter.

“No need to be heartbroken. Situations don’t last forever.”

Bricks of gold and silver

Many members of India’s Muslim minority saw last year’s court ruling awarding the site to Hindus as part of a pattern by the Hindu-nationalist government aimed at sidelining Muslims.

The government denies that.

Wednesday’s launch of construction came on the first anniversary of the scrapping by Modi’s government of special privileges for India’s only Muslim-majority state of Jammu and Kashmir, another highly contentious issue for Muslims.

The BJP had long called for disputed Kashmir’s special autonomy to be revoked. The government said the change was necessary to develop the strife-torn region and integrate it with the rest of India.

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi attends the foundation-laying ceremony of a Hindu temple in Ayodhya, August 5, 2020. India’s Press Information Bureau/Handout via REUTERS

Before the launch of construction of the temple, Modi took part in Hindu rituals that included the chanting of Vedic mantras by saffron-clad priests to bless the site.

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