Imagine a world without the Taj Mahal – The Diplomat


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Also, will the Qutub Minar and Taj Mahal be destroyed by Hindutva vandals like the 500-year-old Babri Masjid and replaced with temples?

Muslims in India don’t seem to be taking a break. Each week there is a new attack on their beliefs, culture, heritage, property and even themselves.

In just the past few weeks, Muslim women in Karnataka have been banned from wearing hijab. In northern India, police have used bulldozers to demolish their homes without due process. Muslims continued to be lynched by Hindu mobs; Most recently, a Muslim vendor was beaten to death in Ajmer, a famous Sufi destination.

The burgeoning culture war against Muslims involves an elaborate attack on India’s Islamic heritage. Right-wing Hindu groups are now demanding that the name of the Qutb Minar be changed to Vishnu Stambh (Vishnu Pillar). There is already an ongoing campaign to designate the Taj Mahal as a Hindu temple and rename it the Tejo Mahalaya, an idea now being pursued more aggressively.

The playbook and players that led to the demolition of the Babri Masjid and the start of construction of a Ram Temple in its place are at it again. This time the targets are Gyanvapi Mosque in Varanasi and Shahi Eidgah (Royal Place of Eid Worship) in Mathura.

For nearly a century, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a Hindu nationalist movement, has been trying to redefine India as a Hindu state. RSS has been exerting political influence in India for some time, with the back-to-back electoral victories of its political branch, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), in 2014 and 2019. One can see the manifestations of their ideological aspirations in the policies of the BJP governments.

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Two of the goals of the RSS appear to be to erase the Muslim presence from the present and to rewrite India’s Islamic past and heritage.

Several directives and laws have already been implemented to pursue the first goal. The Citizenship Amendment Act discriminates against Muslims and, in combination with the National Citizen Register, can and has rendered hundreds of thousands of Muslims stateless. Violence against Muslims by pro-Hindutva mobs and thugs has become commonplace, often aided by law enforcement agencies. Instead of protecting Muslims, the police have resorted to protecting those who attack them. The rule of law in India has declined to such an extent that it is sometimes difficult to separate the police force from extremist mobs.

Hindu preachers are now openly calling for genocide against Muslims with no legal or political consequences. While suspected Muslim stone-throwers have their homes destroyed by police, well-documented calls for genocide do not even deserve proper police reports without the intervention of the nation’s highest court. The law and state-tolerated violence are forcing Muslims to become invisible as many now change their names and hide their religious affiliation to survive in India.

The cultural war against the Islamic past is the surreal side of the Hindutva’s social transformation of India. The strategy to erase Islam from the past has two elements, both of which can be summed up as civilizational vandalism. The first tactic is simple: destroy Islamic icons from the past and replace them with Hindu monuments. Destroying the Babri Mosque and allocating the land to build a Ram Temple is the most dramatic example of the first strategy.

Cities, buildings and monuments are now being renamed. National Public Radio (NPR) did a report on this history erasure. But even more shocking is that apocryphal myths are fabricated and circulated, mainly among the less educated masses, to essentially rewrite the past. The latest destinations of this fake history are the famous Taj Mahal and Qutub Minar, two of Islamic India’s most celebrated icons and major tourist attractions for both domestic and foreign visitors.

Hindutva demagogues spread the myth that the two monuments are Hindu temples and should therefore be renamed and converted to Hindu temples. A mob is already gathering at these monuments, demanding that history and reality be turned upside down.

The world is slowly waking up to the ongoing state tolerated and state sponsored atrocities against Muslims, Dalits and Christians in India. The media is full of stories about the decline of human rights, rising authoritarianism and violence against minorities in India. The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has consistently registered the atrocities against Muslims and other minorities in India and has repeatedly asked the State Department to designate India as a Country of Special Concern (CPC) since 2020.

What has gone unnoticed is an ongoing surreal clash of civilizations.

Whether it’s portraying all Muslim rulers as evil anti-Hindu marauders, trying to steal history by renaming iconic sites and monuments, or simply rewriting the past, the current Hindutva movement is waging a cultural war against the Islamic past of India. Will the Qutub Minar and Taj Mahal also be destroyed by vandals like the 500-year-old Babri Masjid and replaced with temples?

It’s hard to imagine India or even the world without the Taj Mahal.


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