Religious dispute threatens India’s iconic monument Qutub Minar

By Mikaela Viqueira

New Delhi, Jul 2 (EFE).- India’s iconic minaret Qutub Minar has become mired in a dispute due to the controversial demand of rebuilding 27 Hindu temples in the complex surrounding it, as these were allegedly destroyed to make way for Islamic monuments.

Considered the world’s tallest brick minaret at 72.5 meters, Qutub Minar is one of the most popular tourist attractions of the Indian capital.

According to historical texts, it was built as a symbol of victory after a Turkic invasion of the region in the 12th century.

The monuments surrounding the minaret, which include graves and mausoleums, a great doorway in the Indo-Islamic style – Alai-Darwaza – and two mosques, was ostensibly built from the material taken from 27 temples managed by the Hindu Brahmin (priest) caste, apart from the sanctum-sanctorum of a temple dedicated to god Vishnu.

“The sanctum sanctorum of Lord Vishnu was demolished, dismantled and statues were taken away and dishonored. So we are claiming for restoration of our original cultural heritage,” Ranjana Agnihotri, the lawyer representing the petitioners who have sought the rebuilding of the temples, told EFE.

The petition, filed by a group of Hindus, has raised concerns that the historical complex, declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1993, might be razed down, in line with other disputed religious monuments that have been demolished in the country recently.

However, Agnihotri clarified that they did not want to “change the nature of the Qutub Minar,” but to “restore the heritage of the original process.”

The lawyer claimed that Hindu priests had carried out “geometrical and mathematical experiments” at the temple complex but Muslim rulers had overtaken the site and destroyed “lots of interesting symbols,” such as statues of female deities, which were broken down to “humiliate Indian ladies.”

“It was never used by Muslims as a Muslim structure, but only in order to display the cultural heritage of the country,” she said.

However, Qutub Minar presents a series of features that go against the demand: in 1914 it was declared a protected national monument, and its status was “frozen” after India’s independence in 1947, which means that its legal status of the time cannot be changed subsequently, heritage expert KT Ravindran told EFE.

The architect said that even though it was a monument linked to the Islamic period, from a cultural point of view the minaret “has always been a symbol of victory in war,” beyond any religious practice, due to which its status should not be changed.

The demand has triggered concerns over the possible repeat of a similar episode in 1992, when a mob of Hindu fundamentalists destroyed the Babri mosque in Ayodhya, in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, in a movement backed by leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party, currently in power.

The Hindu right wing had claimed that the mosque was built on the birthplace of Hindu god Ram after destroying a temple, and launched a campaign to reclaim the site that resulted in violence in which around 2,000 people – mostly Muslims – were killed.

The Indian Supreme Court in 2019 gave a verdict in favor of the Hindu side and authorized the construction of a Hindu temple on the site.

Such controversies have arisen amid growing religious tensions in the country, which recently witnessed the brutal beheading of a Hindu man for allegedly supporting blasphemous comments against Prophet Mohammad made by a BJP spokesperson.

Several radical Hindu groups have approached Indian courts demanding the demolition of mosques or Islamic structures that they claim have been erected on sites originally belonging to Hindu structures.

In May, a court ordered a probe over the supposed discovery of a Hindu deity from the Gyanvapi mosque in the northern city of Varanasi.

Similar controversies have also surrounded the iconic Taj mahal in Agra and a medieval mosque in Mathura,

Agnihotri vowed to take her case to higher courts if the demands were not met.

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