NEW DELHI, India, March 30 (Reuter): 100,000 Moslems marched from India’s biggest mosque to the capital’s Parliament today to protest against the opening of a religious shrine to Hindu worshippers.
Protestors in white pilgrim caps poured from the Jama Masjid Mosque beneath sea of Moslem green banners demanding the retum of the shrine which a court awarded last year to majority Hindus.
The dispute has rallied many of India’s 80 million Moslems around an emotive issue which threatens to plunge them into growing conflict with the country’s 100 million Hindus.
Both religions claim the site at Ayodhya, a small town in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, 560 km (350 miles) east of Delhi.
“The Mosque should be restored to us, it was taken by the government on the pretext of a judicial decision”, Javed Habib, an organizer of the demonstration told Reuters.
Hindus revere the Ayodhya shrine as the birthplace of their God Ram. But India’s 16th century Moghul conquerors built a mosque called Babri Masjid on the site.
It was closed in 1949 to prevent fighting between the two faiths.
Habib fired the crowd packed into the courtyard of the Red Sandstone Mosque in the heart of Delhi’s old walled city by shouting religious slogans.
The demonstrators, who came from all over India, then filed through the front arch of the Mosque passing thousands coming in the opposite direction to pray before joining the march.
The rally was called by a controversial committee headed by Syed Shahabuddin, an opposition Janata Party Member of Parliament who is trying to woo Moslem fundamentalists from Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s Congress (I) Party.
The organizers said about 200,000 people marched but police put the numbers at less than 100,000.
The demonstration started peacefully with riot police lining the route through the capital’s traffic clogged streets.
There had been fears of violence with militant Moslems threatening to defy a police ban on an earlier march through the city.
Scores of people have been killed in Hindu Moslem clashes and police firing across North India
since the Uttar Pradesh High Court ruling last year.
Moderate leaders of both faiths have held meetings to resolve the dispute but fundamentalists on both sides have garnered increased support for their claim to the shrine.
Habib said the dispute had aroused Moslems who often view themselves as Hindu India’s largest oppressed minority. Many Moslems left the country in 1947 when Moslem majority Pakistan was carved out of British India at independence.
“A whole generation of Indian Moslems has woken up,” Habib said as veiled women watched the men only march from first floor balconies.
“Our fight is not with Hindus who we treat as our brothers under Islam”, Habib said.
“We appeal to the government to restore Babri Masjid to restore our dignity. India cannot afford this alienation”, he said.
Today’s rally is just the opening shot in another round of protests by both sides. The fundamentalist World Hindu Organization plans a march to Ayodhya on April 5.
Article extracted from this publication >> April 3, 1987