Notes on the Atrocities
Like a 100-watt radio station, broadcasting to the dozens...


Monday, August 25, 2003  

Two bombs exploded in Bombay (Mumbai) earlier today. The events are still sketchy--I can't find any info about who set them off. They were car bombs placed in taxis, one going off at the Gateway of India (roughly equivalent to the Eiffel Tower or Statue of Liberty in significance to the city) and a second near the Mumbadevi Temple in the city's jewelry district. The death count at this writing is 44; it will probably climb.

As shocking as this news is, it's perhaps less significant than another, closely related story. The Archaelogical Survey of India today released a report that finds evidence of a Hindu temple on the site of the destroyed Mosque in Ayodhya. This is really, really big news. For those of you who haven't followed this story, it is, briefly:

In 1528, during the Mughal reign in India, Muslims erected the Babri Masjid (mosque) in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh. Religious violence began as early as 1853, but things didn't really pick up steam until the 1980s, when Hindus began to mount a campaign to have the mosque torn down. According to Hindus, the Mosque was built on the site of Lord Rama, the hero of the Ramayana and a human incarnation of the God Vishnu. That mosque-destruction movement was precipitated by the forerunners of the fundamentalist Hindu political parties (one of which, the BJP, now runs the country). Then in 1992 Hindus destroyed the mosque, sparking Hindu-Muslim violence across the country that killed thousands (and recalled the bloodletting of independence). Since then, both sides have become more violent, and Hindu fundamentalists now want the country to be ruled by Hindu law. In the past year, 50 Hindus and at least 900 Muslims have been killed in sectarian violence.

Sometime today someone will take credit for the bombings. It doesn't really matter whom; there will certainly be retribution. This is a 500-year old dispute, and the ASI report just makes it all that more volatile. What's at risk, ultimately, is one of the world's most diverse democracies, and the largest. India has endured epochs of violence, but rarely has it managed unity. This 56-year experiment is a good one, and those of us who have been constantly inspired by it can only cringe when we see events like this unfold.

posted by Jeff | 9:30 AM |
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