US President Donald Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during a “Howdy, Modi” rally celebrating Modi at NRG Stadium in Houston, Tex. (Daniel Kramer / Reuters)

By Pranay Somayajula / The Nation

On the morning of December 6, 1992, a crowd of 150,000 Hindus assembled outside the Babri Masjid, a 16th-century mosque in the North Indian city of Ayodhya. One by one, representatives of the country’s most prominent Hindu nationalist organizations took the stage to call for the construction of a Hindu temple on the site of the mosque, which they alleged had been built over the birthplace of the Hindu deity Ram.

As the speeches went on, the crowd, clad in saffron and chanting slogans, grew increasingly restless. Finally, around noon, a few young activists broke through the police cordons, and the mob quickly followed, armed with iron rods and pickaxes. Within hours, the nearly 500-year-old structure had been completely razed. The demolition of the Babri Masjid sparked communal rioting between Hindus and Muslims across the country—most prominently in Bombay, where over 900 were killed and thousands forced to flee the city.

The mosque’s demolition was the culmination of a campaign launched eight years earlier by India’s Hindu nationalist movement, tired of decades spent on the political fringes in the post-Independence era. The rally featured several speakers who would go on to secure prominent positions in the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), including soon-to-be home minister and later deputy prime minister L.K. Advani.

Among these speakers was a woman known as Sadhvi Rithambara, whose oratorical prowess and incendiary rhetoric had made her a regular campaigner for the BJP in the 1989 and 1991 elections. Her speeches, which demonized the Muslim minority and called for war between Hindus and Muslims, had been widely disseminated on cassette tapes in the run-up to the Ayodhya rally. In the wake of the deadly violence that followed, Indian historian Tanika Sarkar described Rithambara and her speeches as “the single most powerful instrument for whipping up anti-Muslim violence.”

Fast forward 20 years to Tuesday, August 30: Rithambara, invited by national Hindu groups, performed religious services at the Global Mall in Norcross, Ga. The event, which was condemned by civil society groups including Hindus for Human Rights, CAIR, and the Indian American Muslim Council, drew more than 100 protesters outside the mall calling for Rithambara to be disinvited and denounced as a “Hindu extremist leader.” On Friday, September 9, the Old Paramus Reformed Church in Ridgewood, N.J., canceled a separate planned event featuring Rithambara, citing controversy over her extremist affiliations.

Rithambara’s American appearances came just weeks after Indian Independence Day celebrations across the country sparked contention for featuring Hindu nationalist activity and imagery. At the August 15 India Day Parade in Edison, N.J., hosted by the Indian Business Association, participants marched alongside a bulldozer emblazoned with the faces of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh Yogi Adityanath, whose policy of demolishing the homes of Muslim protesters has turned the bulldozer into a symbol of Hindu nationalism and Indian state violence. At a town hall meeting following the parade, Edison Mayor Samip Joshi denounced the bulldozer as an unwelcome “symbol of division and discrimination”; the bulldozer float was also condemned by a coalition of New Jersey state legislators, as well as US Representative Bonnie Watson Coleman, who called it a “display of bigotry” with “no place in New Jersey.” On the other side of the country, an Independence Day parade in Anaheim, Calif., saw clashes between parade participants and demonstrators protesting against Hindu nationalism (also known as Hindutva) and caste discrimination, with marchers shoving protesters and hurling anti-Muslim slurs.

This story was originally published in . Read the full story here