Trouble at the temple: ban on Muslims a sign of India’s new intolerance (The Guardian)

Different faiths were once able to celebrate together in Karnataka. Now Hindu vigilante groups are targeting those who don’t share their beliefs

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For 800 years, Bappanadu Sri Durgaparameshwari temple had stood as a symbol of India’s cohesive religious past. It is said that the Hindu temple, which sits on the bank of the Shambhavi River in India’s southern state of Karnataka, was built by a Muslim merchant, Bappa Beary, after a goddess came to him in a dream. The land to build the temple was donated by a local Jain ruler.

Over the centuries, its unique origins were regularly honoured and the annual festivals, celebrations and buffalo races that took place at Bappanadu temple were attended by Hindus, Muslims, Christians and Jains alike.

“There was always this harmony,” said Dugganna Sawantha, a member of the temple committee and direct descendent of the Jain king who donated the temple land. “But last year, that’s when the troubles began.”

Dugganna Sawantha, the hereditary trustee of the Bappanadu Sri Durgaparameshwari temple
Dugganna Sawantha, the hereditary trustee of the Bappanadu Sri Durgaparameshwari temple, at his house in Mulki, Karnataka. He is the direct descendant of the Jain king who donated the land to build the temple. Photograph: Shaikh Azizur Rahman/The Guardian

Days before the annual 23-day festival was due to begin last April, Sawantha was approached by Bajrang Dal, a rightwing Hindu vigilante group that is active across the state, often targeting Muslims. It issued him a warning: no Muslims were to be allowed to set up stalls at the festival or take part in celebrations.

Bappanadu was not the only temple identified. Bajrang Dal members began to hang banners up in nearby towns and the city of Mangalore reading “no permission for those who are against the constitution and those who kill cattle”. Then, Karnataka’s chief minister, Basavaraj Bommai, from the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata party (BJP), issued a statement supporting the ban.

The ban then spread to other nearby temples, as BJP government officials began enforcing it. For the hundreds of Muslims who relied on selling their wares on the temple festival circuit, it was devastating. Umar, 52, who sells cosmetics, used to make about £1,500 a year from his stall – but now he barely makes £50.

“We are desperate, our traditional business is dying and I’m not making enough to survive,” he said.

While most states in India’s south have been largely unaffected by the Hindu nationalist politics that now dominate north and west India, Karnataka has long been the exception; though communal divisions have not taken root across the whole state, they are highly prevalent along the 200-mile-long coastal belt. The BJP has had political influence in the state since the 1980s.

Since 2014, the BJP has ruled India’s central government, led by Narendra Modi, the prime minister. But it was in 2018 that the party returned to power in Karnataka, beckoning in the most rightwing government in the state’s history. This week, as the state goes to the polls, the party is seeking re-election…

This story was originally published in Read the full story here

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