Members of the Indian-American community gathered in large numbers in Times Square Aug. 5 in a daylong celebration of the groundbreaking ceremony of the much-awaited Ram temple at Ayodhya, India, watching agog magnificent images of the proposed shrine that was beamed across a giant digital billboard at the iconic mid-Manhattan commercial hub.
Men and women, dressed in colorful Indian attire raised slogans hailing Lord Ram and praised prime minister Narendra Modi, who laid the first silver bricks for the temple in Ayodhya, for helping realize the dreams of millions of Hindus all over the world.
For most of those present at the event it was a proud and auspicious moment for all Indians. “Today, the Indian-American community is very happy that our Lord Ram along with our Ayodhya temple, is being prominently displayed in the heart of Manhattan” along with India’s tricolor. Ram Temple in Ayodhya is something that has been a dream for we Indians and Hindus for centuries. We, at least never thought that we would be able to realize this dream in our lifetime. Today this has become a reality,” Jagdish Sewhani, chairman of the newly-formed Ram Janambooomi Shilanyas Celebration Committee of USA, that organized the event, told India Life.
Sewhani in a brief speech at the event said the groundbreaking celebration at Ayodhya is not simply the foundation of a brick-and-mortar building but is the foundation of Ram Rajya Bharat. “It is the foundation stone to make Bharat the “Vishwa Guru”, which believes in “Vashudhaib Kutumbkam” and treats entire world as one family,” Sewhani who is also president of an organization, the American India Public Affairs Committee, said in a brief interview.
The controversial temple is being built on a piece of land that once housed the Babri Masjid before its demolition by Hindu hard-liners in 1992. Since then, the temple issue has sharply divided the Hindu and Muslim communities.
Hindus believe the site is the birthplace of Lord Ram while Muslims assert that they have worshipped there for generations. The feisty issue continued to linger with both Hindus and Muslims filing petitions for review, albeit on different grounds.
The Times Square celebration and Wednesday’s ground-breaking ceremony in India followed a November 2019 ruling by India’s Supreme Court that favored the building of a Hindu temple on the site, although it also ordered that Muslims be given 5 acres of land to build a new mosque at a nearby site. Bothe communities accepted the court ruling, although the allocation of a separate plot to Muslims, and not the original Babri Masjid site for a mosque, did not quite please the Muslim community.
Sewhani estimated that some 5,000 Hindus and also some Sikhs from the Richmond Hill Gurdwara in Queens , participated from 10 am to 10 pm in the Times Square celebration that generated a festive mood among people.
But alongside the celebrations, there were some discordant voices too at the event.
The “Coalition to Stop Genocide in India”, a broad coalition of Indian Americans and U.S. based civil rights organizations and activists organized a counter rally at Times Square, in order to protest the celebration of the destruction of the Babri Mosque in India.
The protesters held placards and chanted slogans to highlight “massive human rights abuses” in India, by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led by Modi. They claimed that the protests were a reminder that normalizing hate and bigotry would not go unchallenged in the U.S.
“There is no doubt that Ram is a revered figure in Hinduism, and respect for all religions is part of our commitment to pluralism," said Jawad Mohammed, General Secretary of the Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC).
“However, people's reverence for Ram has been manipulated in order to serve a vile and hateful agenda whose evil fruits are evident not only across India but now increasingly in the U.S. as well,” Mohammed added.
Sunita Vishwanath, President of Hindus for Human Right, said in brief remarks during the protest that one learns in the Ramayana that Lord Rama's birthplace is Ayodhya. “However, our scripture does not specify where in Ayodhya Lord Rama was born. The reality is that the Ram Temple issue was leveraged by Hindutva forces to polarize Indian society in a destructive campaign that has resulted in untold human suffering and that continues to this day," Vishwanath said.
New York City Councilmember Daniel Dromm said in a statement that sadly, far-right extremists in both India and the U.S. have especially taken to demonizing and denigrating Muslims.
“I condemn any attack on an individual or group because of their faith and stand with my Muslim siblings here in my district and in India as they fight for dignity and human rights,” he said.
S. Karthikeyan of Ambedkar King Study Circle (AKSC), said, “Political Hinduism is not a religious issue, it's a class issue and final victory is possible by uniting the workers, peasants and the socially oppressed sections. In a message Karthikeyan said, “Today's protest in New York has brought various sections together to challenge the Hindutva project.”
The celebration organizers admitted that there were “some protests” but dismissed them as too small and of no consequence in the midst of a sea of Ram Bhaktas celebrating their dream-come-true.”