Gujarat's Muslim heritage smashed in riots

Luke Harding in New Delhi


Saturday June 29, 2002,4273,4451027,00.html

Two hundred and thirty unique Islamic monuments,

including an exquisite 400-year-old mosque, were

destroyed or vandalised during the recent anti-Muslim

riots in the Indian state of Gujarat, according to a

local survey.

Experts say the damage is so extensive that it rivals

the better publicised destruction of the Bamiyan

Buddhas in Afghanistan or the wrecking of Tibet's

monasteries by the Red Guards.

Several monuments have been reduced to rubble in the

course of the riot, in which 2,000 people, mainly

Muslims, have died. In other disturbances, Hindu gangs

have smashed delicate mosque screens, thrown bricks at

Persian inscriptions, and set fire to old Korans.

"This has been a systematic attempt to wipe out an

entire culture," said Teesta Setalvad of Sapara, a

body opposed to communal strife, who compiled the

list. One of the monuments razed was the tomb of Vali

Gujarati, the grandfather of Urdu poetry and

inspiration of many later poets and singers, who died

in Ahmedabad, the state's main city, in 1707.

In recent years the tomb lay in the middle of a busy

main road. On the night of March 1 Hindu gangs with

pickaxes smashed it and replaced it with a small brick

temple dedicated to the Hindu monkey-god Hanuman.

Two days later the state authorities flattened the

spot completely. "I drove over him recently when I

went to the airport," Ms Setalvad said yesterday. "The

government people used machinery to tar over him in a

few hours."

Last weekend the Hindu nationalist state government,

which is accused of complicity in the pogroms, stopped

a group of intellectuals rebuilding the poet's grave.

They lacked permission, police officers said.

Several of Vali's fans have pointed out his own verse

almost anticipates his ending:

The city of whose songs I

have always sung

Why can I not bear to live in

that city now?

The destruction of his tomb has prompted much

soul-searching by secular intellectuals, who have been

pondering whether Hindu-Muslim relations can ever

recover from the worst religious riots in India for 10


They point out that the attacks follow a pattern

established in 1992 when Hindu zealots demolished the

16th-century mosque in Ayodhya.

Right-wing Hindu scholars have argued that India's

Mughal kings knocked down several Hindu temples to

build their own imperial mosques and that Hindu gangs

who tear down Muslim shrines are merely "redeeming the


"By destroying the symbols of a community you destroy

the community itself," said Professor Imtiaz Ahmed, of

the Jarwaharlal Nehru University in Delhi. The

tragedy, secular historians say, is that Hindus and

Muslims in Gujarat have a long tradition of tolerance.

Arab traders first arrived on the west coast of India

in the late 7th century and by the early 10th century

there were 10,000 Muslims in Gujarati ports.

And like many of India's Muslim rulers, Ahmedabad's

15th-century sultan and founder, Ahmad Shah I, married

a rajput (Hindu) princess. His mosques and civic

buildings incorporated Islamic and rajput elements and

he employed Hindus in the highest offices of state.

Gujarati Muslims are, therefore, among India's

longest-established sects, and most of them are

descended from converts, not "foreign invaders".

Several 16th-century buildings have been pulverised.

They include two 400-year-old mosques, one of them

apparently bulldozed in the presence of two ministers

in the state government.


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