Discontent increases as Demolitions Continue in Varanasi

The Kashi Vishwanath Precinct Development Project has gained momentum with the Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi, who also represents the Varanasi constituency in the Lok Sabha, laying the foundation stone on 8th March, 2019. The 600 crore project spread over 43,636 sq.km claims to have the aim of building a 50 feet wide corridor that will link the Kashi Vishwanath Temple to the Ganga river. It is being said that demolitions are being carried out with the objective to decongest the area and give pilgrims a swift access to one of the holiest Hindu temples. But this demolition drive is creating a chaotic situation with centuries old houses, institutions, temples being razed affecting thousands of people. For some residents of Kashi, this ‘development’ work is messing with the fundamental character of the city itself. More worryingly, observers fear that this work exposes the famous Gyanvapi mosque to the possibility of a communal attack. Afterall, the most famous Hindutva slogan after the demolition of the Babri masjid was, ‘ye to bas ek jhanki hai, Kashi, Mathura baaki hai’, or this is just a trailer, Kashi and Mathura are still to come. Gyanvapi Mosque, sitting right next to Kashi Vishwanath Temple, is the ‘Kashi’ of this slogan.

Temple demolition

For now, the resentment against the demolitions have only grown – as can be seen in this video. The shopkeepers have put up banners outside their shops as a mark of protest. The banner says “Ek hi Bhool, Kamal Ka phool. Modiji ek kaam karo, pehle roti ka intejaam karo fir humko berojgar karo” (The only mistake is that we voted for the Lotus which represents the BJP. Mr. Modi please arrange for our food before making us unemployed). The shopkeepers say that this corridor is turning their years of hard work into dust. They say that they have reached a stage where they do not have money to buy food as the police has closed the roads from both sides which has stopped customers’ access to their shops.

Another shopkeeper was asked whether Modi’s claim that the congestion made it difficult for Lord Shiva to breathe, thus it was necessary to decongest it is justified. He said that Varanasi is known for its maze of narrow lanes; it has always been a city of alleys and this beautification drive is taking away the identity of the 3000 year old city. The administration is trying to build a new Kashi by destroying its ancient culture and heritage.

The shopkeepers are losing their livelihoods with no clarity over the rehabilitation process. They have just been verbally assured that they will be given the shops in the corridor. But what will they do until then? They were not even consulted or warned before the project started. Suddenly, the authorities came to them and told to vacate the shops within three days or be ready for demolition. The shopkeepers were left baffled with no clue as to where should they go with a stock worth lakhs of rupees. With the skyrocketing rates, they cannot even afford to buy new shops.

Some of the shop-owners have been given a compensation but they do not even run the shops; most of them are rented since years. Thus, the worst-affected are the employees in the shop who are left to fetch for themselves and their families. The situation has become so grievous that they have been pushed to an acute state of destitution forcing them to beg or find other means to survive. They are trying all means possible to stop the rampant demolition and demand for rehabilitation; they have sent numerous letters to various official authorities for the same, but to no avail.

The protesters are even being threatened that they will be taken to the courts for violating the Model Code of Conduct (MCC). However, the shopkeepers are fearless and say that the government is violating the MCC by screening the NaMo channel in the streets of Varanasi. They are even unhappy with the Election Commission as it is not stopping the infinite violations done by the BJP. They therefore believe that it is their right to express their concerns and demand for rehabilitation.
The people in Kashi say that people are losing their lives but the government is just acting as a spectator. The Prime Minister is destroying numerous lives for his own dream project. They are completely against this corridor and are demanding to get their livelihood back.

Then there is the fear of another Babri Masjid like disaster in Kashi. This is because the Kashi Vishwanath Temple shares its wall with the 17th century Gyanvapi mosque. In fact the mosque does not find place in the design plan released by the PM. Earlier the Supreme Court had dismissed a writ petition filed by Anjuman Intazamiya Masjid (the caretaker of the mosque) and Jitendra Vyas (the manager of the temple) for putting a stay on the demolition and assured the petitioners that there is no threat to the mosque. However, the Sangh parivar’s hindutva designs are not hidden. Not surprisingly, the priests of the temple feel that this project is an attack on the Hindu culture and called the Modi-Yodi duo, Dharam Vyaparis (Religion Traders) and not Dharam Adhikari (Religion Upholders). Swami Avimukteshwaranand, the head of Sri Vidya Math in Varanasi said, “Jo pradhan mantri bana hua hai wo kehta hai ki wo hinduo ka sabse bada neta hai aur jo Uttar Pradesh ka mukhya mantri hai wo gerua kapda pehenta hai aur apne aap ko sant kehta hai lekin yeh log aisa kaam kar rahe hai jo Hinduo ke ghor virodhi bhi na kare. Yeh asli sanyasi nai hai, balki yeh asli Hindu hi nahi hai. Yeh Hindu ho hi nahi sakte.” (The PM says that he is the protector of all Hindus and the UP CM wears a saffron robe and calls himself a priest, but they are doing things that no true Hindu will do. They are fake saints; they are not even real Hindus.)

Varanasi is a city of harmony, where people from all religions have been staying together for ages. It is celebrated for its old world feel, picturesque temples, buzzling ghats and a maze of narrow lanes. The Kashi Vishwanath Corridor is destroying all of this. Its imposition on the people of Varanasi is not only destroying ancestral homes, livelihoods and age old temples but also a way of life that is ancient and distinct.



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