Rioting outside the Taj Mahal’s west gate took place on June 10 as the Archaeological Society of India (ASI) has been working to construct a new area. Members of India’s Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) are agitated that access to a 400-year-old temple has been obstructed. Despite another passage to access the Shiva temple, the VHP claims the alternative path is narrow and uncomfortable to traverse. The situation poses an intriguing nexus between modernisation of India’s most famous heritage site, protecting other sacred cultural monuments in the periphery, and pacifying the ultra-right.
The manner in which the VHP rioted — that is, violently — is lambasted. They vandalised a Unesco World Heritage site and appropriate arrests should be made with charges pressed. The damage could result in renovations that might impact the nearby temple that the VHP, ironically, are trying to reopen access to. The VHP’s way is far from the teachings of the revered Mahatma Gandhi who practised nonviolent protest. Admittedly, though, times are different and tensions between certain groups in India are high — perhaps not as gloomy as they were 70 years ago but still serious. India’s leadership should take notice of the violent degree to which the group went and investigate how to appease temple-goers so that future violent eruptions can be prevented.
Conversely, it is unfair for the temple-worshippers to solely have to surrender a main access to their temple. Provisions for easy access to the 400-year-old temple should have been included in the plans to construct the new area at the mausoleum as a show of deference to the Hindu faith. Not only is it the most common religion of the country but a solution that would allow easy access to the temple while allowing renovations to take place at the Taj Mahal would placate both the VHP and the ASI and serve as a contemporary example of two sub-cultures and religions coexisting. The latter is a much-needed practice against the backdrop of today’s friction and intolerance.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 14th, 2018.