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Cultures cohabit at gunpoint

Dhar (Madhya Pradesh), Feb. 7: Within hours, the beast was out.

First, a group of Muslim namazis wearing white kurta pajamas tied above the ankles, skullcaps firmly in place, paid respects to Rab-ul-aalamiin (God of humanity). Then came a group of Hindu women in yellow and red saris, wearing silver anklets, singing verses in praise of Goddess Saraswati at the very spot the Muslims offered namaz.

The occasion could have been a perfect testimonial to the country’s composite culture except that it happened under the watchful eyes of 5,000 policemen and paramilitary forces in battle-ready gear. There were guns, lathis, video cameras and several companies of state police, Rapid Action Force and armymen on high alert.

But stepping out of Bhojshala, an 11th century monument that is now a common place of worship for both Hindus and Muslims, the two sides were back in business.

Someone gave a call: “Jai Shri Ram”. Pat came the reply from the namazis: “Bhojshala hamari hai”. Slogans flew back and forth. Then, the women’s group took charge: “Hum phool nahin chingari hain.”

Nervous policemen turned to their superiors but the senior IPS officers drawn from all over the state stayed calm. They kept shouting, asking the crowd and organisers to clear the premises fast. “Jaldi jaldi, please leave,” they pleaded as the two sides indulged in another round of sloganeering.

In the rest of Dhar, a rumour was doing the rounds — the Muslims and Hindus have clashed. Shopkeepers downed shutters for the second successive day. There were also exaggerated reports of a minor act of vandalism at an old fort where the shrine of a saint was damaged. The administration engaged masons to repair it between 1.30 and 2.30 am, so that by daybreak, everything was back to normal.

The shopkeepers, from both communities, were not complaining much. “Saal mein do din ka nuksaan koi bari baat nahin” (a loss of two days is not much in a year),” they said, hoping the annual trial of strength was over.

For the past 48 hours, Dhar, an underdeveloped township in tribal-dominated Madhya Pradesh, had been on edge. Yesterday, Praveen Togadia was here lambasting a particular community.

The local administration however, did not find much fault with his speech, pointing out that not once did the VHP international general secretary name chief minister Digvijay Singh.

“He kept accusing Singhs — Jai Chand, Mansingh and Jai Singh — for siding with the Mughals but he could not name Digvijay,” said Ramesh Chandra, a Congress activist, expressing satisfaction at the way things had been handled.

But the bad news is that the Hindu Jagran Manch is planning to launch an agitation to “liberate” Bhojshala from Muslim control from February 18. The structure will, therefore, have to be guarded round the clock. The Manch is also demanding that an idol of Saraswati be brought back from England and reinstated in what Muslims claim to be a mosque and Hindus a Sanskrit university.

Digvijay said he has written a letter to Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee to bring back the idol. But he is unwilling to state where it will be placed.

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