HYDERABAD — Hyderabad, which has not faced any communal trouble for quite some time now, seems to be grappling with the problem of late, particularly after a dispute over some construction activity at an old temple adjoining the historic Charminar in the Old City.
Following the activity in the Bhagya Lakshmi temple adjacent to the 16th century monument, tempers ran high in the communally sensitive old city areas, prompting police to step up vigil and impose prohibitory orders to prevent any outbreak of riots.
Trouble began when scaffoldings and other temporary structures appeared at the small temple last week, with local Muslims backed by Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) opposing the move following apprehensions that the temporary structure would eventually lead to construction of a huge temple that could deface the historic Charminar.
Rumours that the temple authorities were planning to expand the existing premises only added fuel to fire, leading to tension in the area. MIM President and Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owasi alleged that police inaction was responsible for the rise of Hindutva forces in the area over the past few days. “We will not hesitate to withdraw support to the government if it fails to contain these forces and maintain law and order in the city,” Owaisi warned.
With seven MLAs in the State Legislative Assembly, MIM enjoys considerable clout in the old city, and the party’s support is crucial for the ruling Congress which has a wafer-thin majority in the Assembly.
MIM and other Muslim groups have raised serious objections to what they called “attempts to deface Charminar” by taking up expansion works at the disputed temple site.
They alleged that Hindu groups like Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Bajrang Dal and Hindu Vahini were trying to expand the temple in the name of erecting a temporary structure for decorating the premises for Diwali celebrations. However, the trustees of Bhagyalakshmi temple maintained that they were only replacing the worn-out bamboo structures with new ones ahead of the festive season. “Our family has been managing the temple affairs for decades now. We are the fourth generation that has taken up the reins of the religious structure,” Sasikala, one of the five trustees of the temple, said, adding: “Each time there is damage to the bamboo structure, we replace it. It is an ongoing process.”
Hindu groups claim that the temple erected on the eastern side of the historic monument, is over 150 years old, but several experts dispute the claim and point out that the devotees started visiting the shrine only about 50 years ago. With the growing influence of Hindu organisations in the city, the temple began gaining prominence and during festivals, they put up loudspeakers and play devotional songs.
Meanwhile, the High Court, acting on a couple of Public Interest Litigation petitions, last week ordered that status quo be maintained at Charminar and directed removal of temporary structure around the temple.
City Police Commissioner Anurag Sharma, claiming that the situation was now under control, said: “We have to implement the high court order. So, we have asked the temple authorities to remove the temporary pandal.” — firstname.lastname@example.org