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Thursday, 14 March, 2002, 17:35 GMT
Ayodhya Muslims live in dread
Riot police in Ayodhya
Riot police are out, but Muslims do not feel safe
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By Sanjoy Majumder
BBC News Online correspondent in Ayodhya

Plans by Hindu hardliners to go ahead with a controversial religious ceremony in the northern Indian town of Ayodhya has left most of its Muslim residents apprehensive.

Why are they allowed to visit Ayodhya and raise sectarian tensions?

Muslim leader Mohammad Hashim Ansari
Many of them have vivid memories of the religious violence that was unleashed when Hindu zealots tore down a 16th century mosque 10 years ago, claiming it was built over a spot marking the birthplace of their God, Rama.

And the violence that rocked the state of Gujarat recently, leading to more than 700 deaths - most of the victims Muslim - has left them fearful that it might be repeated here.

Despite the heavy presence of security forces, with police at every street corner, many Muslim residents have opted to move out of town, at least until things quieten down.

Deserted Muslim home in Ayodhya
Muslims have locked up and left town
In the town's Muslim quarter, rows of locked houses can be seen as entire families have fled to neighbouring towns and villages.

All the women and children have been moved out to safer locations.

"Ayodhya has more than 5,000 Muslims," says local journalist Sushil Pandey.

"Now, only a few hundred are left."

Fear of authority

Mohammad Hashim Ansari is a local Muslim leader who is pushing for the demolished mosque to be rebuilt on its original site.

Muslim leader Mohammad Hashim Ansari
Mohammad Hashim Ansari: Muslims are a target
He is furious with the authorities for allowing Hindu nationalist leaders into Ayodhya despite their plans to conduct a religious ceremony at the disputed site.

"Why are they allowed to visit Ayodhya and raise sectarian tensions?" he demands.

"All they want is to turn Ayodhya into Gujarat and target us."

Mr Ansari and other Muslims are also critical of the security forces.

"No [official] has visited us to ask us what we want or what our concerns are. And we do not trust the police - we saw how effective they were in Gujarat.

"When we are being targeted, they always look the other way," he says.

Bitter memories

Mohammad Aslam was a young boy when the mosque was brought down on 6 December, 1992.

  • 1. Proposed Ram temple
  • 2. Site where VHP placed symbolic pillar
  • 3. Site of demolished mosque

      Click here to read more about the disputed site

  • But he remembers the day well.

    "Thousands of Hindus rushed through the streets, bearing tridents and swords and wearing saffron bandannas," he recalls.

    "Then they turned on us."

    Nearly 270 Muslim houses were attacked and looted, many of them destroyed.

    Half of the town's 36 mosques were destroyed and several Muslim graveyards desecrated.

    "No one helped us. The police didn't come to our assistance. Things only calmed down when the army was deployed," says Aslam.

    'We are Indians too'

    Ayodhya's Muslims are unhappy with Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party for letting the Hindu hardliners have their say.

    mosque in Ayodhya
    Muslims say their rights are being denied
    "These [Hindu] leaders do not want to wait for the verdict of the courts. They say they will not honour a verdict that will go against them," says Saiful Qadri, a Muslim trader.

    "Isn't that breaking the law? Doesn't that make them anti-national? Instead, it's always the Muslim who is suspected of being a terrorist and a Pakistani supporter.

    "Muslims were part of the [Indian] independence movement," adds Mohammad Hashim Ansari. "Why is that always forgotten? We are Indians too."

    Mohammad Aslam is unsure what Friday has in store for Ayodhya's Muslims.

    "It's our day of prayer. It's all in His hands," he says, raising his hands upwards.

    See also:

    13 Mar 02 | South Asia
    Ayodhya ceremony 'to go ahead'
    10 Mar 02 | South Asia
    Muslim leaders reject Ayodhya plan
    09 Mar 02 | South Asia
    Call for army at Ayodhya site
    07 Mar 02 | South Asia
    Hindu hardliners 'will abide by court'
    05 Mar 02 | South Asia
    Hindu hardliners 'agree compromise'
    14 Feb 02 | Country profiles
    Country profile: India
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