Indian Muslim's passion to protect Hindu temples


17.08.2003 - 13:00
By Kamil Zaheer

http://www.swisspolitics.org/en/news/index.php?section=int&page=news_inhalt&news_id=4137018

PATHRA, India (Reuters) - Mohammad Yeasin Pathan has
paid a high price for his devotion to history. Muslims
have shunned him, Hindus
have kicked and punched him and anonymous callers have
threatened to kill him.

But none of this has dimmed the Muslim school clerk's
determination to work to preserve a collection of
18th-century Hindu temples in
eastern India.

"I passionately respect history. Everyone should, and
it does not matter whether one is a Hindu or a
Muslim," said Pathan, speaking amid
the terracotta-and-brick temples in the
Hindu-dominated village of Pathra west of Calcutta.

Pathan's volunteer efforts over the last two decades
to preserve the 34 temples at Pathra are rare in a
country where tensions between
Hindus and the 12 percent Muslim minority have led to
thousands of deaths over the past 14 years.

"I remember a number of years ago, I was kicked,
punched and slapped by some Hindus when I stopped them
from taking away bricks of
temples to build houses. They told me to keep out of
the affairs of temples," the 50-year-old practising
Muslim said.

"Some Muslims still call me kafir (non-believer)."

TEMPLE-MOSQUE DISPUTE

Communal tensions have worsened in India since 1992
when Hindu fanatics razed the 16th-century Babri
mosque in the northern town of
Ayodhya, sparking riots in which over 3,000 people
died.

Hindu nationalists, including many in the ruling
Bharatiya Janata Party, say the mosque was built on
top of a temple dedicated to the Hindu
god-king Ram.

"I hated it when the Babri Masjid (mosque) was
destroyed and wanted to stop looking after temples,
but I realised Muslims and Hindus have
to live together," said Pathan.

The bespectacled father-of-four said that, after the
mosque's demolition, some Muslim clerics near Pathra
urged Muslims not to socialise
with him because he looked after temples.

"Luckily, the boycott call did not really catch on as
people felt it could cause tension."

The atmosphere worsened again in 2002 after a fresh
outbreak of communal violence in western Gujarat state
-- the worst since 1992 -- in
which more than 1,000 people, mainly Muslims, died.

"Some people, I don't know which religion, called me
after the Gujarat riots and said they would kill me if
I continued my work with Hindu
temples. But I will not stop," Pathan said.

"A GOOD HUMAN BEING"

Many credit Pathan with preventing Pathra's temples
from disappearing over the years due to the theft of
bricks and the corrosive impact of
time and nature.

He spends most of his spare time checking on the
temples or campaigning tirelessly to get official
government help to protect and restore
them, travelling even to New Delhi and Calcutta to
lobby for support.

At Pathra, dotted with temples mostly dedicated to
Shiva, the Hindu god of destruction, and Vishnu, the
god of preservation, most Hindus
welcome Pathan.

"Some Hindus don't like him but most of us respect him
for he is a good human being and has done selfless
work for our temples," Prabhas
Bhattacharya, a Hindu cloth salesman, sitting outside
a temple.

Bhattacharya belongs to a panel set up by Pathan to
help restore the temples, some of which rise 70 feet
(21 meters) high.

Due to the committee's efforts, the government-run
Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has agreed to
consider declaring Pathra's temples
-- built by feudal landlords between 250 and 300 years
ago -- as monuments of national importance and taking
over their upkeep.

The ASI has already restored five temples, filling in
cracks and putting in bricks in gaps created by stolen
ones.

But a number are covered with vegetation, with
figurines of Hindu gods and goddesses crumbling on
their tan-coloured facades.

"Pathan's efforts in protecting the temples are all
the more commendable as he is a Muslim," said Bimal
Bandopadhyay, a senior ASI
archaeologist.

For Pathan, history is also about learning.





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