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Gujarat's Muslim heritage smashed in riots
By Luke Harding in New Delhi
London, The Guardian
Two hundred and thirty unique Islamic monuments, including an exquisite 400-year-old mosque, were destroyed or vandalised during the recent anti-Muslim riots in the Indian state of Gujarat, according to a local survey.
Experts say the damage is so extensive that it rivals the better publicised destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan or the wrecking of Tibet's monasteries by the Red Guards.
Several monuments have been reduced to rubble in the course of the riot, in which 2,000 people, mainly Muslims, have died. In other disturbances, Hindu gangs have smashed delicate mosque screens, thrown bricks at Persian inscriptions, and set fire to old Korans.
"This has been a systematic attempt to wipe out an entire culture," said Teesta Setalvad of Sapara, a body opposed to communal strife, who compiled the list. One of the monuments razed was the tomb of Vali Gujarati, the grandfather of Urdu poetry and inspiration of many later poets and singers, who died in Ahmedabad, the state's main city, in 1707.
In recent years the tomb lay in the middle of a busy main road. On the night of March 1 Hindu gangs with pickaxes smashed it and replaced it with a small brick temple dedicated to the Hindu monkey-god Hanuman.
Two days later the state authorities flattened the spot completely. "I drove over him recently when I went to the airport," Ms Setalvad said yesterday. "The government people used machinery to tar over him in a few hours."
Last weekend the Hindu nationalist state government, which is accused of complicity in the pogroms, stopped a group of intellectuals rebuilding the poet's grave. They lacked permission, police officers said.
Several of Vali's fans have pointed out his own verse almost anticipates his ending:
The city of whose songs I
have always sung
Why can I not bear to live in
that city now?
The destruction of his tomb has prompted much soul-searching by secular intellectuals, who have been pondering whether Hindu-Muslim relations can ever recover from the worst religious riots in India for 10 years.
They point out that the attacks follow a pattern established in 1992 when Hindu zealots demolished the 16th-century mosque in Ayodhya.
Right-wing Hindu scholars have argued that India's Mughal kings knocked down several Hindu temples to build their own imperial mosques and that Hindu gangs who tear down Muslim shrines are merely "redeeming the past".
"By destroying the symbols of a community you destroy the community itself," said Professor Imtiaz Ahmed, of the Jarwaharlal Nehru University in Delhi. The tragedy, secular historians say, is that Hindus and Muslims in Gujarat have a long tradition of tolerance.
Arab traders first arrived on the west coast of India in the late 7th century and by the early 10th century there were 10,000 Muslims in Gujarati ports.
And like many of India's Muslim rulers, Ahmedabad's 15th-century sultan and founder, Ahmad Shah I, married a rajput (Hindu) princess. His mosques and civic buildings incorporated Islamic and rajput elements and he employed Hindus in the highest offices of state.
Gujarati Muslims are, therefore, among India's longest-established sects, and most of them are descended from converts, not "foreign invaders".
Several 16th-century buildings have been pulverised. They include two 400-year-old mosques, one of them apparently bulldozed in the presence of two ministers in the state government.
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