Several dozen people with the Coalition to Stop Genocide in India, a broad coalition of Indian Americans and U.S. based civil rights organizations and activists, gathered in Times Square to protest an ad and celebration they said promoted hate and Islamophobia on the evening of Wednesday, Aug. 5.
The Time Square ad, organized by the American Indian Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), was meant to celebrate the beginning of construction of the grand Ram Temple in Ayodhya, India. The AIPAC organized a billboard and projection of the ceremony in Ayodhya in celebration of India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and ruling party, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), fulfilling a campaign promise to build the Hindu temple.
But human rights groups said the imagery celebrates the destruction of the Babri Mosque, a 16th century mosque that was demolished by Hindutva nationalist militias as part of a political campaign by the BJP party. The BJP led a campaign to demolish the mosque, which the Supreme Court in India ruled illegal, was accompanied by the killing of hundreds of Muslims across India before and after its destruction, the Coalition stated.
“We learn in the Ramayana that Lord Rama’s birthplace is Ayodhya. However, our scripture does not specify where in Ayodhya Lord Rama was born. The reality is that the Ram Temple issue was leveraged by Hindutva forces to polarize Indian society in a destructive campaign that has resulted in untold human suffering and that continues to this day,”said Sunita Vishwanath, president of Hindus for Human Rights.
Some of the groups in attendance during the protest represent Queens communities with large South Asian populations, including Hindus for Human Rights and Sadhana: Coalition of Progressive Hindus.
Zohran Mamdani, who recently won the primary for State Assembly District 36 (Astoria), attended the protest and took to Twitter to explain why he felt it was a necessary demonstration.
“As an Indian Muslim whose family is witnessing the rising tide of fascism in India, I won’t be silent,” he wrote in a tweet. “As New Yorkers who are no strangers to the rise of right-wing nationalism at home, none of us should be silent.”
This is an old photo of Babri Masjid, a mosque that stood for over 400 years in the Indian city of Ayodhya.
In 1992, it was destroyed in a riot instigated by the BJP, now India's ruling party.
Tonight, Hindu nationalists will celebrate that atrocity in Times Square. (1/8) pic.twitter.com/oSE8kFmPIi
— Zohran Kwame Mamdani (@ZohranKMamdani) August 5, 2020
He told QNS that the “fight for a pluralistic society and fight against fascism is a global fight.”
“In our campaign, we talked extensively about how we cannot have terms and conditions for what we fight for, it must be true for all,” Mamdani said. “It’s not enough to oppose Donald Trump and turn a blind eye to what’s going on in India. I seek to draw no distinction, I seek to ensure that the principles are consistently applied. The ruling party in India have been financed by people in the diaspora. I’m soon to become one of the first Indian American representatives in this city, I have to make clear that the India that I come from didn’t look like the one it is now.”
Councilman Daniel Dromm said he is proud to represent Jackson Heights and District 25.
“Our diversity is our strength as we have Hindu, Muslim, Jain, Buddhist, Christian, Sikh, and secular Indians and Indian-Americans living peacefully side by side,” he stated. “Sadly, far-right extremists in both India and the United States have especially taken to demonizing and denigrating Muslims. I condemn any attack on an individual or group because of their faith and stand with my Muslim siblings here in my district and in India as they fight for dignity and human rights. I also thank all the Hindus and others who have taken a stand against dog-whistle propaganda cloaked as cultural celebrations. Our country should not serve as a platform for stoking hatred to help failed leaders and their parties win elections.”
Several human rights organizations also sent a letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio prior to the celebration in Times Square, asking how the city, “a city that claims to have inclusive and egalitarian values, can allow such a brazen celebration of hatred and Islamophobia.”
In the letter, the organizers point out that the Time Square billboard coincides with the one-year anniversary of the revocation of special status for India’s majority-Muslim region, Kashmir.
“[On] the face of it, it seems benign. ‘Why shouldn’t the Hindu community be allowed to celebrate their faith?’ What we want to convey to you, is that this is not a celebration of faith,” the letter read. “Allowing the Times Square display is akin to letting the Nazi fascist forces in Germany in 1938 to proudly display their act of demolishing synagogues in Munich, Nuremberg, Dortmund, and Kaiserslautern before the Kristallnacht.”
When asked for comment regarding the protest and letter, a spokesperson for the Mayor’s office told QNS they were in contact with AIPAC and the Coalition.
“The Mayor’s Community Affairs Unit had been in conversation with the author before and after the letter was sent,” the spokesperson said in an email. “Both groups were free to exercise their first amendment rights, and did so peacefully.”