(Mumbai, July 5, 2005) -The Indian government and religious
groups should take urgent steps to prevent outbreaks of communal violence after today's attack on a contested religious site in
Ayodhya by unidentified gunmen, Human Rights Watch said.
Human Rights Watch called on extremist groups to end all acts aimed at creating sectarian violence in India.
On Tuesday morning six men, pretending to be tourists, hired a car
in Ayodhya and then hijacked it, forcing the driver out of the vehicle, according to press accounts. The men then used explosives
placed in the vehicle to blast a hole through the boundary wall of
the 80-acre complex, which contains a makeshift Hindu temple. The area is guarded by paramilitary troops who immediately
engaged the men in a gun battle. All the assailants were killed, and
there was no damage to the actual site.
The identities and motives of the gunmen are unknown, and the Indian government said that it was too early to know who the
attackers were. Because of the history of religious violence in India,
however, the government has put major cities on high alert and deployed police to religious sites.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh criticized the attack,
describing it as a "threat to our security and polity." Many Hindu
and Muslim groups have also condemned the attack. Citizens' groups have also appealed for communal harmony.
However, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), a powerful Hindu nationalist organization with a widespread following, blamed the
attack on Pakistan and the "appeasement" of Indian Muslims by secular political parties. The organization demanded that India
suspend ongoing peace talks with Pakistan. The leader of the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Lal Krishna Advani, has
called for nationwide protests against the attacks.
"Political and religious leaders should urge Indians to remain calm
and use responsible language in their public pronouncements at this delicate moment," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human
Rights Watch. "Otherwise, political or religious manipulation could inflame the situation and lead to the kind of violence that has
engulfed whole communities in earlier riots."
Human Rights Watch praised the response of the former BJP prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who said that the government
should focus on investigating this attack instead of heeding sectarian calls for suspending the talks with Pakistan. Vajpayee
was prime minister when thousands of Muslims were killed in organized and mob violence by Hindu nationalists in Gujarat in
2002 after an attack on a train led to the deaths of more than 50 Hindus.
"Vajpayee has learned the lesson of Gujarat," said Adams.
"Instead of stoking religious hatred, sensible leaders will counsel
calm and a thorough investigation into the incident. The rule of law,
not the rousing of the mob, must prevail."
The heavily barricaded complex at Ayodhya has been at the heart of a decades-old Hindu-Muslim dispute leading to several religious
riots. The sixteenth-century Babri mosque was razed in 1992 by a Hindu mob who believed that the spot was actually the holy
birthplace of the Hindu god, Ram. The mob constructed a makeshift Hindu temple to replace the Babri mosque.
Hindu nationalist organizations like the Rashtriya Swayamsevak
Sangh, the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad have continued to campaign to build a large temple there, but the
issue is still pending before an Indian court.
Source: Human Rights Watch