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Hindu far-right lobbied Canadian cities to celebrate a mosque’s destruction

Hindu far-right lobbied Canadian cities to celebrate a mosque’s destruction
“Ram Mandir Day” represents suffering and marginalization for Muslim minority in India, advocate Naila Saeed said.

A group with ties to India’s far-right Hindutva movement lobbied 10 Canadian municipalities to declare Jan. 22 “Ayodhya Ram Mandir Day,” The Breach has found. The day celebrates the consecration ceremony for the Ram Mandir, a temple built on the ruins of a 16th-century mosque in Ayodhya, India, that was destroyed by a mob of Hindu nationalists in 1992, triggering a wave of communal violence across the country. 

Brampton and Oakville went ahead with the proclamations, according to emails to the Hindu Canadian Foundation that have been viewed by The Breach. The proclamations, however, are not publicly available on the cities’ websites and the cities did not respond to requests for clarification from The Breach.

The Hindu Canadian Foundation is part of a growing list of lobbyist organizations affiliated with the Hindu far-right movement in Canada. The movement, spearheaded by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has been tied to a litany of human rights abuses in its political project to re-fashion India as an exclusively Hindu state. 

In its focus on cultural promotion, the Hindu Canadian Foundation represents a relatively benign cultural wing of this movement. However, it shares key members with organizations more directly invested in pursuing Hindutva’s ideological aims abroad. 

Arunesh Giri, the President of the Hindu Canadian Foundation, is also the treasurer of the “Organization for Hindu Heritage Education” (COHHE), a group created to oppose a motion at the Toronto District School Board enshrining protections against caste-based discrimination. 

Another COHHE member, Vijay Jain, lobbied the city of Brampton to release its proclamation, according to internal emails provided by the Hindu Canadian Foundation to The Breach. Jain does not have a public-facing relationship with the Hindu Canadian Foundation. 

A celebration of ‘suffering, humiliation and marginalization’

Advocates from Canada’s Indian Muslim community sprang into action after Indian news outlets first reported in late January that Brampton and Oakville had released these proclamations and that a letter of support had been issued by Milton. 

Naila Saeed, the vice president of the Council of Indian Muslims, created a petition to raise the alarm that this seemingly innocuous day is rooted in a dark history of violence that has claimed thousands of Muslim lives.

Modi officially consecrated the construction of a temple in Ayodhya, a city in northeast India on Jan. 22. The temple grounds were once home to the Babri Masjid, a 16th-century mosque built by the Mughal empire. In 1992, a mob of Hindu nationalists destroyed the mosque and continued their reign of destruction through Muslim neighbourhoods, killing thousands of people.

Since, the destruction of the Babri Masjid has inspired feverish campaigns to demolish Muslim homes, businesses and places of worship across the country.  

“We definitely don’t expect these kinds of things from political leaders,” Saeed said of the Canadian municipalities’ proclamations. “We want them to do their due diligence. It’s crucial to acknowledge the pain and suffering behind any such event.” 

Her petition, which calls for the proclamations to be rescinded, had 833 signatures at the time of writing. 

“This issue has sensitivities associated with every Muslim person in your city, and more particularly Indian Muslims,” the petition reads. “This proclamation will serve to legitimize the suffering, humiliation and marginalization experienced by the Muslim minority of India.”  

Saeed said that after news of the proclamations was published in the press, she reached out to the mayors of the three municipalities to offer this history. 

Only one, Milton Mayor Gordon Krantz, reached out and offered his apologies, according to Saeed. He told her he denied the Hindu Canadian Foundation’s request to pass this proclamation after their call.

In an email to The Breach, Laura Nelson from the Milton mayor’s office confirmed: “The Town of Milton did not proclaim/designate/recognize or do a flag raising for this day. The request did not meet our policy guidelines so it was not approved.” 

According to Milton’s policy guidelines, the municipality does not issue proclamations “for promotion of religious beliefs or religious events,” wrote Nelson.

The mayors of Brampton and Oakville responded to neither her email nor petition, Saeed said, and have never publicly acknowledged releasing these proclamations. 

Saeed said that Mayor Patrick Brown verbally confirmed rescinding his proclamation to the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM), a partner with her organization. NCCM did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Giri, the Hindu Canadian Foundation’s president, told The Breach in a text message that the group had approached 10 cities in total about issuing proclamations celebrating Ram Mandir Day.

The group also posted photos of the proclamations on social media, but they appear to have been modified to include the organization’s logo. On Brampton’s proclamation, an image of Brown was also added. 

The organization put up billboards and organized over 100 events across the country to commemorate the consecration, including a car rally that wound from Brampton to Oakville.

“The event saw an impressive turnout of over 200 cars all adorned with Hindu cultural flags,” according to a press release by the Hindu Canadian Foundation.

Muslim group in Ayodhya asks for security

Despite its grim history, the consecration of the Ram Mandir has been celebrated by Conservative MP Shuv Majumdar and Liberal MP Chandra Arya, who dedicated a speech to it in the House of Commons.

In response to Saeed’s petition, the Hindu Canadian Foundation wrote in a statement texted to The Breach that it “strongly opposes a petition spreading false information and fear, aiming to create anxiety among Indian Muslims.” 

“The consecration ceremony symbolizes restorative justice for Indigenous Hindu people and signifies a new era of peace and harmony among all communities,” its statement reads. 

Rutgers University historian and scholar of the Hindu-far right Audrey Truschke has described the Hindu claim to Indigenous identity as a “core part of Hindutva mythology,” undermining the status of Adivasis, India’s Indigenous ethnic minorities.  

In light of the consecration ceremony, at least one Muslim organization in Ayodhya has asked for assistance from the city’s local authorities, including a request for increased security in Muslim-dominant neighbourhoods. 

“In Ayodhya town, Hindus and Muslims have lived in peace, but in the past, due to mobs of outsiders at various events, the Muslim community has suffered loss of life, property, and religious places,” a letter by local organization Anjuman Mohafiz Masjid-Wa-Maqabir reads.