India: Sikhs & Hindus help build mosque serves a ‘lesson of love’
By Ahmad Adil
NEW DELHI (AA): An old village in India continues to defy the rising tide of religious polarization in the country, taking another step to further its legacy of communal harmony by building a mosque for its handful of Muslim residents. The initiative was taken by Sikhs & Hindus in an old village in Bhalor, Punjab, India.
Bhaloor lies in the northern state of Punjab, roughly 400 kilometers (250 miles) northwest of the capital New Delhi.
A pre-partition settlement home to a few thousand since before Pakistan and India emerged as separate entities in 1947, the village is just a short drive – about 55 kilometers (35 miles) – from the border between the bickering neighbors and nuclear-armed rivals.
The Muslim population in Bhaloor today all had ancestors who chose to remain here when the Indian subcontinent was being divided along religious lines.
There were some 45 Muslim families in the village before 1947, according to Anwar Khan, one of the few remaining Muslims in Bhaloor.
Over the past seven decades and more, the figure has dropped to just five among a predominantly Sikh and Hindu population of around 12,000.
The almost negligible number of Muslims in the village would make it easy for the people to ignore their need for a place of worship, but that is clearly not how things work in Bhaloor.
“The entire village, and I mean all of us, have helped in some way or the other to make this happen. The mosque is very close to completion,” Sardar Pala Singh, the head of the village, proudly told Anadolu Agency in a conversation during the recently marked Mosques and Religious Officials Week, observed annually from Oct. 1.
“There was a mosque here before the Partition. Today, Bhaloor has seven Sikh gurdwaras and two Hindu temples, so all of us felt it was overdue for our Muslim brothers and sisters to have their own place of worship as well.”
In a true testament to the deep bonds in this multifaith community, the ceremony to start the mosque’s construction was held in one of Bhaloor’s gurdwaras this June.
“The best thing is that even our Sikh community members who have left Bhaloor and settled abroad sent us money for the mosque. They are just as eager to see it finished,” Singh said.
For Khan, the village has been a place that continues to resist India’s worrying descent into a country seen as increasingly intolerant toward minorities, particularly Muslims.
“I have lived here all my life and I can safely say that I have not faced any issues because of my faith,” he told Anadolu Agency.
His words are a far cry from the reality that many Muslims have experienced in India over recent years as “prejudices embedded in the government of the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have infiltrated independent institutions … empowering nationalist groups to threaten, harass, and attack religious minorities with impunity,” according to a February 2021 report by Human Rights Watch (HRW).
“BJP leaders and affiliated groups have long portrayed minority communities, especially Muslims, as a threat to national security and to the Hindu way of life,” the report said.
Sikhs, another religious minority in India, also face growing vilification since hundreds of thousands of farmers of various faiths began protesting against the government’s new farm laws in November 2020, according to HRW.
BJP leaders and their supporters have accused “Sikhs of having a ‘Khalistani’ agenda, a reference to a Sikh separatist insurgency in Punjab in the 1980s and 90s,” the report said.
These are just among a few of the burgeoning list of controversial actions against minorities during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s rule since 2014.
However, all of these assertions have been repeatedly denied by the BJP government, which claims to be protecting the rights of all citizens and minorities.
‘Message of love, communal harmony’
“This mosque will show the brotherhood, spirit of community, and harmony that we have in Bhaloor,” Khan said.
“As soon as this plan came up, everyone pitched in with whatever they could give or do. Everyone has contributed in different ways and it makes us so happy to see that.”
Singh wants Bhaloor and its way of life to be “a lesson of love and communal harmony” for all of India.
“Our efforts to create a space where all of us live together in peace have been appreciated by everyone who comes to know of our village,” he said.
“This mosque is just one more way for us to show that we want the best for all of us. This is a lesson that can serve everyone everywhere.”
Maulana Mohammad Usman Rehmani Ludhianvi, the chief Muslim cleric in Punjab, said the northern state has been a cradle of communal harmony throughout the region’s long and rich history.
“This love between Sikhs, Hindus, and Muslims has existed for ages,” he told Anadolu Agency.
“Given the present conditions in India, such examples are needed more than ever to deter those trying to propagate communalism and sow divisions.”
[Map of India by United States Central Intelligence Agency’s World Factbook/Public Domain]
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