[FoRK] [NYT] Early report on bombings in Varanasi
Rohit Khare <
rohit at commerce.net
> on >
Tue Mar 7 16:21:42 PST 2006
> [Varanasi is] symbolically as important and emotive as Jerusalem
> for people of the Abrahamic faiths
This is my parents' hometown, and a series of pretty familiar places
for me, too... :(
March 7, 2006
Bombings in India Raise Fear of Sectarian Violence
By SOMINI SENGUPTA
NEW DELHI, March 7 — In what police called "a terrorist attack," a
series of apparently coordinated explosions in the Hindu holy city of
Benares killed at least 15 people and injured as many as 101 this
evening, raising the familiar specter of sectarian violence in India.
The first blast came as devotees gathered for the evening prayer at
the 16th century temple called Sankat Mochan and known as the
"Liberator of Troubles." Tuesdays are particularly busy days at the
temple, when special services are held for the Hindu monkey deity,
The second blast went off at the city's main train station.
Unexploded bombs were also found across Benares, including in the
packed maze in the oldest quarters of the 2,500-year-old city.
Benares, also known as Varanasi, has a Hindu majority, but also a
large concentration of Muslims.
The police said they were on high alert, as a Hindu nationalist group
and a statewide political party called for a strike Wednesday. "We
suspect it is a terrorist act," Yashpal Singh, the director general
of the city police, said by telephone. "We are high alert for tomorrow,"
Mr. Singh said there were no clues yet signaling the cause of the
blasts. But he pointed out that the attack came a week before the
Hindu rite of spring, Holi, just as the bombs that went off here in
the capital last October and killed more than 60 people preceded the
last major Hindu holiday of Diwali.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh condemned the attack and immediately
called for calm.
The government placed several houses of worship across the country on
a heightened security alert. Television news stations took pains to
tell viewers that no idols had been damaged by the blasts. No one
claimed responsibility for the attacks.
"I cannot say which outfit was responsible for the ghastly attack but
since one of the places of attack is a temple it has a potential of
creating suspicion and tension among different communities," the
Indian home secretary, V.K. Duggal, told reporters.
Benares, about 475 miles east of New Delhi, is among the oldest
cities in the world and the most sacred in Hindu cosmology,
symbolically as important and emotive as Jerusalem for people of the
Benares is also part of India's most populous state, Uttar Pradesh,
which is facing important elections later this year. Last Friday,
another city in Uttar Pradesh state, Lucknow, broke out in violence
after Muslim worshipers called for shuttering shops to protest the
visit of President Bush; three people died.
Attacks on houses of worship in a country where Hindus and Muslims
have lived for centuries in periods of ease and unease, along with
Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Zoroastrians, are a particularly
potent catalyst of tension.
Last July, gunmen stormed the heavily fortified Hindu temple compound
in Ayodhya, also in Uttar Pradesh state,and in the firefight that
ensued, all five gunmen and a suspected accomplice were killed. In
September, 2002, two gunmen entered a Hindu temple called Akshardham
in western Gujarat state, killing nearly people before Indian
commandos stormed the compound and ended the siege.
The last spasm of sectarian violence came in the spring of 2002 in
Gujarat, after a fire set on a train killed 59 Hindu activists,
prompting attacks in which at least 1,000 people, mostly Muslims,
The Sankat Mochan temple is said to have been created when the
celebrated 16th century poet Tulsidas established an image of Hanuman
under a tree, according to Diana Eck, a professor of religion at
Harvard and a scholar of Hinduism. It has since become one of the
most vibrant and visited temples in the city. It hosts an annual
spring concert series that draws among the finest classical Indian
musicians from across the country.
Hari Kumar contributed reporting for this article.
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