[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

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,  
called Hanuman.

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  
Abrahamic faiths.

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,  
were killed.

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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