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Ayodhya, finally a place and not a 'question'
Amid fireworks, chants and live television broadcasts on more or less unified networks, the inauguration of the brand new Ram temple in Ayodhya, the god's hometown, is celebrated in India. And while India turns orange to the cry of "Jai Shri Ram" (long live the god), international channels and part of the Indian opposition instead celebrate the funeral of secularism in India. Neighboring Pakistan, which is more concerned with Indian affairs than its own, condemns in an official statement the consecration of the temple, crying Islamophobia for a change, in good company with a variety of international channels. Because Ayodhya, for very many years in the eyes of the international press has been an 'issue' rather than an actual place. The 'Ayodhya issue' begins with a distant news episode: on December 6, 1992, hundreds of Hindu fundamentalists razed the Babri Masjid, the city's main mosque built in 1529 in honor of Babur, founder of the Mughal empire, to build a temple dedicated to Ram in its place. The wave of violence unleashed across India as a result has cost more than five thousand lives over the years and hundreds of court cases in which even Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been implicated (and acquitted). To summarize the terms of the matter: on September 22, 1949, a simulacrum of Ram mysteriously appeared inside the main mosque in Ayodhya. This was interpreted by Hindus as a kind of 'claim' by the god on the soil of his birthplace. A religious-catastral dispute arose between Muslims and Hindus, and as a result the civil authorities declared the place 'disputed property' by affixing seals. In 1992, the dispute culminated in the destruction of the mosque and related clashes. The dispute dragged on, with surveys and counter-surveys by the Archaeological Survey of India, until 2019, when the Supreme Court issued a more or less Solomonic ruling: it awarded possession of the land to the Hindus, and allotted the Muslims another plot of land to build a mosque. Artisans from all parts of India worked on the construction of the temple, financed largely by devotees: for many, it was the crowning of a lifelong dream. Yet it is only the controversy and the extreme polarization in which everything is interpreted and read that makes the headlines, as happens all too often now. Because discussions in or about India, instead of focusing on the hot issues for the country, such as the economy or jobs, are only ever focused on 'pro-Muslim, anti-Muslim'. Curiously, there is and never has been any trace of this in Ayodhya. A city sacred, for different reasons, to Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists and Jains, Ayodhya in fact bases its economy almost exclusively on religious business. And Ram, in particular, has proven to be an inexhaustible source of income for everyone: priests, traders, hoteliers, tour guides and even beggars, whatever religion they may be. There are 7001 temples (and 60 mosques) in Ayodhya, most of which work almost exclusively to provide assistance to travelers. The flow of money, fueled by pilgrims' donations and their purchases, is constant and uninterrupted and bound to grow exponentially as the temple is built. Tractors, buses, ox-drawn carts, cars and trains unload at more or less regular intervals devotees and agitators ready to bring their contributions to Ram's glory or to his detractors. And while controversy rages, in Ayodhya Muslims and Hindus have been backing each other up and putting up a united front for years, defending each other whenever followers of either cause try to disturb the town's quiet and its 'divine' prosperity. The real and only victim of these celebrations, they say, was not secularism: but the tons of rose petals rained all over the city.