An unspecified amount of money has been spent to clean and deck up Ayodhya for the ceremony, which is expected to be attended by many bigwigs even amid the health risks posed by the coronavirus pandemic.
The massive temple, dedicated to the Hindu god Ram in what many believers consider to be his birthplace, will be built where the Babri Masjid once stood. The Ram Mandir is the fruition of a campaign that was begun in earnest by LK Advani, then BJP chief, with his Rath Yatra in October 1990. In two years, it led to the demolition of the Babri Masjid and then communal riots across the country
The case regarding the Babri Masjid’s demolition is yet to attain legal closure, but last year, the Supreme Court ruled that a trust could build the temple on the disputed land in Ayodhya, and that Muslims could build a mosque on 5 acres allotted to them separately.
The grand ceremony will take place even as Indians deal with a number of worrying developments. While many news channels jostle to get minute-by-minute updates from the Ram Mandir ceremony to their viewers, here are five important things that it is distracting you from.
A year after Article 370
The BJP’s decision to hold the grand ceremony on the first anniversary of the shock abrogation of Article 370, which granted special status to Jammu & Kashmir, is no coincidence. While many ordinary Kashmiris still live under restrictions, including a fresh curfew, thousands of others, including many political leaders, are still under detention. Some leaders such as Omar Abdullah have recently been freed, but others such as Mehbooba Mufti continue to be under what the Modi government has called preventive detention. The year in Kashmir was also marked by the longest internet ban in any democracy and only 2G internet has been restored this year, making life difficult for students and employees. While the Modi government has maintained that people in Kashmir are happy with the decision, reports from the ground have proved otherwise. In 2019, India dropped ten places to 51 in a global democracy index mainly because of “an erosion of civil liberties” that included the abrogation of Article 370 and Article 35A.
PM Modi is not a believer in press conferences or taking questions from journalists. So it’s no surprise that his approach to dealing with the coronavirus pandemic has not been very different. While India has now recorded over 1,910,681 cases, Modi has only addressed the nation through televised videos. He announced a strict lockdown with little notice, leading to a mass exodus of migrant workers across the country. While he asked Indians to bang thalis and light diyas, public hospitals remained understaffed and frontline workers alleged they have not received salaries. Public health experts have questioned the government’s hard lockdown strategy as well. While prominent politicians including home minister Amit Shah are being treated at private hospitals, elected representatives from the BJP have made bizarre and unscientific claims that building the Ram Mandir will curb coronavirus.
Bihar and Assam floods
Over a crore people have been affected by the floods in Assam and Bihar in the past month. People have been displaced, losing their homes and possessions. Thousands of migrant workers who had returned to these states were already under financial stress, which has been exacerbated bu the disaster. The pandemic has meant even more difficulty for officials to carry out relief work. At a time when crores of people are suffering, the lack of media coverage of the floods in comparison with the attention given to the Ram Mandir is jarring.
Thousands have lost their jobs because of a tanking economy and the pandemic. Salary cuts and layoffs have affected all industries including media, aviation, start ups, BPOs, the IT sector and others. There have been salary cuts across the board too. CNBCTV18 reported last month that 30,000 jobs were lost in the IT and BPO sectors, with 60,000 being sent on leave without pay. Several legacy media outlets such as Hindustan Times, Times of India, The Hindu instituted salary cuts and layoffs. Food delivery apps such as Swiggy and Zomato too laid off hundreds.
Migrants workers still suffering
The lakhs of migrant workers displaced by the pandemic have had no financial respite. While some of them spent weeks trying to get home, most are still reeling due to lack of sustenance options. The Indian Express reported that July was harder for migrant workers than June, because even after they moved back home, they have been unable to find jobs because of the poor economic conditions. Even the promises made by governments for help have not been fulfilled. Last week, HuffPost India reported that 6,38,000 registered construction workers were still waiting for a cash assistance of Rs 1,000 promised to them in April.