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The boundary within: demolitions, dream projects and the negotiation of Hinduness in Banaras

Vera Lazzaretti

In summer 2017,1 one of the buildings on the eastern side of the controversial Kashi Vishvanath temple and Gyan Vapi mosque compound in Banaras2 was demolished. This was the Vyas Bhavan, the house of the Brahman ritual specialists who had managed the area between temple and mosque, at the core of Banaras’s old city, since at least the 19th century. Its demolition was part of the first phase of implementation of the "Kashi Vishvanath Corridor” - a lavish government project of urban renewal, often referred to as Prime Minister Narendra Modi's "dream project.”3 The house had opened onto a wide maidan, an open area that, although squashed between the temple and mosque, had developed into an independent Hindu ritual arena supervised by members of the Vyas family. It is through and from this boundary space that I explore here the politics of religion in contemporary Banaras.

Because of its strategic position, the house and surrounding maidan had long been a target for adhigrahan, or acquisition, for the expansion of Kashi Vishvanath, the city’s most prominent temple that attracts crowds of devotees daily. Entertained by various state governments in recent decades, plans for expansion had not amounted to much until 2017, even though a few houses in the neighbourhood had been acquired by wealthy individuals and donated to the temple over the years. The idea gained new impetus, however, when the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) achieved a crushing electoral victory in Uttar Pradesh in March 2017 and Yogi Adityanath - a well-known and controversial renouncer and champion of the Hindutva cause - became chief minister. The Corridor began to materialise at a fast pace.

Since 2013 I have spent many hours in that boundary space, within the walls of that house that is no more, developing a deep ethnographic relationship with the then head of the family, the ageing Kedarnath Vyas. When demolitions for the Corridor began in the neighbourhood, I spent time experiencing, observing and talking with residents and frequenters about that seismic change. I draw on these ethnographic explorations to argue that the demolition of the Vyas Bhavan signalled the exposure and then collapse of a material and symbolic boundary - not only one that separated and connected temple and mosque and thus two religious communities (Hindus and Muslims), but one that, at a closer look, afforded negotiations of Hinduness.

The Corridor and its urban abjection

The emphasis placed on vikds, or development, by Modi’s BJP since the 2014 national election campaign has had considerable impact on Banaras - a city long imagined as “sitting outside of mortal time, and as a seemingly unique urban site with a particular (‘Hindu’) religious character” (Dodson 2012: 1). As Modi's own constituency, it has become a preferred showcase for the BJP's development and cultural agenda, of which the Corridor is perhaps the most ambitious manifestation.4

The project is intended to create a wide access path (karidor or pathve) that connects the temple to the Ganges River and features a wide-open space with an exhibition hall, cafes and cultural and religious performance stages. It targets an area of around 50,000 square metres, previously characterised by cramped galls, or lanes, and narrow intersections, and entailed the acquisition and demolition of about 300 residential, commercial and religious buildings, whose owners have been compensated to varying degrees but who have been displaced for good. According to its advocates, the beautification (saundaryikaran) of the previously congested pakka mohalla5 around the Kashi Vishvanath temple will contribute to turning the city into a world-class tourist destination.6

A detailed discussion of the kind of space envisioned in this project is beyond the scope of this chapter, but the literature about such “spatial cleansing” suggests that the Corridor may well resemble a theme park, "partially made up of ancient materials but heavily restored and refurbished to suit modern ideas about the past” (Herzfeld 2006: 132; cf. Brosius 2012). Certainly, the Corridor seems to be inspired by the “world-class aesthetic” discussed by Ghertner in his work on urban development and beautification in millennial Delhi, which is a "sensory knowledge that allows for the easy differentiation between what is or is not worldclass and the associated visual criteria that set the boundary between what does or does not belong in a place with world-class ambitions” (Ghertner 2015: 9). Producing these spaces, then, necessarily entails a process of "urban abjection” that leaves behind unwanted social groups and spaces (Ibid. 79; cf. Kuldova and Varghese 2017). However, while in Delhi and other aspiring-to-be-world-class cities the abject is made up of the urban poor, slums and their occupiers, the Corridor in Banaras leaves behind a variety of other people and remnants, some of which are less expected than others.

For one thing, the Corridor is not only a flagship development project but also a controversial endeavour tinted with saffron - the colour associated with Hindu nationalism - and likely to irreversibly exclude Muslims from the centre of the city. The Kashi Vishvanath temple indeed shares a large compound with the Gyan Vapi mosque, a prominent Mughal structure frequented for prayers by Sunni Muslims. Due to its controversial history,7 the mosque was targeted for destruction by Hindu nationalists who, during the Ramjanmabhumi movement that led to the destruction of the Babri mosque in Ayodhya, specified Gyan Vapi as one of the two places to be "liberated” next from the Muslim presence. As a consequence of this campaign, the area became subject to security arrangements in the 1990s

The boundary within 89 and is today heavily policed (Lazzaretti 2020). During major interventions for the Corridor since 2017 it has become clear that inter-religious relationships and the status of the Gyan Vapi mosque - located in the middle of the area to be developed and less than 50 metres from the temple - are at stake. While in 2017 and 2018 there was silence on all sides about the fact that mosque and temple share the compound to be beautified, later local people and commentators began to suggest that vikas might well be the acceptable face of a project that is also a way to pursue the long-term Hindu nationalist agenda of “liberating” Islamic places of worship.8

Indian Islamic sites have been constructed through time as controversial and “out of place,”9 but these depictions have become mainstream in the Hindu nationalist "new normal” of contemporary India, in which Muslim bodies and spaces are "legitimate arenas where . . . violence can be freely, joyfully, performed. with impunity” (Sarkar 2019: 151). The exclusion of Muslims and forced assimilation - or abjection - of Gyan Vapi, then, would not be unexpected. This is, after all, a project that has been conceived of by muscular Hindu nationalists to enhance a major Hindu temple next to a contested mosque. But while elsewhere I discuss changes to perceptions of Gyan Vapi triggered by demolitions and the potential impact of the Corridor on inter-religious relationships and minority Muslims (Lazzaretti forthcoming), in this chapter I am more concerned with the area's longer-term spatial politics in terms of intra-religious negotiations and the other, less expected outcomes of the Corridor and its urban abjection.

I analyse the buffer zone between the temple and mosque as what I call a "boundary within” - a space of disputes and negotiations among people who identify themselves as Hindu - and show how demolitions led to its exposure and progressive collapse. This coincided with the urban abjection of the whole pakka mohalla and the production of other excluded and left-behind elements -Brahman ritual specialists and other Hindu residents, who were an overwhelming majority there.10 As shown later, what was left behind was also the layered and affective material fabric of the historic neighbourhood, including tiny shrines and local deities. For many of my interlocutors, this material fabric represented ways of living, worshipping and "being Hindu” apparently in stark contrast to what was envisioned by proponents of the Corridor. Banaras has long been a stronghold of the B JP, and the pakka mohalla is in the UP constituency of Varanasi South, which the party has won without interruption since 1989.11 The heart of this iconic city is, then, a singularly appropriate site for exploring competing definitions of Hinduness and negotiations at, and of, a "boundary within.”

The boundary within

The rich literature on shared and contested religious sites attunes the researcher to viewing the Kashi Vishvanath temple and Gyan Vapi mosque compound as characterised primarily by inter-religious relationships - antagonistic, syncretic or a choreography of both.12 As well, at a time in which Indian society is becoming more polarised along religious lines and division between Hindus and Muslims is projected in public discourse as a given, one may fail to see other divisions or boundaries. This is particularly true when dealing with a site that has a history of inter-religious controversies, but because of my access and position in the field - often and repeatedly in the Vyas Bhavan, observing and experiencing the temple-mosque compound from within -1 have been more receptive to inner fragmentations and latent divisions.

Cohen (1994: 54) distinguishes boundaries that alert us "to lines which mark the extent of contiguous societies or to meeting points between supposedly discrete social groups" from other kinds of boundaries, which he describes as “more amorphous divisions which appear routinely, not just between cultures nor even within them, but between intimates who share cultures.” As he put it, the latter exist as a consequence of fragmentation within an artificially uniform collective identity. What I experienced during my research and scrutinise in this chapter, then, is a "boundary within,” one at which Brahman ritual specialists of the Vyas family, other temple authorities and officials, and residents of the pakka mohalla appear to share Hinduness but in fact, on closer inspection, their ideas of Hindu-ness are found to be fragmented and negotiable.

In my analysis I draw on a phenomenological conception of place as the locus of experience, dwelling and relational exchange.13 More precisely, I follow the path outlined by Navaro-Yasin (2009, 2012) and read the space under investigation as constituting for the residents a sentient and affective material fabric and an entity that is, time and again, put into discourse, interpreted and politicised. I use affect in Navaro-Yasin's terms, not exclusively as a non-discursive sensation, as proposed by some of the most influential theorists of the "affect turn” (for example, Deleuze and Guattari, Thrift, Massoumi), but more as a relational exchange. Places and the people who inhabit them are not "affective on their own or in their own right, but both produce and transmit affect relationally” (Navaro-Yasin 2009: 14). I show ways in which Kedarnath Vyas and other residents engage with the material fabric of their neighbourhood before and after demolitions and how their critique of the Corridor draws on this engagement.

The establishment of the Vyas family as independent religious authorities was spatially enacted through efforts to define and maintain an inherently fragile locality (Appadurai 1996: 179): the maidan and the family house. These efforts appear at first to have been more oriented towards the reinforcement of boundaries without, against the Muslim neighbour, the Gyan Vapi mosque.

Colonial records at the local branch of the Regional Archive and private records of the Vyas family show that they have been involved for generations in legal battles and negotiations over spatial demarcation and interventions in the compound. A record from 1925-1926,14 for example, mentions that Raghunandan Vyas, great-grandfather of Kedarnath, participated in finding a peacefill solution to a "knotty problem.” An ablution tank used by Muslims was being contaminated by droppings from a pipal tree considered sacred by Hindus, and the solution entailed the construction of a structure over the tank. This record testifies to the attention given by colonial authorities and locals even to a minor intervention in

The boundary within 91 the material fabric of this buffer zone. Another file of records from 1917 to 192115 deals with a series of interventions in the compound, and Raghunandan Vyas is said to have built a solid and stable plinth at the site of the aforementioned pipal tree, where a Hanuman image was already located. The file also deals with the use of part of the mosque's platform for coffins and for mourning, a use of space opposed by Hindus.

A bound folder originally belonging to Baijanath Vyas, the grandfather of Kedarnath, contains proceedings of lawsuits from the 1930s in which Hindus and Muslims dispute the use of portions of space around temple and mosque.16 The crucial role of the state, through the courts, in defining and shaping the religious sphere has been pointed out by scholars such as Berti et al. (2016), but more light can be shed on the fact that such definition in practice necessarily unfolds in space. Without discussing the content of these proceedings in detail, I just note here that at its core was the negotiation of numerous apparent minutiae about the material fabric of the area,17 and I came to realise that, because of that, the folder remains a crucial document for the Vyas family.

The attitude of the Vyas family towards that folder and the history of demarcation it represents, is illustrated in more recent efforts to maintain their position in opposition to other Hindu religious authorities. In the decade preceding the demolition of their house they initiated several court cases to maintain control of the maidan, presenting that bound folder to the court as evidence that they had previously been recognised as the managing authority of that part of the compound. That recognition also became fundamental in the recent struggles over their house, when they needed to assert their independence from their other cumbersome neighbour, the Kashi Vishvanath temple.

To explain the struggle that culminated in the demolition of the Vyas Bhavan and the exposure of that boundary within, let me zoom more closely into the walls and intimate space of the house and of my ethnographic relationship with Kedarnath Vyas. During periods of fieldwork in 2015, 2016 and 2017, I spent a great many hours sitting in the now shabby and dusty room that he had had constructed on the rooftop of the house when, after a long period spent working outside the city (as a supplier for various businesses), he decided in his late forties to settle down with the family and devote himself to research and writing about the city, eventually becoming a notable authority for local pilgrimage (Lazzaretti 2019). Kedarnath Vyas and I would sit there day after day discussing changes to pilgrimage practices provoked by the presence of the police in and around the compound, as well as the various health issues facing his ageing body. The ageing Vyas, with failing eyesight, would go out less and less and, in winter, his room would become his entire world, from which in his mind he would walk around the city. In many of the stories he told in that room, the house was the setting for the action. Rooms that had been used by his ancestors and had seen lifetimes pass were now locked with rusty padlocks whose keys had been lost, and objects, many dilapidated, were kept like treasures and viewed by Vyas as embodying traces from his grandparents, his mother and brothers, and from his own past.

Many pieces of furniture - all affective scraps of time that he would try to put into words for me - had been purchased or given to the family as donations for their ritual sendees, and Vyas would tell of the donors and their stories. The more we became friends, the more things of the room he would show me, each prompting memories and allowing him to put the affects attached to them into words, gestures and silences. Or perhaps it was vice versa: the more I knew about his space, the closer we became, because the trust I gained seemed to be proportional to the permission I had to move within his house and touch the objects in his room.

A recurring theme in our conversations - I realised over time - was the precarious, dilapidated condition of the building in which we were sitting and the possibility of its restoration. The latter was articulated in terms of material ameliorations but also in terms of a more symbolic refashioning of the house as a “historic building" that could appropriately represent the status of the family as an independent religious authority. The concern for the condition of the house, however, and the struggle to maintain authority and properties was now not directed against the Muslim neighbour at all, but rather against the expansion of a different kind of Hindu religious authority, the Kashi Vishvanath Temple Trust (KVTT), a secular body directly controlled by the UP Department of Religious Affairs. This struggle had existed in some form since 1983, when the previous management of the Kashi Vishwanath temple by another local family was declared to be inadequate and cornipt, and the KVTT was established by act of Parliament.18

Since I first met him in 2012, Kedarnath Vyas had become more and more worried about the acquisition of properties in the area by the KVTT and was constantly in search of strategies to deal with the pressure to sell the house. In 2013, an adjacent building was sold to a wealthy patron, demolished, and the land donated to the KVTT. This affected the Vyas Bhavan structurally, making the foundations weaker. Pressure then increased on the family, and on several occasions the chief executive officer of the KVTT cordially and directly invited the Vyas family to sell. But despite the pressure and the advice of many to sell, Vyas proudly announced to me in 2014: “Instead of selling, we will have the house repaired, we will maintain its old style so that everyone will see that this is a historic place. They can offer me a huge amount of money, but I will not sell it. This house is not for sale.”

His resistance was principally enacted through material interventions. He had the house painted and, despite its weakened state and the difficulty of having building materials delivered inside the securitised compound, also managed to have several new rooms added to the upper storey. This, he said, was to provide more space for family members, who were very grateful and repeatedly told me that the expansion of the house was a major achievement in Vyas's recent life. "Yah becnevala makan nahlrii hai” (This house is not for sale) became a mantra that Vyas repeated to make clear that he was firm. The decision, however, was not entirely in his hands because ownership of the Vyas Bhavan and other properties was also vested in a number of members of the extended family. Several members sold their shares and together with the growing pressure from the KVTT, they

The boundary within 93 encouraged the nephews of Kedarnath Vyas seriously to consider negotiating a price for the house.

In spring 2017, just months before the building came down, Vyas told me he was finally thinking of accepting the will of the younger members of the family. He saw his own demise approaching and said that he thought the future did not belong to him anymore. He said that the whole process was symptomatic of the cosmic disorder of the Kali Yug (the "dark age” of Indian mythology) that he had been facing for so long. The period immediately preceding the demolition of the Vyas Bhavan was one of confusion and even further heightened anxiety for Vyas and his family. Family members recall renewed approaches by dalals, or agents, of the KVTT and potential buyers willing to acquire the house and donate it to the KVTT. Rumours were rife and veiled threats were reported.19 Desultory and ultimately failed negotiations apparently took place between the KVTT and the Vyas family before the final demolition, which occurred without the agreement of the Vyas family and without compensation.20

In retrospect the demolition of the Vyas Bhavan and the subsequent takeover of the maidan for the Corridor meant that the buffer zone between temple and mosque was progressively collapsing, signalling that the status of Gyan Vapi as a living mosque was under threat and its incorporation in a Hindu “theme park” more likely. However, at a closer look, it also meant that the boundary within, the struggle of the Vyas family to maintain its status as an independent Hindu authority and resist assimilation into the Kashi Vishvanath temple domain, had finally been exposed.

While Kedarnath Vyas provides a very particular example because of his personal disposition towards place and his role as a religious authority, his case is an illustration of ways in which the pakka mohalla was lived affectively and narrated by many of my interlocutors - a way of experiencing place that is diametrically opposed to the one projected by the Corridor and that informs residents’ critique of it. I now zoom out to examine the impact that the exposure of the boundary within, and other demolitions, had on the neighbourhood.

Haunting scraps and negotiations of Hinduness

Soon after Yogi Adityanath came to power as UP chief minister in March 2017, several other buildings on the eastern side of the temple-mosque compound were purchased and then demolished in the winter and spring of 2018. But the material fabric of the demolished buildings was not removed at that time. Thick dust, fallen masonry, broken bricks and domestic detritus were left where they fell, and a wide area of scraps and remnants opened directly onto the maidan that was the domain of the Vyas family. As they received pressure to sell their properties, residents of the pakka mohalla lived for months with(in) these scraps: the precarious status of their houses leapt out at them daily. How did the exposure of the boundary within affect local residents and their understanding of the Corridor project? What sorts of affects were discharged by the material remains of the demolitions? To deal with the broken landscape of remains and dust of the immediate aftermath of first demolitions in 2018,1 utilise the concept of "haunting” (Navaro-Yasin 2012) and the idea of urban "scraps” as vehicles for citizens' agency (Laszczkowski 2015), and I describe the dust, detritus and remains of demolished buildings and lost deities as "haunting scraps.” These, I suggest, prompted the emergence of protest movements in opposition to the Corridor, complicating government aspirations to urban beautification and, perhaps unexpectedly, questioning the very Hinduness of BJP leaders.

During and after the demolitions I frequented the area almost daily, stopping at tea stalls to observe the situation and the walking paths of the people, now diverted through the narrow galls to avoid the closed-off demolition ground. I talked to, and often spent time in silence with, shopkeepers and residents whose houses or businesses had been, or were likely to be, affected by the Corridor. Many spent their days standing in the dust and looking at the remains, recalling the structures that were no more, their history and inhabitants. Some observed that what was left behind on the ground, and the half-demolished houses that revealed the interiors of recently inhabited rooms, resembled the scene after an earthquake (bhilkamp). The metaphor speaks of a catastrophe which not only affects humans and their belongings but that also sweeps over the surface of the earth itself and disrupts previously existing order. Many were deeply disturbed by the destruction of what they saw as a living organism: "The pakka mohalla is counting its last breath” (pakka mohalla apni antim sans gin raha hai). And some said they felt they were dying with it or did not want to live any more (JTne ki icchd nahnii hotf). These sentiments might seem rhetorical or hyperbolic, but they are telling of the sort of affective engagement with place that I have illustrated in my ethnography with Kedarnath Vyas. The remnant objects, scraps and dust of the demolition ground seemed to retain for my interlocutors the ghostly materiality that Navaro-Yasin (2012) argues is retained by objects associated with a disappeared human presence and which she identifies as the causes of the feeling of being “haunted.” Indeed, it was not the years of rumours, pressure to sell properties or the distorted, partial and often contradictory media coverage of the Corridor that provoked a collective reaction from residents. It was finally seeing and experiencing the absent presence caused by the collapse of the material urban fabric that was a bridge too far.

A movement was then established by some residents of the pakka mohalla to "rescue the city’s heritage” under the name Dharohar Bachao Sangharsh Samiti (Save Heritage Struggle Committee or DBSS). It started as an across-the-board movement, including a variety of people with diverse caste backgrounds, political preferences and reasons for participation, but it was initially led by a senior journalist and known BJP supporter. In meetings and events that I attended, and through social media, participants articulated their understandings of what was being lost. At the centre of the critique of the Corridor was the fact that it takes no account of what the residents saw as the neighbourhood’s distinctive ways of living, socialising, worshipping and trading, as reflected in the material fabric. Essential spatial qualities identified by the residents included cramped old shops, hidden shrines and narrow galls in which everyone knows each other, for better or

The boundary within 95 worse. A sentiment I heard often was expressed by a resident: “Visitors come here from far away to see these galls and our old houses and shops. They do not come to see malls and skyscrapers! Foreigners do not come here for this! They want to see the antiquity (pracTnta). You don't come here to see large roads.” Another recurring idea was that the very form of Kashi, as residents of the pakka mohalla refer to the city, is represented by these galls (Kdsl ka svarfip is gallyom mem hl hai), and the urban fabric is often associated with the body of Siva himself. In the eyes of those residents, the government had completely misunderstood the essence of the city and was imposing a new sort of space that took inspiration from elsewhere.21

Many small shrines and deities, supervised by private families and found in homes or built into walls and at street corners, had been an important part of the material fabric. In the Vyas Bhavan alone as many as 40 murtis (images of deities) were built into various corners and rooms when the house was constructed at the end of the 19th century. After the demolitions, the idea of abject and broken divine images and buried deities covered with dust was unbearable for many interlocutors, who told me that they were kept awake at night by the images of detritus that circulated widely on social media. Such residents were "haunted” and the fate of the allegedly buried or broken deities provoked fiery reactions at DBSS meetings, as well as demands for particular rituals to re-install deities or to salute their departure. People were sure that the local administrators and political leaders responsible for the destruction of divine images would reap negative consequences in their lives, and harsh declarations were made in speeches and through social media about politicians supposedly supporting the Hindu "cause” but in reality behaving “worse than Aurangzeb and the Mughals.”22

Many interlocutors commented on the development plan in less extravagant but nonetheless pointed ways when they said that Hindu expectations of a BJP state government had been completely dashed. For example: "They [the government] want to work for Hindutva or for a Hindu nation, but without what is really Hindu” (Ye log hindutva, yd hindú rdj karna cdhte hain, lekin bind jo asll hindú hai), said a member of the Vyas household, and this was a recurring sentiment. Residents represented themselves as being the real Hindus, unlike the politicians and local officials. In particular, they said they were authentic (pakkd) Hindus because they cared not only for the city’s major shrine, but also for its multitudinous divine population, attached to and hidden in the lanes and houses of the old city. These sites, many claimed, did not attract pilgrims from all over the world like the Kashi Vishvanath temple, but nonetheless were an essential part of what was, for them, "the real Bañaras.”23 Being a real Hindu implied for these interlocutors the capacity to feel and live together with an urban fabric in which stories and markers of the past are emplaced and local deities dwell.

Concluding thoughts

In these pages I have examined the spatial politics of religion at the Vyas Bhavan and its maidan, a buffer zone that separates and connects the Kashi Vishvanath temple and Gyan Vapi mosque in Banaras. I have illustrated how this space was shaped, lived and reproduced over time not only as a ‘’boundary without,” against the Muslim neighbour, but also as a "boundary within.” Here, the struggle for recognition and maintenance of a separate religious authority, that of the Vyas family, has been spatially enacted over time. Demolitions for the Kashi Vishvanath Corridor project, I have argued, led to the exposure of this boundary within. Such exposure, and particularly the haunting sight of the abject remains - detritus, scraps of the city’s fabric and broken deities - led to protest and debates about "real” Hinduness. The exposure of the boundary within led to the creation of a space for resistance and the expression of dissonant visions.

Questions remain, however, about why the residents’ critique seems ultimately not to have undermined government plans. The next state election might provide an indication of whether the credibility of the government has been affected, at least in Varanasi South, by the sense of betrayal expressed by the pakka mohalla’s residents and other critics of the Corridor. But many residents, after the initial protests, began to express resignation and speak of their powerlessness in the face of the government, relegating public protests to individual court cases and social media. This, together with their almost total silence about the fate of the Gyan Vapi mosque and lack of engagement with local Muslims, suggests that their alternative articulations were perhaps just a slightly dissonant voice in an underlying choral unity: although fragmentation was revealed, as Cohen put it, among those who "share cultures,” Hindu nationalist logic and its exclusive aesthetic, in fact, were not subverted. Some residents who took part in the protests later even became supporters of the Corridor, perhaps hoping not to be, in the end, excluded from the future world-class Banaras. As I write (May 2020), works continue at the boundary within to assimilate what used to be a space of struggle and negotiations about Hinduness into Narendra Modi's dream project.


  • 1 This chapter draws on research in Banaras between 2013 and 2018, which I conducted first as an independent researcher and then as part of projects funded by the University of Milan, the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) and the Research Council of Norway. I wish to thank participants in the “Spaces of Religion in Urban South Asia” workshop in September 2018 at the University of Bergen for a very stimulating exchange, colleagues at the South Asia Symposium in Oslo for insightful comments on a previous draft, and Geoff Ainsworth for editorial and other invaluable support.
  • 2 Banaras is the commonly used name of the city of Varanasi, in the state of Uttar Pradesh (UP), India.
  • 3 See, for example, “Kashi Vishwanath Corridor: PM Narendra Modi’s Dream Project to Realize Soon, Global Tender Releasing on Dhanteras.” Financial Express, October 25, 2019. nath-corridor-pm-modis-dream-project-to-realize-soon-global-tender-releasing-on-dhanteras/1745281/, accessed May 2020.
  • 4 See the chapter by Williams in this volume for a discussion about the rhetoric of development and ideas of “smart city” as applied to Banaras.

This is one of the urban areas that first had pakkci houses and streets - pakka here means solid, constructed of stones and bricks - and which comprises a series of smaller mohallas, or neighbourhoods.

See for example “Soon. Access Kashi Vishwanath Temple Directly from Ghats.” The Times of India, May 8, 2018.; and “Ahmedabad-Based PSP Projects to Create Kashi Vishvanath Corridor.” Ultra News, December 28, 2019., both accessed May 30, 2020.

The Gyan Vapi mosque was apparently built on the same site and with some of the material of a previous Vishvanath temple, probably shortly after the demolition of that temple was ordered by Emperor Aurangzeb in 1669 (Khan 1947: 55). Alternative narratives do, however, circulate among local Muslims about Aurangzeb and the building that existed before the mosque (Kumar 1987: 270). In the century before the construction of the Vishvanath temple in its current location, failed attempts were made to demolish the mosque and rebuild the temple (Desai 2017: 58, 81).

During the first demolitions in late 2017 and early 2018, local Hindi-language newspapers such as Amar Ujala, Hindustan and Dainik Jagran gave daily and often contradictory updates but hardly mentioned the mosque. The first in-depth English-language report came a year after the first demolitions and was the cover story “Target Varanasi.” December 7, 2018., accessed May 30, 2020. Other reports about the alleged secret agenda behind the project appeared in following months. See, for example. "How Modi’s Kashi Vishwanath Corridor Is Laying the Ground for Another Babri Incident.” The Caravan, April 27, 2019. https://caravanmagazine.Ln/religion/how-modi-kashi-vishwanath-corridor-is-laying-the-ground-for-another-babri-incident, accessed May 30, 2020.

On the origins of the idea of a contested “Indian Islamic Architectural Heritage” see Ahmed (2014: 50-96).

Demolished buildings mostly belonged to, or were inhabited by, Bralunans, Baniyas, Khatris and families from so-called Other Backward Castes. A bastt(settlement) where Dalits and other lower-caste families lived, next to the cremation ground, has also been dismantled.

Data are available from the Election Commission of India at: electionanalysis/AE/S24/ partycomp226.htm (last accessed in September 2018).

For an overview of this literature and approaches to shared and contested religious sites, see Barka and Barkary (2015).

Phenomenological approaches to place have been adopted in various disciplines. My work is informed by approaches within the anthropology of space (for example. Appa-durai 1988; Rodman 1992; Feld and Basso 1996; Hirsch and O'Hanlon 1995; Ingold 2000).

Uttar Pradesh Regional Archives, Banaras, List 7, box. 8A, file 212: “Note on the satisfactory solution of a knotty problem in the sacred precincts of the Vishwanath temple and Gyan Vapi mosque.”

Uttar Pradesh Regional Archives, Banaras, List 7, box. 8C, file 105: “Repairs of Gyan Vapi mosque.”

These include the original suit Din Mohammad and others versus the Secretary of State for India Council through the District Magistrate and Collector Benares. CWP No. 61 of 1936 in the Court of Additional Civil Judge of Benares and the subsequent appeal no. 466 of 1937 in the High Court of Judicature at Allahabad.

For example: a wall that has to be repainted, an obstructed passage, building material collected beside the mosque, a staircase built to access the Vyas Bhavan which is said to be some inches larger than the stipulated size, urinals damaged by the falling branches of a pipal tree and so on.

  • 18 The Trust was created through the Uttar Pradesh Sliri Kashi Vishwanath Temple Act in 1983. The full text of the act (with subsequent amendments) can be found at http:// updharmarthkarya.inbooking/pdfT983UP29.pdf, accessed July 2018.
  • 19 Vyas recounted angrily that he heard a high-level bureaucrat speak in a mocking tone to KVTT officers about the house during an inspection: “Let them stay. The house is in bad condition anyway, and when the monsoon comes, the building will collapse with the whole family into the sewage” (Unko rahane dyie. Makan to bekar hat, bails degi tabpuri building aorye log bhi apne dp girjdehge mal mem).
  • 20 The circumstances of the demolition are not entirely clear: as reported by the article “Vyas bhavan ко girane ka adhes.” Hindustan, 4 August 2017. www.livehindustan. com/uttar-pradesh/varanasi/story-order-to-demolish-vyas-bhawan-123 5671.html, accessed May 2020, it seems that a portion of the house collapsed by itself during monsoon and, for the safety of the public, an order for its demolition was issued by the administration. However, members of the Vyas family and other residents of the area insisted that the house was made to fall (makan ко gird diyd gayd), perhaps hinting at repeated pressures to sell and what they had perceived as intentional damage caused to the house by government-led demolitions of surrounding buildings.
  • 21 Indeed, the Corridor has been compared by its conceivers to the spectacular riverfront in Haridwar and by Prime Minister Modi himself to the Somnath temple; “Sugam banaye srl kasl visvanath darbar kl raha.” Dainik Jagran, March 13, 2018, p. 1; “Somnath kl tarah par Visvanath, 650 krod manjur.”.4?»rtr Ujala,March 15,2018, p. 3.
  • 22 The senior journalist who initially led the DBSS repeated this in our conversations, and this article reports his sentiment:, accessed September 2018. Later, however, he withdrew from the protest movement because he thought that it was being taken over by members of opposition parties. He himself remained an active supporter of the В JP.
  • 23 A separate movement for the protection of the small shrines and deities started in April 2018, and was led for some time by svdmT Avimuktesvarananda, disciple of the controversial Swaroopanand Saraswati, sankaracarya of Jyotirmath and Dwarka. On his Facebook page, Avimukteshvarananda repeatedly questioned the Hinduness of the BJP leaders, and distinguished between two kinds of Hindu: those who destroy divine images (mart todnevala) and those who mingle with the divine images (nulrti se svayam ко Jodnevala)., accessed September 2018.


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