Visitors shy away from fortress Ayodhya

September 22nd, 2010 - 7:56 pm ICT by IANS  

By Sharat Pradhan
Ayodhya, Sep 22 (IANS) The flow of visitors to this historic town in Uttar Pradesh is fast receding as security is heightened ahead of the court verdict Friday in the Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute, posing problems for daily wage earners who depend on tourists.

The otherwise crowded banks of the Ghaghara river that flows through Ayodhya, where each day hundreds of Hindu devotees offer prayers and get their heads tonsured in a religious ritual, were almost deserted Wednesday.

“Life has become so difficult for us; the arrival of pilgrims has thinned down to an extent that I have not earned a single penny for the past two days,” lamented Suresh Prasad Pandey, one of the 500-odd “pandas” (priests) who earn their daily bread by performing religious rituals for visiting pilgrims in this ancient temple town.

“Every time Ayodhya is on the boil, we have to face the brunt,” complained Tulsi Ram Pande, a leader of the priests’ association.

“As against arrival of about 150-200 pilgrims who come for a dip in the river and to offer prayers on any given day, we are now getting not more than 20 persons,” he said.

Fall in the number of customers and the consequent drop in earnings was also a cause of concern for shopkeepers in the markets, which otherwise remain crowded with visitors.

“While I am glad that the case is coming to a close and the judgment is just round the corner, what is now worrying me is the fast depleting customers ever since police deployment was enhanced and the security forces took out a flag march through the town Sunday,” complained Jai Prakash Gupta, a roadside vendor who sells articles required for offering prayers and ‘puja’.

The visitors who were present in the town Wednesday claimed they were here because they could not change their travel plans made in advance.

“We had planned our trip long ago, when we were totally clueless about what was going to happen (in court), otherwise we would have kept away from Ayodhya,” said 67-year-old M.B. Deshmukh, who had come all the way from Satara in Maharastra with a group of 27 others.

Sixtynine-year-old A. Gomathi Narayan from Tamil Nadu, who was here along with eight other families from his neighbourhood, felt the same.

“Since Ayodhya was in our north Indian pilgrimage itinerary, we did not wish to miss the opportunity, but I know of at least three other groups who chose to return from Varanasi itself without coming here,” he said.

Local Muslims also complained about the drop in the number of visitors. “The presence of lots of policemen in Ayodhya is always bad news for us as it is usually followed by sharp fall in the number of devotees and we are the worst sufferers.”

“Now that the Allahabad High Court is about to announce its judgment, let us pray that this prolonged battle comes to a close. Haven’t both sides suffered enough through the centuries?” remarked Abdul Rehman, who runs a shop barely 200 metres from the very heavily guarded makeshift temple on the disputed site.

Rehman, 52, who sells portraits and idols of Hindu gods together with articles of puja required for various Hindu religious rituals, is the only Muslim to be running a shop in the vicinity of the disputed shrine for nearly two decades now.

The only other Muslim to join him recently in the neighbourhood was his own son, who set up an independent shop dealing in Hindu devotional songs and music cassettes.

Significantly, no one wants any trouble.

“We have seen enough bloodbath — first in 1990 when police opened fire on Hindu devotees and in the aftermath of the (Babri Masjid) demolition Dec 6, 1992. And now we are looking for a peaceful end to this old tangle,” said Rakesh Kumar Yadav, who sells CDs, DVDs and cassettes of Hindu devotional songs.

Faizabad District Magistrate M.P. Agarwal said all loose ends have been tied not only near ground zero but all over the district. “We cannot take any chances so we are well prepared and in readiness to meet any contingency,” he told IANS.

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