Branded Cities, one of the companies that runs digital advertising for NASDAQ at New York’s Times Square, has refused to run digital advertisements to commemorate the Aug. 5 groundbreaking ceremony of the controversial Ram temple in Ayodhya in India. A report in Clarion India quoted Dennis Levine of Branded Cities, who reassured that the company and Nasdaq “oppose the demolition of Babari Masjid and will never allow any supremacist groups to run their advertisements.” Minhaj Khan, president of the New Jersey chapter of the Indian American Muslim Council, confirmed the news to American Kahani.
However, Jagdish Sehwani, the main organizer of the Aug. 5 celebration at Times Square, dismissed the news as “fake news,” and told American Kahani that the celebrations will go ahead as planned. “No one can have objections to celebrating Lord Ram,” he said, and added that on Aug. 5, “Times Square will transformed into Ayodhya.”
Sehwani, president of the American Indian Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), has collaborated with Hindu American community organizations aligning with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party to commemorate what they say is “a one-of-a-kind and historic event.” Celebrations include beaming of 3D images of Lord Ram across the giant billboards, as well as chantings and bhajans, and speeches by prominent members of the community.
“This is not a once-in-a-lifetime or a once-in-a-century event,” Sehwani said. “This is an event that comes once in the life of mankind. We had to give it a befitting celebration and what better place than the iconic Times Square to commemorate the ‘Ram Janma Bhoomi shilanyas’ (groundbreaking ceremony).”
The World Hindu Council of America (VHPA) issued a statement denouncing the attempts from theses organizations “to prevent Hindus from expressing their right to practice their religion freely and publicly by commemorating one of the most significant events in Hindu history.”
“The malicious statements by some organizations about Shree Ram Janmabhoomi temple in Ayodhya are driven by their Hinduphobia,” said Ajay Shah, executive vice president of VHPA. “This temple is being built on the site where the original Ram Mandir (temple for Bhagwan (God) Shree Ram stood and was destroyed by Moghul invader, Babur. The monument to slavery of Indians is now being restored to those who have been freed after 1000 years. It marks a new beginning forHindus, just like replacement of statues of slave owners around the world marks the next step in racial justice.”
Referring to Branded Cities’ denial to display images of Ram, Dr. Shaik Ubaid, president of ImanNet told Clarion India that “this a great victory for pluralism, human rights and rule of law.” ImanNet, along with other Muslim, human rights, anti-fascist and secular advocacy organizations like Justice for All, Coalition of Americans for Pluralism in India (CAPI), North American Indian Muslim Association (NAIMA), Islamic Circle of North America-Social Justice (ICNASJ) and the International Society for Peace and Justice, had issued action alerts against the Aug. 5 event.
Similarly, groups like the Association of Indian Muslims (IAM) and human rights organizations like Hindus for Human Rights and South Asia Solidarity Initiative (SASI), had submitted a letter to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio expressing their outrage with “the hatred being displayed at Times Square.” The group will also be protesting at Times Square on Aug. 5 evening. “As diverse, interfaith, and intercultural organizations, we believe this propaganda project offers a one-sided view devoid of deeply troubling historical context,” the coalition said in the letter to de Blasio. “The planned display is a deep affront to the Muslim community, whose members were disproportionately killed in communal riots after the demolition of Babri Masjid.”
The letter also noted that the Aug. 5 event coincides with the Indian government’s move to revoke statehood from Jammu & Kashmir, “leading to the occupation of the region by Indian troops, long-term detentions of civilians without trial, and severe restrictions on communications.”
Devout Hindus believe that Lord Ram was born in Ayodhya some 7,000 years ago but that a mosque was constructed on top of his birthplace in the 16th century. The Babri Masjid stood on the site for almost 500 years until it was demolished by Hindu radicals in 1992, which sparked riots across the country, killing over 2,000 people. Last November, the Supreme Court allowed construction of the Ram temple on the disputed site and also allotted a 5-acre land to the Muslim community to build a mosque near Ayodhya. Following that verdict, Modi had announced the formation of the Shri Ram Janmabhoomi Teertha Kshetra Trust this February.