Explanation, apologies and reassurance were given by Blacktown City Council officials during a meeting with Muslim community leaders on Wednesday 19 August for the Council’s involvement in celebration of the founding of a temple, on the land of razed Babri mosque in India, held on Wednesday 5 August 2020 corresponding with 5 August 2019, the day Kashmir was stripped of its special status and placed under military lockdown since.

The Blacktown officials attending the meeting included the mayor,  Councillor Tony Bleasdale, Ward 1 Councillor Moninder Singh and Mr Peter Filmer, Manger, Community Events and Sister Cities.

A petition (copied below) was submitted by the Muslim community leaders during the meeting signed by a number representatives of Muslim organisations in the Western Sydney area and beyond including Islamic Forum for Australian Muslims (IFAM), Australian National Imams Council (ANIC), Australian Federation of Islamic Councils (AFIC), Australian Forum for Kashmir (AFK), Stand with Kashmir and Islamic Association of Western Suburbs (IAWSS).

The petition questioned the Council in its role on the divisive celebration reportedly organised by the Hindu Council Australia that has hurt the feelings of Muslim community at large.

“A large section of the community in the Blacktown City Council area has serious concerns about the inauguration ceremony held on 5 August 2020 at Blacktown City Council to celebrate the Ram Mandir in India,” the petition read.

It was reported that the Hindu Council Australia installed a huge LCD screen in the Blacktown Council car park next to Civic Centre on Wednesday 5 August 2020 relaying the foundation stone laying ceremony of the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya, India by PM Modi.

The event was also attended by the Blacktown Mayor and Councillor Maninder Singh who both addressed the audience at the celebrations.

Blacktown Mayor and Councillor Maninder Singh at the Hindutva event on Wednesday 5 August 2020.

During the meeting Mr Peter Filmer strongly denied that the event was organised by the Blacktown Council and explained in detail as to how the organisers managed to hold the event without any formal permission.

“Initially the organisers wanted to set up lightings and hold a major gathering that the Council did not agree with and later asked for an EVM board to be set up. To our surprise we later found out that they had set up an LCD screen,” Mr Filmer explained.

The Mayor said that he agreed to say a few words at the gathering with the understanding that it was a religious celebration, admitting his ignorance of the historical background to the disputed site where the temple is going to be built. He formally apologised for his misjudgement regarding this matter during the meeting.

Councillor Maninder Singh also provided a detailed explanation leading to the holding of this event and denied any role in facilitating the celebrations.

“Let us clarify that Blacktown City Council did not provide the screen for the event on 05 August 2020. the screen was displayed by a private party and we sincerely apologise any offence caused,” Councillor Singh explained.

Mr Anjum Rafiqi from Stand With Kashmir, quizzed Councillor Singh reminding that him being of South Asian origins and of Sikh faith, he would have been privy to the dispute regarding Babri mosque/Ram mandir issue and the significance of the 5 August date in relation to Kashmir, but still failed to brief and advise on the issue to Blacktown Council officials.

Subsequently in a letter dated Wednesday 19 August, after the meeting Councillor Singh wrote to AFIC saying, I would like to extend through the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils my sincere apologies for any offence caused, this was never my, nor Council’s intention. I extend my hand in friendship to the Australian Muslim community and to all my constituents.”

Heated conversations after the meeting at Blacktown Council on Wednesday 19 August.

Petition/Submission to Blacktown City Council

Almost 30 years ago, Hindu extremists, armed with pickaxes, tore down a 16th-century mosque in the northern Indian town of Ayodhya, sparking riots that killed thousands of Muslims.

On Wednesday, 5 August 2020, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid the cornerstone of a grand Hindu shrine on that very same spot. This ceremony coincided with the first anniversary of India’s brutal revocation of special rights in Kashmir, its only Muslim-majority state. We oppose the occupation of Kashmir by foreign troops.

Under Modi, both Ayodhya and Kashmir have become symbols of Hindu nationalist dominance over India, despite the secularism enshrined in its constitution, and a painful affront to the country’s Muslims. Approximately 1 in 6 Indians are Muslim; they are the country’s largest religious minority and one of the largest Muslim communities in the world.

Against this backdrop, we were extremely disappointed to note that Blacktown City Council chose to partake and in effect, demonstrate a partisan approach to the sensitivities associated with the two events in India.

A large section pf the community in the Blacktown City Council area has serious concerns about the Inauguration ceremony held on 5 August 2020 at Blacktown City Council to celebrate the Ram Mandir in India.

Councillor Moninder Singh has been elected by the multicultural Australian community and although he would have known that this Ayodhya Mandir is being built on the demolished ruins of a very well-known historical Babri Mosque, he did not take any action to stop this celebration and carried out actions which would divide the community.

Mr. Moninder also knows that since 5 August 2019, millions of Kashmiri people are locked down in Kashmir (without basic needs) by the Indian RSS Modi Government. This was done without the will of Kashmiri people and despite the UNO resolutions “Right of Self Determination”.

We understand that the temple inauguration ceremony held on razed Babri mosque land in Ayadhya India on Wednesday 5 August 2020 coinciding with brutal lockdown of Kashmiris since 5 August 2019 was celebrated at Blacktown Council and was organised by Councillor Moninder Singh and joined by the Mayor.

This divisive action by our elected representatives has hurt the feelings of a large section of the local community in the Blacktown area and elsewhere in Australia.

We demand Councillor Moninder Singh as well as the Mayor provide an explanation leading to their poor lapse of judgement regarding this matter, provide a written apology/statement and assure the members of the community that this will not recur in future.

We the undersigned representatives of a range of civil society, union and faith organisations have signed this statement to demonstrate our support for the disenfranchised minorities of India, and the struggle of the people of Kashmir to be granted the right of self-determination.

We demand that the Council put an end to indulging in and appeasing the Hindu supremacist RSS Ideology driven by Hindutva, thinking and practices that have only one parallel in history and that is Hitler’s Nazi Germany.

We hope that the Mayor and council members would prefer to promote the multi-cultural fabric of our community and reject the Hindutva driven activities prevalent in today’s India and in Kashmir.

We ask the Council that it should resolve to:

  1. Promote principles of multiculturalism and inclusivity and refrain from endorsing events that can cause offence and harm to other members of the community;
  2. Ensure that the community is a safe space for all.
  3. Refuse to engage in a partisan approach to sensitive events and discussions.
  4. Strongly urge the Australian government to demand the Indian Government to:
    1. Restore the human rights of all minorities in India;
    2. Restore the human rights of Kashmiris including the freedom of speech and assembly, the right to communicate and to access education and health services;
    3. Remove military and paramilitary forces from where the civilian population lives;
    4. Stop any move to change the demographic structure of Kashmir.

Background to controversial site where a foundation for a temple was laid on 5 August 2020

In 1992, Hindu Karsevaks — many of them members of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) — attacked and demolished a mosque, igniting communal violence across the Indian subcontinent. The mosque was a 16th-century monument known as Babri Masjid, or Babri mosque, erected in Ayodhya by India’s first Muslim emperor. In the violence that ensured the Hindu extremists razed Muslim homes around the sanctuary, beating to death hundreds of residents. Hindu-Muslim riots spread across South Asia.

“The word ‘Ayodhya’ brings back haunting memories. When the Babri Masjid was demolished, Muslims were rendered homeless overnight as they sought to escape the murderous mobs who also destroyed their properties while the police remained silent spectators under the watch of the then Chief Minister of the state – current Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi. The riots and the divisive tactics used by the current ruling party BJP in India, under the watch of Modi, ripped apart the facade of India being a secular nation, a democratic republic.

India’s constitution defines it as a secular republic, but Modi and his BJP have sought to transform the country into a Hindu nation with special rights for members of its majority faith. In recent years, minority Muslims have increasingly become victims of hate crimes and lynching.