Times Square advertisers asked not to run Hindu temple ad
NEW YORK (AP) — A coalition of advocacy organizations — including Muslim, human rights, anti-fascist and secular groups — has asked advertisers in Times Square not to display images from a Hindu group that is celebrating the building of a temple on disputed grounds in northern India.
The groundbreaking for the Hindu temple is scheduled for Wednesday in the Indian city of Ayodhya and supporters of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will gather in New York City's Times Square throughout the day to mark the occasion.
Modi will lay the first silver bricks at the temple site, which will be built on top of the Babri Masjid mosque, which Hindu hard-liners destroyed in 1992. The communal violence sparked by the mosque's destruction also left some 2,000 people dead.
Hindus believe their god Ram was born at the site and claim that the Muslim Emperor Babur built a mosque on top of a temple there.
The organizers of the celebration in Times Square had bought prime billboard space to display a model of the temple as well as images of Ram, Jagdish Sewhani told the Press Trust of India, which described him as the president of the American India Public Affairs Committee.
"We are just doing a celebration and it is not against anyone. This is a once in a mankind event and we thought what better place for it than Times Square," Sewhani told The Associated Press, reached at the phone number listed on the website for the New York gathering.
The American India Public Affairs Committee itself does not have a website, nor is a 1099 tax form available on ProPublica's nonprofit database. There is no corporation registered under that name in New York State.
When asked specifically for details about his organization, Sewhani described it as a “group of people” concerned with U.S.-India relations and then said, “Let us focus on our Lord Ram.”
In an interview with the South Asian Insider Show, Sewhani described himself as one of the founders of a U.S. wing of the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Hindu nationalist ruling party of India — a secular nation since independence from Britain in 1947.
Wednesday's groundbreaking ceremony follows a ruling by India’s Supreme Court last November favoring the building of a Hindu temple on the site in Uttar Pradesh state. The court also ordered that Muslims be given 5 acres (2 hectares) of land to build a new mosque at a nearby site. But the ruling disappointed Muslims, who comprise around 14% of Hindu-majority India’s 1.3 billion people.
The coalition wrote to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, asking him to stand against the images of Ram and of the planned temple being shown in Times Square. They called the planned display Islamophobic and a symbol of violence against Muslims in India.
"It shows not only glamorizing and glorifying an evil and cruel act," said Shaik Ubaid, president of Indian Minorities Advocacy Network in an interview with the Associated Press. “They are so confident they are doing this in Times Square, the heart of America.”
The mayor's office did not immediately return a request for comment.
The coalition also asked supporters to call major advertising companies, including Disney, Clear Channel and Branded Cities, to ask them not to run the images on their billboards. A representative of the company Branded Cities told the coalition Monday that they would not run digital advertising for the celebration in Times Square, Clarion India reported.
Sewhani disputed that any of the planned billboard advertisements had been canceled.
Emails from the AP sent to Disney, Clear Channel and Branded Cities were not immediately returned. Lamar, which also sells advertising space in Times Square, said in an email that they were not contacted about any ads for this event.
Invites have gone to only 175 religious saints, priests and Hindu and Muslim community representatives for the Ayodhya ceremony. Those invited include Iqbal Ansari, the main Muslim litigant in the Supreme Court case, who now supports building the temple.
Zafaryab Jilani, who represents the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, previously said that while the Muslim community in India is not satisfied with the Supreme Court’s ruling, it will respect the decision and not protest the building of the temple. Several prominent Muslim writers, academics and activists, who didn’t want to be identified, refused to discuss the issue, suggesting that the community in India was resigned to the new reality.
AP journalist Biswajeet Banerjee contributed to this report from Lucknow, India.