Dredging sparks protest

NEW DELHI – For the new India and its booming economy, the idea seemed eminently sensible: Dredge a shipping channel between India and the nearby island of Sri Lanka, cutting voyages between the subcontinent’s coasts by up to 30 hours. What could religion possibly have to do with it?

Everything, it turns out. The project has set off a blistering debate about who created the shoals and sand to be dredged: Mother Nature or the Hindu god Rama.

The plan had angered Hindu leaders from the outset, but things grew far hotter after government archaeologists spoke up last week. A report to the Supreme Court by the Archaeological Survey of India said the shoals were the result of “several millennia of wave action and sedimentation” and “the issue cannot be viewed solely relying on the contents of mythological text.”

To right-wing Hindu groups, those were fighting words – a dismissal of Hinduism’s holiest texts.

L.K. Advani, a leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party, the most powerful Hindu political party, called the government’s position “an insult to millions of Hindus all over the world.”

Hindu protesters marched. They blocked traffic and stopped trains.