Bodh Gaya Since The Blasts

Bodh Gaya Since The Blasts

On July 7th, 2013, a series of bombs went off at the UNESCO World Heritage Site that marks the place of the Buddha's enlightenment. What the government of Bihar did in response was by most accounts more destructive.

By Matt Colaciello  |  July 23, 2013

 Photo: Shashikant Kumar

Photo: Shashikant Kumar

A “Peaceful Demolition”

On the morning of July 25th, 2013, four bulldozers plowed into the shops of Bodh Gaya's main pedestrian market just next to the Mahabodhi Stupa, the UNESCO World Heritage Site that marks the place of the Buddha's enlightenment. The bulldozers took down the homes of fifty-eight local businesses including Gautam Lassi Corner, a veritable institution where locals, pilgrims, and tourists have gathered to socialize since the late 1980s.

 Photo: David Geary

Photo: David Geary

Today, where Gautam Lassi Corner and the rest of the market once stood, laborers clear the last of the rubble from the demolition. Once bustling with vendors and shoppers, Bodh Gaya's central public space has been emptied not only of structures but of people and commerce.

 Photo: Shashikant Kumar

Photo: Shashikant Kumar

The demolition follows a series of unclaimed bombings that occurred here just a few weeks earlier. The July 7th blasts at the Mahabodhi Stupa and a nearby monastery left two people injured and minimally damaged several historic buildings. The Bihar State Government, led by chief minister Nitish Kumar, has said the demolition of Bodh Gaya's market was necessary for the security of the Mahabodhi Stupa. But many locals believe security is simply a justification to carry out a longstanding plan to remove businesses, homes, and public space from the vicinity of the stupa in accordance with the Master Plan for Bodh Gaya based on UNESCO’s World Heritage guidelines. (Click here to see the plan document)

 Photo: Shashikant Kumar

Photo: Shashikant Kumar

Despite strong opposition from the community, police and local onlookers did not clash during the demolition. "People in Bodh Gaya are peaceful," one shopkeeper said. "The government is lucky for that. If this were Gaya or some other city, there would be rioting at something like this."

 Photo: Matt Colaciello

Photo: Matt Colaciello

In addition to the demolition, the government is building a 5-meter high wall around the eastern half of what was once the market, blocking out the shops that were not demolished and making it easier to control who enters the area near the Mahabodhi Stupa. Businesses that once opened onto the central pedestrian marketplace now face a meter-wide alley and brick wall.

 Photo: Matt Colaciello

Photo: Matt Colaciello

At the far eastern end of what once was the market a gate will allow for movement between the inner area near the Mahabodhi Stupa and the bustling street beyond. Vendors who once sold offerings, curios, vegetables, and other goods from on the street have been barred from entering the walled area. Everyone else moves freely in and out. It remains to be seen how this will change with the presence of a gate and armed security personnel. 

 Photo: Matt Colaciello

Photo: Matt Colaciello

Conciliatory Development

Businesses displaced from the market have been offered space in a new government-sponsored shopping area a little more than a kilometer west of the Mahabodhi Stupa. The complex was constructed several years ago as per the Master Plan, but has sat empty until now. As of the day the photo below was taken, two businesses have reopened here—a footwear store and a Buddhist curio shop. The owner of the latter says he worries that between the bombings and the poor location of the new market “it will take at least five years for his business to return to normal.” 

 Photo: Matt Colaciello

Photo: Matt Colaciello

However, not everyone is interested in reopening their businesses in the new market. Local business owners fear that the new shopping complex won't receive the same level of foot traffic as the old market next to the Mahabodhi Stupa. In order to help them get on their feet, the government will give business owners their first four months in the complex free of rent. But for now the new market is as empty as the rubble strewn demolished one.

 Photo: Matt Colaciello

Photo: Matt Colaciello

A banner just outside the entrance to the new shopping complex advertises all that the state government is doing to benefit local people. To many, however, the demolition of Bodh Gaya's commercial center conveys all too clearly the opposite—that the state is willing to threaten local people's livelihoods to remake the face of the city in a vision that doesn't include them.