Ali Akbar was fixing his tray of flower and incense bowls for pilgrims at a shop outside the Kashi Vishwanath temple in Varanasi on Friday, May 20, when he saw the police. “A regular fixture here,” he tells Outlook. That day, however, there were hundreds of cops. “It’s Jumma [Friday prayers]. They’re expecting trouble,” he adds. Earlier on Thursday, members of the Anjuman Intezamia Masjid Committee issued an appeal to Muslims in the area to not crowd the Gyanvapi mosque this week. By 1pm, however, the street outside Gate 4, the common entrance to the Gyanvapi-Vishwanath complex, were chock-a-block with local devotees turning up in hordes to pray at the 17th century mosque. Many had to be dispersed into other nearby mosques after police claimed Gyanvapi was full. “Gyanvapi mosque is usually not this crowded,” says Akbar, who worked at a shop owned by a Hindu, selling items of Hindu faith. “But with Hindus wanting to pray inside it, things are changing. Some people are afraid they might not be able to enter the mosque again,” Akbar says.