Remembering Babri Masjid
Who had even heard of it? A nondescript little used mosque somewhere in the city of Ayodhya in central India. On 6 Dec 1992, Babri Masjid became the mosque that no one in India would ever forget, a national wound that 15 years later, still throbs, still pierces the hearts of those who lost forever the security of being at home.
Yet, this should have been the last mosque to stand as a symbol of our inner khalish. According to the District Gazetteer Faizabad 1905: “up to this time (1855), both the Hindus and the Muslims used to worship in the same building. But since the Mutiny (1857), an outer enclosure has been put up in front of the Masjid and the Hindus forbidden access to the inner yard, make the offerings on a platform, which they have raised in the outer one."
Claims of a Ram temple under the mosque had persisted through history, many people believing that Babur had built the mosque after demolishing the temple. No specific mention was made of this in the Babur Nama though, and some historians believe Babur merely repaired the edifice, not built it. Regardless, on that fateful day, 75,000 - 200,000 saffron-clad militants, mostly from the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, climbed over the edifice to bring it down, to rescue the Janmabhoomi of the Gods.
My memories of the day are scattered. At the time, it seemed like some far away, alien happening on another planet. Did things like this happen in India? We heard about it and saw it on television, but it was still all very unbelievable. Who were all these people and what did they want? An old mosque? We had seen the rath yatra passing before our house some days back, an exercise in sensationalism that had all looked very filmi to me.
It was a stark piece of reality to many others. In Ayodhya, Muslims were afraid and changed their nameplates to avoid recognition. The air resonated with the sentiments one would associate with pages of ancient history.
"Every civil building connected with Mahommedan tradition should be levelled to the ground without regard to antiquarian veneration or artistic predilection.” British Prime Minister Palmerston’s Letter No. 9 dated 9 October 1857, to Lord Canning, Viceroy of India, Canning Papers.
People locked themselves in their home and uneasily peered outside. The kar sevaks were going through the streets of Ayodhya, mocking the fabric of Indian communal harmony, tearing it as they went. There was pain and disbelief on the faces I saw, shock at the demolition and the feeling of being abandoned and being betrayed by their countrymen. Houses were razed, people killed and maimed each other. Bombay was under curfew (!!Bombay!!). There were bomb blasts in the city, something that was not a common everyday occurrence at the time. I heard of a bearded man who had been burned alive, only later did they find out that he was Parsi, not Muslim.
Very very surreal to me. All this over a building?
My good friend at the time called and apologized to me for it. Why? Because she was Hindu. I was flabbergasted. What did I have to do with a decrepit mosque I had never seen? Why did she need to apologize for unknown strangers doing things un-Indian? I remember she gave me three hand-embroidered handkerchiefs and a card about national Unity.
I was bemused and realised in her own way, she was showing her solidarity to our friendship and was upset over my perceived alienation by the incident. Cemented with chai breaks and crying over each others shoulders through five years of college, did we really need a card to tell us we're okay? I hugged her and said, "It was just an old building I had never seen." It had nothing to do with me. Truly, it was how I felt.
The Babri Masjid demolition was a pivotal moment in our history. It established firmly that fundamentalism had come home to stay, that religion, from that moment on, would be a defining factor in Indian politics and society, that rather than Indian, we were Hindus and Muslims. It ushered in the era of Hindutva and Islamic fundamentalism in India. The BJP and Shiv Sena became household names in all Bombay as well as the rest of the country. In Bombay, we lost our complacency that communalism was not for us. We became Mumbai and blended in, lost our spark, a recognition that whatever had happened to us those two months changed us forever. No longer could we boast of our cosmopolitan and secular nature. It wasn't just us either, there was arson, looting, rape and destruction of temples in nearby Bangladesh.
Today, the site of the demolition is under the protection of the Supreme Court. Our interminably slow justice system ponders and ponders over what should be done. The Liberhan Commission set up in 1992 to investigate the circumstances of the demolition has become the longest running Commission in the history of the country. Bureaucracy and Politics plod on.
I hear many opinions on what should be done. The government should rebuild the mosque, say guilt-stricken Hindus, with a temple nearby. A monument to Unity is needed here, say others. Muslims are curiously reluctant to offer their opinions, the ones who care also feel they have lost the right to have a say, they have been evicted from their home. The ones who don't care can't see what the fuss is about. Build a school and educate the people, they say, offhandedly.
Speaking to many people on this issue this week, I was struck by something unusual. The lack of blame. Did Muslims blame the Hindus for the demolition. No, said the ones I spoke to, it was a momentary fanaticism. Even Hindus who recalled their support of the issue at the time admitted to a feeling of dismay, shame and disbelief that they could have ever been involved in this. "Just goes to show how easily people are misled," they say, shaking their heads, as if to shake off the memories of their naivete.
To me, its all still surreal. Half a lifetime ago, on a different planet. Not my India.
Remembering Babri Masjid
- » Published on December 06, 2007
- » Type: Opinion
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