We fall, get up and march forward
Twenty-four years after the Babri Masjid demolition, our apprehensions have proved to be unfounded and at times, one is happy to be proved wrong
It was 6 December 1992. My body was burning with fever, but my mind was preoccupied with the developments in faraway Ayodhya. Our correspondent had reported the night before that the kar sevaks (volunteers) were not in a mood to return empty-handed this time.
Over the last three years, we had been watching how the tensions were being stoked in the entire country. At times women were coaxed to beat thalis (plates) in support of the Ram temple from their terraces. At other times, groups of young men went from door to door seeking donations for the construction of the temple. Most parts of India were abuzz with discussions about the Ram temple. People from our generation, who had only heard about the nation’s struggle for independence and the subsequent partition, were gripped by anxiety.
During this period I discovered new facets of people I knew. During my student days at Banaras Hindu University (BHU), I was introduced to a professor who dazzled his pupils with his intellect. Calling himself a progressive, he offered sharp critiques of the caste system, communalism, dynastic politics and the diktats of the university administration. So endearing was his style that people were mesmerized.
In the months preceding the demolition of the Babri Masjid, I found that there was a traffic jam near Singh Dwar when I visited BHU. It was a procession of Ram bhakts (Ram devotees) passing through the area. Their slogans rent the air. I recognized the professor in the crowd who, too, was vigorously shouting slogans. Later I asked him: “Weren’t you a Leftist in the 1980s?” “I had lost my way. The temple in Ayodhya is a symbol of our pride,” he replied.
Clearly, at that juncture of time, historical points of view had assumed new layers.
In 1990 the then Uttar Pradesh chief minister, Mulayam Singh Yadav, was trying to stop this wave. He said at a rally that till the time he was there, even a bird could not flap a wing in Ayodhya without his permission.
But the conflict kept escalating. The situation became so bad that on 30 October 1990, a few kar sevaks broke the police and paramilitary cordon and climbed on top of the dome of the Babri mosque. They were made to get off after several attempts. Emboldened by this, their leaders announced that they would knock down the mosque on 2 November itself.
The sun on 2 November appeared like a huge, fiery ball of conflict. One of my IPS friends was posted in Ayodhya that day. Many years later, when we met in Delhi he told me that the kar sevaks had adopted an innovative strategy that day. They were hiding behind the women and elderly who were pleading with the soldiers to let them move forward, by falling at their feet. Out of respect and conditioning, the soldiers would retreat two steps and the kar sevaks would move forward in this manner. After some time one young officer understood that they would keep advancing in this manner. They gave a formal warning to the kar sevaks which fell on deaf ears. Left with no choice, they had to use tear gas and carry out a baton charge. The situation deteriorated so much that the police had to open fire on the crowd near Hanuman Garhi in Ayodhya. Fourteen people were killed in the incident. By the time the officer returned home late at night, his wife had heard the news about the police firing. Looking at the bloodstains on her husband’s uniform she assumed her husband had ordered the firing on the kar sevaks. For a few minutes she went into deep shock. His wife is also from the administrative services and not unlettered. Clearly, the security personnel were fighting the battle at many levels.
In those tumultuous times, communal riots flared up in many parts of the country. More than 2,000 people lost their lives in these riots. It appeared we had been split wide open forever. India would never be the same after the morning of 6 December 1992.
Twenty-four years after the Babri Masjid demolition, I can say with a sense of relief that our apprehensions have proved to be unfounded. At times, one is happy to be proved wrong.
This doesn’t mean that the Ayodhya issue has been resolved. Before every election, there is an attempt to let the genie out of the bottle. It is a tradition followed in Pune every year on 15 November, when a group of people gather around an urn containing the ashes of Nathuram Godse, the man who murdered the Mahatma. His ashes still haven’t been immersed. The group believes that the immersion will happen only in the Indus river of an undivided India.
Nathuram Godse’s younger brother Gopal wrote a book in which he justified the vadh (murder) of the Mahatma, saying that it was essential. He was a staunch believer in the rebuilding of an undivided India, but most people ignored him. Most people in the country were not aware of his ambition.
The good news is that the youth of the 21st century have braced themselves for every new challenge that lies ahead. They don’t have time for such talk.
Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan.
His Twitter handle is @shekharkahin
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