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India’s ‘blackest day’ returns to haunt 25 years after Babri Mosque demolition

Birds fly at sunset over a Hindu temple on the 20th anniversary of the Babri mosque demolition in Ayodhya, India, on Dec. 6, 2012. (AP)

Exactly 25 years ago, on December 6, 1992, I stood and watched the worst crime ever committed on Indian soil – the demolition of the Babri Masjid, a mosque in Ayodhya, by Hindu extremists in broad daylight.

The black deed is watershed in the history of contemporary India and a milestone in my career as a professional journalist. Painful memories of that day still make me shudder.

“The 25th anniversary of that fateful day brings a sense of foreboding. The historical and psychological significance of that day is complex as both secularism and Hinduism were severely assaulted. And its consequences are still to play out fully”, academic Pratap Bhanu Mehta, one of India’s tallest intellectuals, remarked today.

For me, the anniversary brings back memories of hordes of hoodlums pulling down the three domes of the 16th century mosque in north India, on the pretext that the mosque stood on the very spot where the mythological Hindu god, Bhagwan Ram, was born. The ultimate aim of the mosque breakers is to build a Ram temple there but the judiciary has so far stood in the way.

Gopalkrishna Gandhi, a civil society icon who has truly lived up to his famous surname, today observed: “The building of a Ram temple at the site of the mosque is not going to be easy. But keeping the idea of that building alive is too easy. For polarizers, better than a temple built is a temple that is waiting to be built.”

Members from Hindu hardline groups shout slogans to mark the 25th anniversary of the razing of Babri mosque in Chandigarh, on December 3, 2017. (Reuters)

The Hindu Right

The demolition proved to be a boon for the Hindu Right. Its biggest beneficiary is Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its ideological mentor, RSS, besides the notorious Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Bajrang Dal which have tightened their grip on the Hindu-majority but constitutionally secular nation. Within three years, the BJP captured power in Gujarat and has retained it for 22 years.

Secular Indians vehemently condemned the mosque’s destruction and the nation-wide anti-Muslim violence in its wake. The Central Bureau of Investigation – India’s FBI – chacterized the demolition as the outcome of a criminal conspiracy by BJP-RSS, VHP-BD but nobody has been convicted.

On the other hand, Hindutva forces haven’t looked back since then and gone from strength to strength. Little wonder that they are today celebrating the silver jubilee of the demolition which swept them to power as “Bravery Day”.

In those days, I worked for the now-defunct Illustrated Weekly of India. Reporters and photographers were targeted by Hindu mobs as the demolition progressed but as a Muslim I was even more vulnerable. It was so intimidating and dangerous that I had assumed a Hindu name for the sake of my safety.

The VHP, which controlled Ayodhya in the run-up to December 6, 1992, had made it mandatory for journalists to fill in forms for a “press card”. The cards were issued by a VHP media centre where I was handed a form.

I was filling it in when Debabrata Thakur of Anand Bazar Patrika, India’s leading Bengali newspaper, pulled me aside and said that I would get killed if the card pinned to my chest had a Muslim name.

My Press Card as A.K. Ray to hide my Muslim identity while covering the demolition of the Babri Mosque 25 years ago. (Supplied)

A Hindu name

“For God’s sake, take a Hindu name, yaar (friend),” he whispered earnestly. I told myself that if I was going to assume a Hindu name, it had better be good. Ultimately, I wrote A. K. Ray on the form along with the name of the magazine I worked for in those days.

I chose A.K. Ray because it is phonetically similar to the Bengali words “E ke ray” – or “who is he”. The Bengali journalists gathered in Ayodhya complimented me for that touch of irony in the time of demolition.

As flights were badly disrupted in the countrywide mayhem post December 6, 1992, I traveled by train from Lucknow to Calcutta where I am based. Taking no chances, I undertook the train journey as Frank Anthony to save myself from marauding Hindus and Muslims who might have waylaid me.

Since 1992, two landmark Babri cases suits are pending in India. The civil suit in the Supreme Court between Hindus and Muslims over the ownership of the land where the mosque stood, in fact, predates the demolition. The criminal suit pertains directly to the demolition. To browbeat Muslims, Hindutva forces are demanding an out-of-court settlement but Muslims haven’t given in.

In a blunt editorial today, Indian Express wrote: “On December 6, 1992 the rule of law suffered a grievous blow and a political project was launched. The wounds are yet to heal…It rearranged the political commonsense, and shifted the political center of gravity to the right, It has helped bring the BJP to power with a decisive majority at the Centre and is contributing to its conquest of a growing number of states… But once the apex court pronounces its verdict, the maturity or lack of it which the BJP and other major players receive it will be an important portent of the things to come.”

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Last Update: Wednesday, 6 December 2017 KSA 16:10 - GMT 13:10
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