Aghast at the Babri Masjid verdict, I apologise to the thousands whose lives were ruined, and bemoan the debasement of an ancient religion, writes Jyoti Punwani

The apology is to the thousands whose lives were ruined by the movement to demolish Ayodhya’s Babri Masjid and build a Ram Mandir at the very spot where it stood

Jyoti Punwani September 30, 2020 18:34:00 IST
Aghast at the Babri Masjid verdict, I apologise to the thousands whose lives were ruined, and bemoan the debasement of an ancient religion, writes Jyoti Punwani

Representative image. Reuters

You see a massive crime unfolding before you. You follow its every evil turn and twist, aghast at the depths to which the perpetrators can go, shocked at the way they destroy others’ lives. Then, the judge acquits them all, blaming unknown persons for bringing the perpetrators’ plans to fruition. What then of the things you saw, the consequences of which are being played out till today?

That’s the reason I cannot bring myself to read CBI judge SK Yadav’s judgment acquitting all the accused in the Babri Masjid demolition case. As a journalist, read it I must, but first, I must apologise for it.

The apology is to the thousands whose lives were ruined by the movement to demolish Ayodhya’s Babri Masjid and build a Ram Mandir at the very spot where it stood. Mandir wahin banayengey, the slogan of the Ayodhya movement launched by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and then led by BJP leader LK Advani, left no one in doubt about its intention.

The decade from 1982 to 1992 saw Hindu-Muslim riots erupt in places hitherto untouched to any serious extent by communal violence. The VHP’s yatras during that decade, aimed at arousing Hindus to support their cause, and then Advani’s rath yatra, unleashed such venom that small towns even in Karnataka and Kerala erupted.

The country’s most cosmopolitan city, its commercial capital, had slogans saying "Is desh mein rehna hoga to Vande Matram kehna hoga" and "garv se kaho hum Hindu hain" on its walls. When the BJP’s Jaywantiben Mehta won her Lok Sabha seat in the 1989 general elections, temple bells rang out, and slogans of "Hindustan Hinduon ka, nahin kisike baap ka’’ were raised.

The Ayodhya movement changed the image of Hinduism, transforming the persona of Ram from Maryada Purshottam to a vengeful warrior god. It was then that the gentle greeting 'Jai Siya Ram’ became the war cry 'Jai Sri Ram' that it remains to date. "Bacha bacha Ram ka, ya chaachi ke kaam ka’’ was the triumphant slogan raised in Indore outside Muslim homes after the 1989 riots there, which erupted after a VHP ram shila pujan procession was stopped, and claimed 27 lives.

"Give us your sons, or we shall make you have ours, they’ll all be Ram bhakts," was what the Indore police told the Muslim women when they came on their nightly raids.

Listening to these women, I remember feeling ashamed at what the VHP-BJP-Bajrang Dal had done to Hinduism. Today’s judgment seems to send a message that the movement that spawned this debasement of an ancient religion known for its inclusiveness (though not towards its own "low" castes) was alright.

Advani, Ashok Singhal, 'Sadhvi' Rithambara whom I heard at a well-attended rally exhorting Hindus to destroy all illegal mosques and seize the land on which they stood, all these rabble-rousers stand validated today, for they did no wrong.

So also the RSS men who initiated Mumbai’s youngsters into the Bajrang Dal with trishuls, telling them to use them "freely against anti-nationals". Weren’t they encouraging violence, I asked after the initiation, invariably held inside a temple. "It’s time Hindus became extremist," they would reply angrily. Now they have a judgment backing what they did.

And what of Mumbai’s victims? There were two options for the victims of the riots that flared up in this city hours after the Babri Masjid was demolished. A few took the easy option: they helped Dawood Ibrahim and Tiger Memon execute bomb blasts two months after the riots. The rest waited patiently. First they testified in front of a judge in a courtroom full of policemen who had refused to help them when they were being attacked.

Then they waited for action to be taken against those indicted by the judge. At every stage, they approached the courts, from the Supreme Court to the magistrates’ courts. Mostly, the courts heard them out, even gave them hope that one day justice would be theirs. For years they waited for that day, knowing that the delay was not because of the courts but because successive Maharashtra governments were hell bent on protecting the accused.

Now, they don’t know. Was their wait worth it, they ask. There’s no reply to that.

There was a third option too: SIMI. The late Fazal Sha’d, founder of the Bombay Aman Committee, spent nights in the JJ Hospital morgue during the riots, helping desperate families who came looking for their missing menfolk. He was witness to the worst form of trauma resulting from the riots.

Yet, when the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) put up its notorious poster of the Babri Masjid domes shedding tears and the words "waiting for another Mehmood Ghaznavi" on it, it was Sha’d who was the first to denounce it.

Today’s judgment would bring a bitter satisfaction to those who designed this poster.

To Fazal Sha’d, to the Indore women, to Mumbai riot victim Farooq Mapkar, who’s gone to every court possible to get the policeman who shot him as he bent down for namaaz punished; to victims,  Hindus included, whose childhood was destroyed when their fathers were killed by policemen or mobs roused to a frenzy by leaders like Advani and Uma Bharti, after today’s judgment I can only say "Sorry. This isn’t justice."

The only way to make amends is to send out the message that no matter what governments and courts do, they are not speaking for the majority of Hindus.

At the height of the Ayodhya campaign, a Hindu father had complained to his daughter’s school principal about a teacher who had distributed VHP badges of the Ram Mandir in class. For that, he was roughed up by VHP supporters who barged into his flat and demanded that he withdraw his complaint. He refused.

We need to be like that Hindu.

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