Ayodhya dispute: Babri Masjid demolition was not about constructing Ram Mandir, but hatred for other Indians
The Ram Janmabhoomi movement was against the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya rather than in favour of constructing a Ram Mandir, and this is why the movement collapsed after the demolition and the violence it produced
I was a few days short of my 23rd birthday on 6 December, 1992. That evening I was at my friend Rajiv Desai’s house and he told me that the Babri Masjid had been pulled down.
I felt excited by the thought that something new and radical had happened. The next morning I went to open our little shop in Surat’s textile market but everything was shut. I telephoned my father to ask him what I should do. He said that I should wait a while and then return. On my way back, my bike was stopped in a neighbourhood by a group of men. They asked my name. I said it. One of the men replied, “Don’t come back here, please.”
From our eighth floor flat in Surat, I could see that by 1 pm, there were several columns of smoke going up all over the city. I had never seen mass violence before and in a few days over 500 people, mostly Muslims, would be butchered in the Surat. The columns of smoke were from Muslim homes and businesses being systematically looted and burnt.
Of course, my excitement had long vanished by then as the realisation came that something new and radical had indeed happened, but it was not in any way positive.
We were punishing the Muslims after having destroyed their structure. Why? This was not easy to answer.
Writer VS Naipaul, who spoke no Indian languages but was able to examine our society quite deeply, felt that the movement against the mosque was a positive thing. His explanation was that the Indian society was the way it was — meaning poor, dirty and uninventive — because the Hindu mind remained colonised and needed to be liberated. The violence and energy released by the demolition of Babri Masjid would bring positive intellectual change.
This was not based on scholarship but his impressions. If one thinks about this seriously, it is quite ridiculous. It assumes that all the centuries of rule by different dynasties — Afghan, Turk, Mughal and Persian — which all fought each other, were one continuous thing. It assumes that colonising rulers who were not Muslims (for example the Maratha Gaekwads in Baroda or the Scindias in Gwalior) were different and did not tax or oppress their populations. It also assumes that all parts of India were ruled by Muslims. This is not true.
Naipaul was not an academic, and therefore, not challenged properly on his thesis. No proper scholar would make such a sketchy argument and none has. Did the collective Hindu mind get liberated on 6 December, 1992? No, it did not. We are not a different nation in any way. The big change in our collective thinking came from the liberalisation policy of Manmohan Singh in 1991 and not the vandalism of 1992.
Perhaps Naipaul meant in the long term but then a quarter century is the long term, and already we live in a time when most Indians alive today were born after the demolition. Surely it cannot have affected them.
There is no liberation. The one change that has come is that we have become more easily communal in our expression as a nation.
Today, the political parties and the mass media can say things, reckless things, that they perhaps hesitated from saying before 1992.
Reports say that two lakh people from the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh are gathering in Ayodhya. Some five thousand Shiv Sainiks under Uddhav Thackeray and his son Aaditya are already there. They have announced, rather ominously, that this will be the last ‘Dharma Sabha’ in Ayodhya.
The reason they are doing this is to put pressure on the BJP government to start the construction of the Ram Mandir before the elections as if this Bharatiya Janata Party needs encouragement to do that.
If there is a reason the BJP is in power today it is largely because of its actions in 1992.
The sentiment that made the BJP popular in that period was negative. Meaning that it was communally charged. It was against the Babri Masjid rather than in favour of the temple. This is why the Ram Janmabhoomi movement collapsed after the demolition and the violence it produced.
It remains negative even today, and it is intended to punish other Indians. It is not with feelings of devotion or piety that these people are gathering. It is mostly with emotions of hatred. Listen to their slogans and their rhetoric and this becomes immediately clear.
Nothing positive and productive can come out of such bitterness and hate. Naipaul did not understand that. But then for him the stakes were low. He could offer his casual opinions on our society and take a return flight back to his home in England.
We have to live in this country with other Indians. We should be wary of the demons we let escape when we set about liberating the collective Hindu mind.
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