Babri Masjid demolition: A journalist recounts going undercover to Ayodhya as a kar sevak

Among the hundreds and thousands of kar sevaks who had made their way to the site of the Babri Masjid, armed with hammers and shovels, in December 1992 was Sanjay Kaw.

Kaw, a journalist with The Statesman, had previously covered LK Advani’s 1990 Rath Yatra, as it passed through Delhi. He remembers being surprised by the number of people who came out on the roads, scattering rose petals on the Yatra. But Delhi seemed a long way off when Kaw made his way to Ayodhya two years later.

Kar sevaks demolish the Babri Masjid on 6 December 1992. AFP/File Photo

Kar sevaks demolish the Babri Masjid on 6 December 1992. AFP/File Photo

What had brought him here was a tip-off from a cab driver, and faked credentials. “One night, while being dropped home from work, I asked the driver of the car whether he could suggest any story ideas to me,” says Kaw, of what led him to one of the biggest stories of his journalistic career. “He told me that kar sevaks were being provided certain incentives for going to Ayodhya.”

The Statesman’s reporting staff would have a meeting every morning to discuss their stories with their news editor, Ravindra Kumar. When Kaw told his editor about the tip-off he’d received, Kumar insisted that the reporter visit Ayodhya as a kar sevak himself.

Kaw began to do his homework; he found that all kar sevaks were being issued “parichay patras” (letters of identification/introduction). To obtain his, Kaw visited the BJP unit in South Delhi’s Ambedkar Nagar. “I convinced the party official there that I was a Kashmiri Pandit, who had had to abandon his studies because of militancy in the Valley. He gave me the letter on hearing my story,” Kaw says. For this subterfuge, Kaw took on the name Sanjay Kaul.

The letter would be the sole protection Kaw would have in Ayodhya. Twenty-six years later, Kaw admits that he could have never imagined what was in store. “At every stage, I had to convince the organisers and other kar sevaks that I too was a genuine sevak. The ‘parichay patra’ saved my life,” he says.

Photo essay: Photojournalist Praveen Jain revisits the day of the Babri Masjid demolition

Kaw recounts waking up one morning in Ayodhya (he had been provided accommodation in a tent along with some RSS pracharaks; meals were also arranged for the men) to find hundreds of people gathered outside. “They were carrying boulders and shovels, and shouting ‘Jai Shri Ram’,” says Kaw. “Out of fear, I too joined the mob, which was led by then BJP MP BL Sharma ‘Prem’.” The mob set to work, breaking down three gravestones. Kaw carried the debris to a nearby pond, along with other kar sevaks.

Journalist Sanjay Kaw pretended to be a kar sevak to report on the Babri Masjid demolition

Journalist Sanjay Kaw pretended to be a kar sevak to report on the Babri Masjid demolition

The threat of violence was a constant. During his time in Ayodhya, Kaw heard that “some Pakistanis had been caught near the (mosque) structure and beaten up”. On another occasion, a group of men — who claimed they were trained in handling explosives — taught Kaw how to use a flick-knife. A sadhu told Kaw that journalists staying at the Shan-e-Awadh hotel in Faizabad were being kept under close watch.

When asked to describe what the kar sevaks were like, as a group, Kaw simply says, “They were just there to bring down the mosque.” It was a goal to which the law would not offer much opposition. Kaw has previously spoken about policemen who told him they would defy any order to act against the kar sevaks and lay down their arms. “One policeman told me that some of his colleagues had already started removing bricks from the structure, just to weaken it,” he remembers.

Kaw says that before he went to Ayodhya, he never imagined that people of any one faith or religion could feel so much hatred for those belonging to other communities. “The demolition of the disputed structure (Babri Masjid) changed the political and cultural discourse of our country. It was an assault on the credentials of our so-called democratic nation,” says Kaw. “I had never believed a community to be capable of such violence. This despite being a victim of militancy that forced me to leave my home in Kashmir. I sympathise with members of minority communities anywhere in the world, because to be in the minority is a curse.”

Kaw never went back to Ayodhya after that 1992 visit. He adds that during a special Parliamentary discussion, then Union Home Minister SB Chavan apologised to the nation, saying had he "read Kaw's reports for The Statesman, perhaps Babri could have been saved". Kaw says he never received any threats over his reportage on the Masjid demolition, although members of his own community felt he had “betrayed them”.

How did we fail to understand the import of the events that led to the Babri Masjid demolition? “Armchair experts were content to discuss the press releases and statements issued by politicians,” Kaw says. “That’s why everyone failed in their duty. At least now you get to see live footage of events pertaining to contentious issues.”

Kaw says his time undercover as a kar sevak affected him in ways he cannot begin to describe. “I still feel fear when someone talks of Ayodhya,” he admits. “It changed me completely.”

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Updated Date: Dec 06, 2018 18:47:02 IST

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