When the Babri Masjid was demolished on 6 December 1992, I was assigned to do a story on the meaning the cataclysmic event in Ayodhya had for the Hindus of India. I met philosopher Ramchandra Gandhi at Delhi’s India International Centre, where he was to die in 2007. The philosopher said, “Hindus never believed in killing a saint. They killed Gandhi. Hindus never believed in destroying a place of worship. They have demolished the Babri Masjid.”
I next met historian Sumit Sarkar. The demolition of the Babri Masjid had triggered retaliatory violence against the Hindus in Bangladesh and Pakistan. Some temples were attacked and destroyed. A large swathe of north India was under curfew. Pointing to these events, Sarkar said, “It is reminiscent of the Partition riots, not in its intensity, but in the geographical spread of the communal tension.”
As we commemorate the 29th anniversary of the Babri Masjid demolition, many will think of this day as the beginning of the diminishing rights of Indian Muslims. This it may well signify.
Yet, at the same time, the absence of the Babri Masjid has become a metaphor of what the Hindus are doing to themselves—turning against their own spiritual inheritance emphasising accommodation and ahimsa, and ceasing to become the glowing example of secular democracy they were once to the countries comprising subcontinent. A “way of life” is slowly becoming the path to violence.
The Saint Still Bleeds
Gandhi, the saint, continues to have bullets pumped into his body. The principles he espoused are eroded by extolling his assassin, Nathuram Godse. There is a Godse temple in Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh. On Gandhi’s birth and death anniversaries, Godse is hailed for killing the father of the nation.
Alt News, which specialises in busting fake news, revealed that Prime Minister Narendra Modi followed some of those who had tweeted praises for Godse in 2017. The Alt News report began thus, “Godse was God sent”, “Gandhi should have been hanged”, “Godse had valid reasons to shoot Gandhi”, “I repeat I’m a big Godse fan, so what?” What do the people who posted these tweets have in common? Yes, they are followed by the honourable Prime Minister of India, Mr. Narendra Modi.”
Alt News also dug up a January 2015 tweet of Amit Malviya, who is in-charge of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s National Information and Technology Department, in which he said Godse had “his reasons to assassinate M.K. Gandhi. A fair society must hear him out.” When a person reminded Malviya that “there is no reason to assassinate anyone”, Malviya shot back, “Actually there have been instances where killings have been deemed acceptable.”
In February 2013, a year before Modi swept into power, Malviya had sought to defile the memory of Gandhi: “The truth about Mahatma Gandhi: he was a wily bigot, not India’s smiling saint. This will cause a lot of heartburn.”
In later years, presumably out of political pragmatism, Malviya took to singing another tune, as was evident from his 2018 tweet: “His [Gandhi] clarion call of peace and ahimsa have [sic!] the power to unite humanity.” This is certainly one goal the BJP’s politics of polarisation does not promise. Else, would the BJP have given a ticket to the Godse bhakt, Pragya Singh Thakur, to contest the 2019 Lok Sabha election from Bhopal?
Sociologist Paramjit Singh Judge has a theory why Sangh activists periodically trumpet Godse’s virtues. “It is their way of figuring out whether Godse has become acceptable—and Gandhi unacceptable—to the majority,” he said. Even in death, Gandhi has proved resilient, though Bhopal did, indeed, elect Pragya Singh.
Eyeing the Mosques
When the movement against the Babri Masjid, aka the Ram Janmabhoomi movement, was at its peak, many wanted the traditional Muslim leadership to voluntarily hand over the disputed site in Ayodhya to the Hindus. The traditional leadership argued that this would only encourage the Hindu Right to lay claims to other places of worship belonging to Muslims.
Let us face it: the traditional Muslim leadership has been proved right.
Two years after the Supreme Court handed over the Babri Masjid site to the Hindus, a court in Varanasi ordered the Archaeological Survey of India to examine whether the Gyanvapi mosque, located adjacent to the Kashi Vishwanath Temple, was a “superimposition, alteration or addition or there is structural overlapping of any kind, with or over, any other religious structure”.
The judge seems to have not heard of the Places of Worship Act, 1991, which freezes the ownership of temples, mosques, gurdwaras, churches et al. as it was on 15 August 1947. Three months later, the order of the Varanasi judge was stayed by the Allahabad High Court. Around seven suits seeking, one way or another, the removal of the Gyanvapi mosque are pending in courts for admission.
The story is the same in Mathura, where four suits demanding the removal of the Shahi Idgah mosque from the 13.37-acre premises of the Katra Keshav Dev temple are pending in city courts. One of these suits, filed by Ranjana Agnihotri, was dismissed at the admission stage, but the plaintiff has gone in appeal to the district court.
The other three suits await admission. One of these has been filed by the Hindu Army chief, another by lawyer Mahendra Pratap Singh representing five plaintiffs, and the third by Pawan Kumar Shastri, the priest of the old Keshav Dev temple. Their pleas demand the annulment of the 1967 agreement between the Sri Krishna Janmasthan Seva Sansthan and the Shahi Idgah Management Committee, which allowed the mosque to exist near the Keshav Dev temple.
This was how the movement against the Babri Masjid was crafted, by raising disputes and filing legal suits. Every court pronouncement, over many decades, enlarged the rights of Hindus to the Babri Masjid. Emulating the same tactic, a group of Hindus petitioned a Delhi court pleading that the Quwwatul Islam Masjid, located in the Qutab Minar complex, should be handed over to them—and that idol worship be allowed there. The court dismissed this suit last week.
Attacks on the Sacred
Sure, legal suits cannot be construed as violent actions, even though these do advertise the aggressive intent of the Hindu community and instil fear in the Muslim community. This caveat apart, mosques have been wantonly destroyed in the last seven years. In the 2020 Northeast Delhi riots, at least 16 places of worship were attacked, some burnt down or smashed, and the Quran torn to bits. In at least one colony, Hindus persuaded Muslims to stay behind—and then joined the assailants to rain havoc.
Ramchandra Gandhi’s belief that the demolition of the Babri Masjid heralded the turning away of the Hindus from their own religious values was tragically revealed in an attack on Chand Baba Ka Mazaar, a nondescript mausoleum located in north-east Delhi, in the 2020 attacks. I was present at the reopening of the mausoleum, where Hindu devotees outstripped the Muslims. “Yes, far more Hindus than Muslims patronize the Mazaar,” Minhaj Pehelwan, the gaddi nashin or spiritual heir, told me.
Indeed, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s Hindutva is consciously effacing elements of eclecticism and tolerance informing Hinduism, which philosophers have celebrated. This was vividly illustrated in October’s violence in Tripura, where Hindutva activists targetted mosques. Journalists who toured the state reported on the scars of violence, which were still visible to them, giving the lie to the Union Home Ministry’s claim that no mosque was attacked or vandalised.
The violence in Tripura was in response to attacks on temples in Bangladesh, where a Muslim radical, as was later found, had placed the Quran at the feet of an idol in a pandal erected for the Durga Puja celebrations. As the news about the sacrilege spread via social media, enraged mobs took to the streets in several districts.
A cross-border cycle of retribution began: The affiliates of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh organised protest marches in Tripura, raided masjids and terrorised Muslims. True, the cross-border cycle of violence is not unprecedented. For instance, the demolition of the Babri Masjid triggered communal eruptions in Bangladesh and Pakistan, as had also happened when a relic of the Prophet Muhammad, said to be a strand from his beard, went missing for a few days from the Hazratbal shrine, in Srinagar, in 1963.
There were horrific riots in East Pakistan, triggering an exodus of Hindus. Thereafter, both Hindus and Muslims fought together to liberate East Pakistan, which was reborn as Bangladesh in 1971. However, after the assassination of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the founding father of Bangladesh, the Hindus were hounded by the Jamaat-e-Islami, which enjoyed the patronage of military dictators. Yet another exodus of Hindus began.
It must be remembered, though, that the violence against Bangladeshi Hindus was not in response to events in India, particularly violence against Muslims. It was perhaps recognised that India’s periodic communal riots were spawned by local elite and electoral rivalries—and were not declarations of violent intents against Islam and its followers in India.
This is no longer the case. The Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019, had become a hot talking point among Bangladeshis and in TV debates. Several Hindu community leaders then told me that by enacting the discriminatory citizenship law, the BJP had done a huge disservice to them, apart from rendering them vulnerable to the politics of Muslim radicals.
Bangladeshi scholars, in fact, accused Home Minister Amit Shah of playing the Jinnah card and rekindling the divisive politics preceding Partition. The divide of Partition glimpsed in the wake of the Babri Masjid demolition, a point made by historian Sumit Sarkar in 1992, is showing, sadly, signs of becoming permanent.
Borders of Hatred
The darkness redolent of Partition could not have emerged without carving out borders of hatred within India. Take the Gujarat Disturbed Areas Act, 1991, which was amended in 2020 and received Presidential assent. Under the amended Act, the district collector’s permission is necessary before a person can transfer his or her immovable property in areas declared as disturbed. The collector can refuse a person in case he or she thinks the proposed transfer of property would lead to improper clustering of persons.
The amended Act was challenged in the Gujarat High Court, which ordered the government not to classify new areas as disturbed until the petition is disposed. The petitioner, Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind, claimed the Act envisages two types of clustering—proper and improper. The clustering considered proper comprises areas inhabited by those belonging to one community.
In other words, the Act discourages people subscribing to different religions from residing in a colony—and creating homogenous residential habitats. Even before the Act was amended in 2020, it had been counted among the most significant factors for the mushrooming of Muslim ghettos in Gujarat, a deliberate move to isolate Muslims from Hindus.
It is Gujarat’s son who governs India. It is, therefore, not surprising that Modi has not spoken out against calls for the economic boycott of Muslims. (Accounts of these campaigns can be read here and here.) Nor has the Prime Minister uttered a word against Hindutva footsoldiers who prevent Muslims from offering the congregational Friday prayer at Gurugram. There were 117 sites in Gurugram where Muslims would pray until 2018. Today, they can do so at just 20 places.
Nor has Modi asked Hindu groups to not prevent Munawar Faruqui from cancelling his shows. Unable to endure the torment any longer, Faruqui said he was calling it quits. India has witnessed Hindutva trolls questioning the loyalty of Muslim actors—and to the hounding of Shah Rukh Khan and his son Aryan.
Undoubtedly, there are many who have sought to demolish the borders of hatred gradually being drawn in India’s collective consciousness. There was, for instance, Akshay Yadav, who offered his premises for Muslims to offer their Friday prayer.
In 2020, when the Tayyaba Masjid in north-east Delhi was attacked by Hindus, its imam called his neighbour and friend, Sunil Prajapati, for help. Prajapati and two of his mates confronted the assailants and saved the Imam, his family and a handful of Muslims who had taken refuge in the mosque. Prajapati’s words still ring in my ears: “Those who destroy temples and mosques are only capable of killing people.”
Prajapati’s statement ought to be a warning to the Hindus to save their religion from being appropriated for political purposes. Else they will, with time, learn to hate and kill and devastate India. This has been Pakistan’s experience. With the genie of radical Islam let out by President Ziaul Haque, decades of bloodshed and instability followed.
Among those whom Haque hounded was poet Fahmida Riaz, who was helped by the late Punjabi writer Amrita Pritam to get asylum in India. Riaz stayed here for many years. On 8 March 2014, she returned to India and recited her poem, ‘Tum bilkul hum jaisey nikley (You have turned out just like us)’, at a seminar (The video embedded in this link shows Riaz reciting a shorter version of her poem.) What she predicts in the recitation is already happening in India: Vocal Hindus who do not subscribe to Hindutva are trolled, threatened, raided, and jailed in certain cases. As a warning to what awaits India, here is Riaz’s poem, which was translated by Shabana Mir:
So it turned out you are just like us!
Where were you hiding all this time, buddy?
That stupidity, that ignorance
we wallowed in for a century –
look, it arrived at your shores too!
Many congratulations to you!
Raising the flag of religion,
I guess now you’ll be setting up Hindu Raj?
You too will commence to muddle everything up
You, too, will ravage your beautiful garden.
You, too, will sit and ponder –
I can tell preparations are afoot –
who is truly Hindu, who is not.
I guess you’ll be passing fatwas soon!
Here, too, it will become hard to survive.
Here, too, you will sweat and bleed.
You’ll barely make do joylessly.
You will gasp for air like us.
I used to wonder with such deep sorrow.
And now, I laugh at the idea:
it turned out you were just like us!
We weren’t two nations after all!
To hell with education and learning.
Let’s sing the praises of ignorance.
Don’t look at the potholes in your path:
bring back instead the times of yore!
Practice harder till you master
the skill of always walking backwards.
Let not a single thought of the present
break your focus upon the past!
Repeat the same thing over and over –
over and over, say only this:
How glorious was India in the past!
How sublime was India in days gone by!
Then, dear friends, you will arrive
and get to heaven after all.
Yep. We’ve been there for a while now.
Once you are there,
once you’re in the same hell-hole,
keep in touch and tell us how it goes!
The author is an independent journalist. The views are personal.