On Thursday, several civil society members including activists, feminists, lawyers and journalists came together for an online press conference to discuss the shocking judgment in the criminal conspiracy case surrounding the demolition of the Babri Masjid.
The online event was organised by the Bebaak Collective in association with Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP), People’s Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL) and Forum Against Oppression of Women. Speakers included senior Advocate Mihir Desai, journalist and human rights defender Teesta Setalvad, activist Flavia Agnes, journalist Meena Menon, lawyer Shakil Ahmed and Mumbai riots survivor Farook Mapkar. It was moderated by activist Hasina Khan.
They discussed how hard documentary evidence as well as powerful eyewitness testimonies appear to have been willfully ignored.
Advocate Mihir Desai pointed out, “Prohibitory orders had been passed under Section 144 on the day of the Babri Masjid demolition. So at least the perpetrators could have been convicted for participation by way of an unlawful assembly that led to the demolition.”
Teesta Setalvad who had covered the demolition and its aftermath extensively, reminded everyone that the build-up to the eventual demolition was deliberate and hard to ignore. She said, “The entire campaign that led to the demolition of the Babri Masjid, not only let loose a particularly genocidal character of communal violence where Muslims became repeatedly the target; be it Meerut-Hashimpur, 1997, Bhagalpur, 1989, Ahmedabad, Hubli, Bhiwandi-Bombay, Jaipur among only some instances, but LK Advani’s Rath Yatra made it abundantly clear that he was not carrying a message of peace. Pictures of him carrying a trishul, an axe, a sword and a bow and arrow were constant. A systematic demonisation campaign against Indian Muslims, manipulating history and militarising Lord Ram was employed.”
She also reminded how key testimonies like that of journalist Ruchira Gupta who was then with Business India appear to have been completely ignored. “On December 6, 1992 Advani made a spirited speech from the Ram Katha Kunj Manch, barely 150-200 metres from the disputed site, which charged the people. He repeatedly said that the temple would be constructed at the same site,” Gupta had told the trial court. She also said that when the kar sevaks began demolishing the Babri Masjid none of the BJP leaders who were present, including Advani, made any efforts to stop them. Once the mosque was demolished, the BJP leaders distributed sweets, according to Gupta’s testimony. “Despite all this, we have a verdict that has shattered the faith of common Indians,” lamented Setalvad who has a decades long track record of upholding and defending Constitutional values and communal harmony.
Activist Flavia Agnes said, “If the video footage and photographs of the Babri Masjid demolition are not evidence, then what is? The perpetrators gloated about it. Those should have been considered confessional statements.”
Journalist Meena Menon concurred, “We saw the coverage by BBC, our photographers were there! Everybody saw what happened, even the perpetrators proudly flaunted their role. Yet the court found no evidence!” She added, “Nobody expects justice from the system. We are increasingly becoming a society that looks to providence for justice!”
Mumbai riots survivor Farook Mapkar appeared resigned to hopelessness, “I have personally gone through a long journey demanding justice. Initially, I had high hopes from the CBI, but was eventually disappointed.” He added, “I wonder if the CBI is controlled by the regime? There is always the fear that justice will be denied if our stand differs from that of the regime. I fear Dalits and Muslims will never get as much attention as Kangana Raut or Sushant Singh case.”
Advocate Shakil Ahmed put into words what everyone had been thinking, “I wasn’t shocked at all with the judgment in the Babri Masjid demolition case. The accused were all people who enjoyed support of people in power. Their party members have been repeatedly rewarded in elections.”