There stood a Mosque, and it was Demolished

Reading 'Babri Masjid, 25 Years On'

Babri book

The preparation was accomplished with phenomenal secrecy, was technically flawless with consistency and assured results. The theme was power. It attracted clusters of young men to support the hidden agenda. Leaders know how passions are aroused and how to prevent the same; they however always see what would be beneficial to them rather than what would be good for the nation. This is what happened in Ayodhya.” (from Liberhan Commission report on demolition of Babri mosque).



Babri Masjid has become history. A thing of the past.

Soon we will have a Supreme Court judgment on the case regarding the mosque, but as we know, the name of the case itself is something vague — Ram Janmabhoomi – Babri Masjid land dispute case. It is about two entities, and just like the first one, the second one is also nearly a myth by now.

Problems with things of the past is that we soon forget what it was and where it stood. And in current India, it will not be a surprise if after a few more years it does not even find a place in the history books taught in schools. If it finds, it would only appear as a symbol of Muslim aggression. Even the court dispute has become more about beliefs and people’s sentiments than about historic and archaeological evidences. Rightly so. But when an ‘almost’ Hindu nation weighs its sentiments, sentiments of a large section of people go unnoticed. Forgotten. Ignored.

That is precisely why an alternative recording of events become important. Alternative sources of history, when the mainstream history is limited to the heroic accounts of the dominant society and its protagonists. Ram Rajya’s history is about the heroics of Ram. The villainy of Ram and his disciples will have to be heard from the backyards of history. It needs to be told nevertheless. it needs to be heard nevertheless. At least by those who do not want to be run over by these cultural bulldozers.


A multitude of accounts

‘Babri Masjid, 25 Years On’ is a book that came out in 2017, a collection of essays edited by Sameena Dalwai and Ramu Ramanathan. Irfan Engineer’s name is listed as ‘Journal Editor’. It comes after two other important books on the same topic — ‘The Babri Masjid Question 1528-2003: A Matter of National Honour’ and ‘Destruction of the Babri Masjid – A National Dishonour’, both by veteran lawyer and political commentator A G Noorani. What makes this book different is the multitude of accounts and angles covered in the book, as it is told by a spectrum of authors that covers many prominent artists and activists.

I know it is too late to introduce a book that came out almost two years back, so I will stick to highlighting some parts of the book that I find important, and placing it in the context of the legal and sentimental dispute as well as the ‘conscience of the society’ that I am a part of.


Countdown and a Witness account

In his essay ‘Countdown to Ayodhya’, senior journalist Anant Bagaitkar describes political developments centred around the Ayodhya issue close to the demolition. He recollects how he and some other journalists secretly met a senior RSS leader and the conversation they had, where the leader clearly said they were prepared to break the structure if the Government did not yield to pressure by the end of the three month deadline that they had given. This was in July 1992. Later in September, VHP leaders VH Dalmiya and Ashok Singhal declared that a temple could not be constructed without the demolition of the Babri Masjid. In October, VHP organised a meeting of the dharma sansad to consider the future course of action on the issue. In this meeting the decision was taken to resume the kar seva and the date decided was 6 December, 1992.

He also recalls that by November end RSS, VHP, Bajrang Dal and Shiv Sena workers had gathered in Ayodhya as kar sevaks, and even before 6 December, the assembled mob indulged in attacking mosques and mazars (shrines) in the vicinity of Ayodhya.

What follows is a witness account of the events from 1st to 6th December 1992, in an essay by then Maharashtra Times journalist Pratab Asbe who was entrusted with reporting the events in Ayodhya. He recollects that on 5 December, during the rehearsal of the kar seva, leaders had announced that the kar seva on 6th will only be a symbolic gesture. They said, “On 6 December, two lakh kar sevaks will put a fistful of soil in the four-acre  premises of Ram Mandir and the monks will clean the Ram Chabutra with the holy water from the river Sharayu.” However, we know that was not to be the case.

On 6th December afternoon, Adwani gave an inflammatory speech that went like this, “No power in the world can stop the construction of Ram Mandir. If the central government tries to obstruct, then we will not allow the government to run. Those who have come to be martyrs let them be martyrs. Let the fortunate ones be able to make it to Lord Ram’s feet. Let them be martyred.”

It is particularly interesting how they manhandled the media persons who tried to cover the incidents of that day. “Many national and international journalists were standing near Ram Chabutra. Kar sevaks and saints started misbehaving with these media persons. The so-called holy men started abusing journalists. One of the monks was hitting a journalist from Voice of America. This was followed by a Time magazine journalist getting beaten up. Even BBC’s Mark  Tully  couldn’t  escape  this. And  then  anybody  and  everybody started hitting the journalists. Just then, television cameras faced the wrath of this aggressive mob of kar sevaks. Around 60-70 television cameras were damaged..” “only the photographers with a still camera  were able to put the cameras in a leather bag and escape. They were also followed and beaten up. As a result, the photography and video shoot of kar seva came to a halt. This attack on the press was pre-planned and a well-co-ordinated strategy..”

The final acts of the drama unfolded soon. In his own words, ~as if the doors of a dam were opened, mobs of kar sevaks started jumping on the compound surrounding the Babri Masjid. In no time, they broke the compound and entered the mosque and with an unswerving determination, climbed the mosque up to its dome. They started hitting the mosque with anything that they could catch hold of. Immediately, they were being supplied with spades, shovels and ropes. This boosted the demolition process. High on the sadistic pleasure derived from the act, kar sevaks were repeatedly attacking the mosque as if it was a living human being. Unable to withstand the shocks, the mosque began disintegrating. The soil and bricks started falling apart. At this end, the voice  on  the microphone announced, “Siyawar ramchandra ki jai, mandir yahin banayenge.” Seeing the  attack on the mosque, women spectators along with their men counterparts started dancing and shouting slogans..~

~at 2.45 p.m., the first dome of Babri Masjid was demolished. The moment the dome collapsed, Uma Bharti joyously embraced Murli Manohar Joshi. Uma Bharti and Sadhvi Rithambara shouted inflammatory slogans, instigating kar sevaks. Sadhvi Rithambara announced: “ek dhakka aur do, babri masjid tod do” (Pound and thrash till it collapses). While all this was happening, the police was also seen clapping and expressing its joy. Around 4.00 p.m. in the evening, another dome  collapsed. And then the third and the last dome at 4.46 p.m. Sadhvi Rithambara congratulated the Hindu population on the microphone by saying, “The shameful structure has fallen.”~


Artists’ accounts

The first among the six artists’ acoounts is that of theater actor, director and activist Sudhanva Deshpande of Jan Natya Manch New Delhi. He weaves his narration beginning with his memories of Operation Blue Star and Indira Gandhi assassination that he witnessed as a teenager and his experiences during 1992.

In the next essay ‘How it feels to be a Muslim in India’, award winning playwright Shafaat Khan talks about the post-Babri Muslim life in India and in Mumbai in particular. He says, “the Mumbai riots ensued by the demolition of the Babri Masjid had brought a change in direction. Until that time I believed that violence was in the hands of a few goondas and politicians. For the first time I saw that physically and mentally, the common man was imbibed with the destructive forces all the way. A whole society was given over to violence with a strong belief that it provided all the answers.” He explains how this affected his life as a playwright and director, and how his adaptation of Asghar Wajahat’s Hindi play Jis Lahore Nai Dekhya, O Jamyai Nai, was an attempt to communicate with ‘the rioters, supporters of riots and those who strengthened them by standing upright on the street.’

Unfortunately, around 27 years on, that ‘whole society’ is still at large, making use of every opportunity to ‘annihilate the other’. The hatred machines have got more and more official channels at their disposal and perpetrators of hate crimes are rewarded with election tickets, increased popularity and more and more power.

In her essay ‘Why I never wish to forget the violence’, Playwright and screenplay writer for popular Marathi TV serials Manaswini Lata Ravindra tells how her mother who never wore religious symbols was forced to wear a bindi to escape violence from a Hindu mob. She also recollects memories from her school days, about how the dominant ones in the class silenced those who had different opinions, or were just different, say by name / religion. “The day the episode of Shivaji Maharaj chopping off Shaista Khan’s fingers was taught in the class, all the Hindu boys assumed themselves in the role of Shivaji and the Muslim boy was obviously considered to be Shaista  Khan. I remember the Muslim boy was so petrified that he skipped school the following day.” She also tells about how she realised that at no cost will she ever be able to gain experiences from someone else’s societal environment. “How much ever one tries, it is very difficult to change your context of being someone.” Which is an important point in any intersectionality we talk about these days.

Joy Sengupta writes about how he woke up to a hard realization at home, that ‘the well-oiled mechanism was geared towards bringing about a preconceived, elite-driven Hindu unity’. He adds that “Middle-class India, under the mask of liberal democracy, was nothing but a sheer bunch of fence-sitters belonging to the Hindu majority waiting to cross over. This demolition just helped them unmask and breathe in soft Hindutva. Indian nationalism and the modern Indian state were getting crafted out of the affirmations of Hindutva.”

Veteran theatre artist and television host Dolly Thakore has contributed with a piece titled ‘Joining hands, building trust’. She was also a volunteer for an NGO ‘Citizens For Peace’ that did relief works in a riot-struck Mumbai. Playwright, actor and women’s rights campaigner Sushma Deshpande feels the ‘obsessive need for communicating the ideologies of Jyotirao and Savitribai Phule to the masses’ and writes about her experience of conducting a theatre workshop for Muslim girls in Hyderabad.  She notes that ‘when the whole community is under attack, the scope to address the issues and the rights of the weaker sections within that community get further eroded.”



In her account ‘Where is the place for the activist’, academician and activist Shama Dalwai explains how being a Muslim or having a Muslim in family in Mumbai became a frightening prospect by end of 1980s. She says that the school that her children went to, though seemed like a liberal institution, “affixed a Muslim identity to my children by singling them out as ‘strangers’ and ‘the others’.” During the Mumbai riots that broke out post the demolition of the mosque, as a Hindu mother of half-Muslim children, she recounts how she became terrified for the safety of her children (Sameena is her daughter). The police violence, mayhem by Shiv Sainiks and, most shattering, she says, was the withdrawal of the Leftist comrades from the scene. She also talks about how media selectively omitted certain kinds of news, and talks about her attempts to calm down the Muslims.

Helen Bharde, a former corporator affiliated to Indian National Congress, is a christian woman married to a Muslim. Her write-up is mostly about setting up and running the relief camp at her locality Golibar. She writes about how that place, near Santacruz, became a haven for the Muslims during the riots. How Muslims, fearing for their lives, had run away from their homes and formed a community at Golibar and sought refuge there. It does not mean it was all safe there. She recalls an incident when a young boy who was playing in the vicinity was mistaken for a rioter and shot down by the police. And ‘if that wasn’t tragic enough, the old man who went to retrieve the boy was also beaten up brutally’, she adds.

In her essay ‘Walking the tightrope: Balancing gender and community’ Flavia Agnes critiques the women’s movement that failed to create a strong alternative for women of all castes and religions.

Rekha Thakur of Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh in her note writes about the ‘dual agenda’ of Massacring the Muslims and criminalising Bahujan at the same time. One could say it is problematic to make such a reading, as the growth of Hindutva in India from late 80s to 2019 can not be understood only as a savarna ideology. It is essentially based on hatred of Muslims (and Christians, though to a lesser extent). Many of the Sangh leaders were from OBC communities. It also succeeded in containing the OBC angst post anti-Mandal uprisings of 1990s.

In ‘Riots in the pink city’, M Hassan narrates Jaipur of 1989 to 92. He describes it as a period of intense polarisation and violence. How the southern hilly region, being predominantly tribal, is a fairly known ‘laboratory’ of communalism due to the Vanvasi Kalyan Parishad of RSS, which spread its tentacles in each tribal settlement. About how Jaipur’s Musafirkhana acted as a shelter and relief camp during communal riots, and how the Musafirkhana issued guidelines to
ward off confrontation and escalation of conflict in 1989 and 1991. Hassan writes about how the ‘Game of riots’ that is often played to alienate one community. It is a game that continues even now, Musaffarnagar being the latest major instance.

In her essay ‘A bruised nation’, Shaila Satpute, who was Maharashtra State leader of Janata Dal once, confesses that she is more afraid today than what she was during the days of riots. “At that time there were sporadic incidents of violence. Today, I notice that the seeds of hatred that were planted have grown into a poisonous tree. Now, everyone is a target. At that time, the Babri Masjid incident provided a reason for violence. Now, people don’t need a reason to resort to violence”, she says.

Vaze College Physics Professor Dr. Sanjeewani Jain’s account of the collective action of teachers and students is the last in the section.


Asghar Ali Engineer’s Special Essay

Noted Islamic Scholar, social reformist and peace activist late Asghar Ali Engineer in a lengthy special essay notes that the Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi controversy was one of the major controversies which was exploited politically to the hilt  in  post-independence  India. He also connects it to theShah Bano controversy during 1985-86, and feels that had the controversial Muslim Women’s Bill not been passed in early 1986, the Ram Janmabhoomi controversy would not have arisen. He criticizes not only BJP and Shiv Sena, but also Congress for the cynical exploitation of Babri issue for winning 1989 elections, in an attempt to capture ‘popular imagination’.

Engineer gives a summary of the history of the controversy and observes that the ‘historical’ accounts suggesting that Babar demolished a temple before erecting a mosque there are based on prejudices and guesswork. To quote from his essay, ~The translator of Babar’s Memoirs Mrs AF, Beveridge in a footnote suggests that Babar being a Muslim, and “impressed by the dignity and sanctity of the ancient Hindu shrine” would have displaced “at least in part” the temple to erect the mosque. She bases her inference on the fact that Babar being Muslim must have been intolerant of other faiths and thus demolished the temple which was supposedly in existence there. It is, at best, a very generalised inference..~

He adds that there is no doubt that the laying of the foundation stone of Ram Janmabhumi on 9 November, 1989 could not have been done without the connivance of the then Government led by Rajiv Gandhi, and how KK Nayar who was DM of Faizabad resisted all attempts to remove the idol when an idol first ‘appeared’ in those premises in 1949 and how Congress was helpless at that time. He feela that “if locking (the premises) was murder of justice and ideals of secularism, its unlocking (in 1986, opening it for Hindus to worship) was greater injustice and outright slaughter of ideals of secularism.” He concludes the essay with the most sane thing to say, that we should “do every thing possible to resolve this issue through constructive dialogue in the spirit of reconciliation” and it is “highly necessary to arrange a round-table dialogue between the religious and secular leaders of the two communities.”


Strengths, and what it lacks

The book is not by any means an apologetic one. Irfan Engineer does not mince his words when he says “Twenty-five years ago, Babri Masjid came crumbling down on 6 December 1992, amidst massive mobilisation by the Sangh Parivar — organisations affiliated to right-wing Hindu supremacist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh..” That itself is the major strength of the book.

Sameena Dalwai and Ramu Ramanathan do not see the demolition of the Babri mosque as an isolated incident, and they place it in a context. Reading from Sangh Parivar idol Vinayak Damodar Savarkar’s book Six Epochs of Indian History, they observe that “In this, Savarkar admonishes Marathas for not taking revenge on Muslims in response to the atrocities committed around the year 1757 by Abdali. It seems, Savarkar would have liked the Marathas to not merely take revenge, but to annihilate Muslim religion (Mussalmani Dharma) and exterminate the Muslim “people” and make India Muslim-free.. According to Savarkar, the Maratha army should have exterminated ordinary Muslims (i.e. not just soldiers), destroyed their mosques and raped Muslim women.” This is particularly relevant in a time when BJP makes election promises of honoring Savarkar with Bharat Ratna, which can be seen as a token of gratitude for laying the foundation stones of a religious hatred on they have built their political empire.

They also take into account another major factor that has contributed heavily to the hatred against Muslims in this country, partition. They observe that “India’s partition is not documented very well. The blame can hardly be placed on the British as the main culprits, as that remains untold. So does the fact, that arson, murder and rape was done by both sides to the ‘other’. Now young authors and curators alike are trying to keep alive the history of partition through collecting stories that turn into artefacts from a dying generation into live narratives”. These narratives are crafted well in order to produce hatred. Connecting to more recent times, “Khairlanji happened. Gujarat Carnage happened. Mumbai riots happened. Otherwise our next generation will only be told to remember Godhra and Mumbai Bomb Blast, but not what happened before or after.”

Despite this clarity in thoughts and a good overall vision about the whole sequence of events that led to the demolition of the mosque and what happened after that, I think the book misses out on one aspect intentionally or unintentionally. It is the ‘bad Muslim’. The bad Muslim does appear in a couple of articles as an element to be calmed down, but the book fails to address the so called bad Muslims or the outfits that raise the Muslim political question. Be it AIMIM, SDPI or any such groups. Dalit / Ambedkarite perspectives are also missing in the book. Also I feel there is an excess of brahmin accounts. It wouldn’t do any harm even if a couple of such accounts were omitted. As Manaswini rightly points out in the book, there is a limit to the extent to which one can relate to another person’s feelings, how much ever one tries. That space could have been given to more Muslim writings.


Times of extraordinary stress and distress have not ended

In the Foreword to the book, Professor Upendra Baxi says ‘Dr Sameena Dalwai and Ramu Ramanathan collect here the reminiscences of living together in the times of some extraordinary stress and distress twenty-five years ago’, but it is not only about a time frame that is twenty-five or twenty-seven year old. It is about living together in the times of extraordinary stress and distress in the current India also. It is also about how we move forward from this point.

I will end with a poem that is quoted in the book, written by Zbigniew Herbert in a poem in 1956.


We stand on the border
We hold out our arms
For our brothers, for our sisters
We build a great rope of hope
Yes, we stand on the border
That is called reason
We gaze back at historical fires
And we marvel at death.




Related Articles