Tuesday, November 19, 2019

The Ruins of Babri Masjid

Satyaki Roy and Suchetana Chattopadhyay

Revisiting History
On 6 December 1992, the Hindu fundamentalist forces in India destroyed Babri Masjid, an Islamic monument built in 1528 at Ayodhya. The Hindu communal forces claimed a Ram temple constructed on the holy site of Ram’s birth-place (janmbhoomi) had been destroyed by Babur to build a mosque. This ‘historic hurt’ had to be corrected by destroying the medieval mosque and building a modern temple in its place. The claim was reinforced with spurious archaeological pseudo-evidence. The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), a body over which Hindu communal bias exercises significant dominance, along with the Hindu fundamentalist groups, have argued that the existence of the temple can be proved on the basis of certain ‘pillar bases’. B.B. Lal, the ex-director-general of the ASI, who first excavated the Ayodhya site, in his first report did not even mention them. Soon after the shilanyas for the proposed temple in November 1989 by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), Lal published a paper in 1990 in an RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) mouthpiece. This was almost 15 years after his excavation. He suddenly referred to a pillared structure adjoining the mosque. The 14 black stone pillars with non-Islamic motifs which four senior secular historians and archaeologists found embedded at the arched entrances of the mosque turned out to be decorative pieces incapable of bearing loads. When the four historians wanted to examine them and other features further, the ASI withheld the site notebook from them. All credible archaeological digging pointed at older mosque-like structures under the Babri Masjid. The UP government led by the BJP presided over the destruction of the mosque and the pogroms against Muslims that immediately followed. The central government led by the Indian National Congress did nothing to stop the planned demolition of the mosque. As communal polarisation gripped the country, an orgy of violence was unleashed on Muslims. While the flames of anti-minority hatred spread from Bombay to Surat, the BJP emerged as a national party for the first time. The BJP made communalism respectable in post-Independence India at a crucial moment. This was systematically undertaken at a time when the older Nehruvian institutions were on the eve of being dismantled by the Indian National Congress. The moment was not without irony. A convergence of neoliberal and hindu majoritarian affinities could be witnessed during 1990 in BJP’s rathyatra (country-wide campaign to build a Ram temple at the site of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya) when senior BJP leader and old RSS hand L. K. Advani went around riding a make-shift DCM-Toyota van masquerading as a Chariot. Among the many RSS pracharaks (campaigners) accompanying him were two unknown faces from Gujarat-Narendra Damodardas Modi and Amit Shah who have now displaced the old guard, including Advani.  The BJP’s main plank was to devise a scheme whereby religious minorities could be disenfranchised and stripped of citizenship. While Muslims had been subjected to repeated pogroms since Independence and Partition (1947) and projected as ‘outsiders’, the Ram temple issue, for the first time turned the latent communal hatred towards them into a mainstream scapegoating campaign.