On the 30th anniversary of the demolition, a look at the new mosque at Ayodhya

A 300-bed hospital, a museum, a library and a community kitchen are coming up in the sprawling premises of the mosque. But can it heal the scars and erase memories?

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NH Web Desk

Can memories be erased? Can a modern, futuristic mosque with no minarets and with no resemblance to Islamic architecture, spell a break from the past? The Supreme Court settled the Ayodhya dispute two years ago. But that did not stop, scholars and laymen alike point out, fresh claims on other mosques in Varanasi, Mathura and other places. The judicial order did not restore harmony or lead to a reduction in attacks on Muslims, their culture and livelihood.

Work on the new Ram temple at Ayodhya, the ostensible reason for the demolition of the 400-year-old Babri Masjid, had started long before the Supreme Court in a controversial judgment two years ago ordered that land be allotted for the construction of a mosque as well. While the supposedly even-handed justice continues to be the subject of study in law schools, a new mosque is being constructed 30 km away from the new Ram temple.

The project, undertaken by the Indo-Islamic Cultural Foundation (IICF) Trust, is being designed by Delhi-based architect S M Akhtar. The design for the new mosque includes a palatial prayer space that can house 2,000 people, a hospital with 300 beds, a museum, a community kitchen, and a library.

Writing for the Indian Express on the anniversary of the demolition today, scholar and researcher Fahad Zuberi says, “The mosque is a modern building with a pallet of glass, white cladding, and technologically complex façade systems. Hailed for its ‘futuristic design’ and climate change sensitivity, the architecture of the mosque shows more than what meets the eye.”

Yet, Zuberi in his piece laments the sanitisation of the design. The new modernist design does not make any references to the former mosque that was vandalised, he writes. No architectural references are being made to remind people of the trauma suffered on account of the acrimonious and violent campaign that resulted in the demolition, police firing and riots.

The modern structure, he writes, “There are no traditional minarets or any other explicit reference to Islamic architecture. The mosque, according to Akhtar, imbibes modernity and breaks away from the past. Why?”

He says that in putting a distance between itself and past events, in “an effort towards overlooking identity in the caution of stoking a conflict,” the new design does a disservice to the community that has already suffered and continues to suffer in the wake of increasing and widespread islamophobia as well as systemic marginalisation. He adds, “This proposal ignored the religious rights of a community that was defending attacks on one of its religious buildings. Thirty years later, those attacks have not stopped but increased.”

The attacks indeed appear to have increased, especially in the days preceding the anniversary of the demolition of Babri Masjid. In UP’s Mathura, calls for reciting the Hanuman Chalisa inside the Shahi Masjid Idgah were made by the Akhil Bharat Hindu Mahasabha on Monday. Some 1,500 police, armed constabulary and paramilitary force personnel were deployed as a preventative measure. Akhil Bharat Hindu Mahasabha national treasurer Dinesh Kaushik said they would go ahead with the programme. "In case the administration does not allow us to proceed, we will recite Hanuman Chalisa at the place where we will be stopped," he said.

In Srirangapatna in Karnataka, the right-wing Hindu organisation Hindu Jagarana Vedike, along with several devotees taking part in the Sankeerthana yatra tried to enter Jamia Masjid by force on Monday. Over 2000 police personnel had to be deployed in order to maintain law and order.

On the 30th anniversary of the demolition, a look at the new mosque at Ayodhya

Responding to this incident, journalist Rana Ayyub wrote on in an Instagram post, “On 6th December, the anniversary of the Babri masjid demolition, when me and millions of Muslims in India where brutally othered, a question for my well-meaning friends. How much will be too much for you to react? What more humiliation do we need to endure every single day for you to question and overthrow the hate?”

In her tweet, Professor Audrey Truschke writes, “A priceless piece of Indian heritage, destroyed by an iconoclastic Hindu nationalist mob 30 years ago, today.” Babri remains a wound that festers in the conscience of India, without closure. In its absence, it is somehow even more visible. Even after its brutal destruction by Hindu Nationalist forces, it remains a thorn in their side, continuously fomenting hatred and tension.

Richard Sennett, while recalling renovation of cities, writes, “The renovated old stones become places for transit between the ghosts of the past and the imperatives of the present.”

Cities are porous and continually haunted by the past, whether attempts are made to rewrite them or not. And hence, the question needs to be asked, have we laid the past to rest before stepping into the present? With no attempt at justice, remorse or even placation, the ghost of Babri will perpetually haunt the present.

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