Opinion

BJP, not historical facts played big role in Babri Masjid demolition says historian Irfan Habib

There’s no proof that Babri Masjid was built at the site of a Hindu temple, none of the inscribed verses of the time of the original construction makes any reference to it according to Irfan Habib

Photo Courtesy: PTI

Humra Quraishi

With this ongoing focus on the Babri Masjid controversy, I wonder why we have not focused on what Professor Irfan Habib has to say about this controversy. After all, this Aligarh-based internationally known historian, is the former chairman of Indian Council of Historical Research and also the former Professor of History at the Centre for Advanced Study in History at AMU; not to overlook the fact that he has authored books on the Mughal rule (prominent amongst them- Agrarian System of Mughal India, An Atlas of Mughal Empire, Prehistory) and he has also written on the Babri Masjid.

I had done a very detailed and exclusive interview with Professor Irfan Habib in 2003, where he commented, “There are no 'Left' or 'Right' Wing historians! All this is a creation of the BJP. If anyone speaks with a scientific outlook he's called 'Leftist' by them.”

“There wasn't a Hindu or Muslim reaction to the destruction of the Babri Masjid. As an Indian I felt insulted and it was a blow to the image of my country. The destruction of the 475-year-old mosque brought shame and dishonour to the country. It wasn’t a question of Hindu or Muslim, but the very destruction was an insult to the country and its citizens; an assault on the Indian secular consciousness.”

During the course of that interview I had asked him to comment on the Babri Masjid -whether it was built on a temple site or did it exist for centuries on that very site? Did the ASI conducted the excavation independently? Also, why those claims by the Right-Wing parties that they do possess evidence that the Ram Janmabhoomi temple was originally there?

“Can't say much about the competence of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) to conduct rigorous, scientific and impartial excavations. One must remember that the archaeological finds are subject to a wide range of interpretations - if it is trying to find out whether the Babri Masjid was immediately built upon a temple than any stratum of lime-mortar bound rubble or medieval baked bricks or glazed pottery below the mosque should be enough to prove that such was not the case. If the search is on anything that could possibly belong to a non-Muslim shrine of any sort of any earlier time then almost anything could be defined as a temple relic: a pre-13 century carved stone or image or even a Kushana period brick, though such might easily have come from a domestic house. In that case the dispute could be unending; or could simply give the VHP the benefit of doubt and declare that ASI has spoken and decided in its favour.”

He’d detailed saying, “There's no acceptable proof that the Babri Masjid had been built at the site of a Hindu temple, none of the fourteen inscribed Persian verses of the time of the original construction (1528-29), (published in the official Epigraphia Indica, Arabic and Persian Supplement 1965, Pages 58 - 62 ) even remotely mentioned this. As the 1991 'Historians 'Report To The Nation' by RS Sharma, M Athar Ali, DN Jha and Suraj Bhan conclusively showed there was no reference in any of the several documents to the mosque having been built on the site of the temple. Not until nearly 250 years after its construction was such a claim made and a British reporter before whom this was stated in 1811 still considered it ‘very ill founded’. ”

He had also commented – “Once the destruction of the Babri Masjid had taken place, it began to be justified by the Sangh Parivar on various grounds, including that they possess "evidence". Before one studies this "evidence", it is important to note that the securing of such evidence by the act of destruction was very much in the mind of the BJP and Sangh Parivar much before the final act of vandalism. There was till then, no acceptable proof that the Babri Masjid had been built at the site of a Hindu temple faced with such lack of sustenance they turned to archaeology and so to Professor BB Lal. Lal had dug near the Babri Masjid, on which he had given a report in 1976-77 (Indian Archaeology- A Review, 1976 -77, Page 53).”

“In 1990, in an article in the RSS mouthpiece, Manthan, October 1990, he sought to interpret his earlier report arguing that some 'pillar bases' he had found had really carried pillars of the extension of the original temple that the Babri Masjid had been built on. The speculation was a sheer piece of speculation and D. Mandal in his 'Ayodhya Archaeology After Demolition' (1993-pages 26-40) had exposed by analysis the baseless character of Lal's suppositions.”

Regarding talks of the sculptures being found on the site, in a pit when the ground was being levelled in 1992, Professor Habib had this to comment, “It is strange that when these sculptures were "found" the ASI was not informed. Rather their discovery was so suddenly announced by the VHP and they were pronounced by such 'experts' as Swaraj Prakash Gupta (who has done no work on early medieval history) as belonging to the eleventh century. It seems certain, on the other hand, that the sculptures do not belong to a single period at all, but range in their individual dates from the 7 to the 16 century, as testified by the historian RS Sharma (The Hindu. November 10, 1992) and thus could not have come from the same temple.”

“Furthermore, as D Mandal points out the colouration of some of the objects suggests that they have remained only partly buried and could not have thus been taken out from a pit. There is every likelihood that these sculptures were simply brought from outside at a time when the VHP and BJP through the state government had full and absolute control of the site.”

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