Of Babri Masjid, secularism and idea of India

“The destruction Babri Masjid brought shame and dishonor to the country. It is not a question of Hindu or Muslim but the very destruction was an assault on the Indian secular consciousness”

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Humra Quraishi

One early morning as I switched on the radio it was relaying Murli Manohar Joshi’s message, which in turn was relaying all possible positives to the various yoga asanas. I sat up with a sudden start! Why didn’t Joshi practise yoga when the Babri Masjid was getting destroyed?

Nah, not a question of a Hindu or Muslim place of worship but a well-planned strategy for the destruction of a historic religious structure. That destruction impacted, as it demolished the idea of India. As the well- known historian, Professor Irfan Habib, former chairman of Indian Council of Historical Research and former Professor of History at the Centre for Advanced Study in History at AMU had told me, “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 dishonor to the country. It’s not 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.”

Till date I can’t forget the particular shot of Murli Manohar Joshi gleefully hugging Uma Bharti and LK Advani, the trio standing at the Babri Masjid site, as it was getting destroyed by the kar sevaks.

Needless to say the Babri Masjid destruction came as a severe shock. It brought along a crumbling sense of confidence in the sarkar and the system it controls. Apprehensions and insecurity had overtaken, as news came in of Muslims getting targeted on running trains and also in the riot- stricken areas.

Worse was to be seen and heard as I went to report from the riot-affected Seelampur in North East Delhi. As I walked around the lanes and by-lanes, scenes of destruction stood out. Muslim families recounted that the police checked their young sons for circumcision marks! One couldn’t really believe this to be taking place in the capital city, New Delhi. And as I visited Seelampur the following days, it seemed engulfed in severe gloom and mounting sorrow.

With the Babri Masjid’s destruction, fears compounded. Offshoots followed. Also, there came about a stark divide between the secular and the communal. It was not along the Hindu or Muslim format but more along the progressive liberals versus the communal. In many Hindu and Sikh and Christian homes, nothing was cooked or eaten the day the Babri Masjid was destroyed. They were pained by that destruction.

The Babri Masjid destruction also saw the end of an era, of respecting each other's sentiments and views, if nothing else. Undoubtedly the very turning point in India’s recent history has been the destruction of the Babri Masjid by Right-Wing brigades. Hundreds died in the reactionary rioting. Thousands wrecked and ruined as communal divisions made way. And what hit the most was the very callousness of the who’s who on the political and bureaucratic circuits.

Now, one of the most visible offshoots of the communal poisoning is- Lynching.

Last week end, hours before the Muslim community could even start to think in terms of ‘celebrating’ Eid – ul - Adha, came the news of the lynching of a young Muslim man - Luqman Khan, in Haryana’s Gurgaon.

News reports of lynching of young men, have been coming in right since 2014. In fact, academic and publisher, Zafar-ul-Islam Khan, compiled a list of the men lynched, from June 2014 till the summer of 2017. He clarified that this list does not include names of the injured in the same or other similar incidents. And I went through the list of names of the 27 men lynched in that period, 25 names are those from the minority community!

Veteran journalist Ziya Us Salam’s book ‘Lynch Files - The Forgotten Saga of Victims of Hate Crime’( Sage) focuses on the lynching tragedies. To quote him, “In recent years, cases of mob lynching of Muslims and Dalits have increased to an alarming extent. These cases are discarded and forgotten without any justice served to the victims. The emergence of mobocracy from the roots of Hindutva and gau rakshaks has put India’s secular and democratic constitution to test.”

Mind you, so severe has been the impact of these lynching killings, on the community that many Indian Muslims, including I, did not ‘celebrate’ Eid for the last few years. Nah, no celebrations in the backdrop of the mounting tragedies and absolute gloom spreading out.

Taking you somewhat backwards, towards 2017. It would be apt to describe the summer of 2017 as a stretch of ongoing sorrow. Ramzaan of 2017, the month of fasting for the Muslim community was more than tough for the Muslims of North India. Worries surmounted as hundreds of Muslim men sat not just jobless but also in fear of the so called gau- rakshaks… In fact, there had been several reported incidents of gau-rakshaks lynching Muslim men on the beef alibi. One after another, right from the day Mohammad Akhlaq was lynched in Uttar Pradesh’s Dadri, on suspicion of storing beef in his home.

And as I had travelled through the interiors of Haryana’s Mewat region what stood out was sheer poverty and together with that the scare of the police force. Meos living in Haryana’s Mewat belt told me that the ‘beef’ excuse is used to hound and harass the Meos. With parched lands, closed dairies, shut eateries, Meos looked very tense, “Our children arrested, thrown in jails …we are beaten with rods if we protest. Are we animals! Are we living in some enemy country! Today we can be killed on fake charges of cooking beef or selling beef -biryani! Our forefathers fought the angrez for the country’s Independence but see what we are facing today!”

Tense situation prevailed in the rural stretches of Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand also, where entire Muslim clans sat apprehensive… There were reported cases of Muslim men being thrashed and abused and humiliated, forced to swallow cow dung and drink cow urine by the goon brigades unleashed all around.

Needless to say that 2020 has been an exceptionally traumatic year for the Muslim community in the country. It started off with the anti – CAA- NCR- NPR protests. Tensions accelerated with the Delhi pogrom, followed by arrests of scholars and students, and also of the victims of that pogrom! And then came the Coronavirus together with the communal virus, killing hundreds amongst us. And it was followed by the plight of our migrant workers

And in the midst of the coronavirus, communal politics continued to be unleashed by the Right-Wing and the godi media. Targeting of Muslim families continued amidst poisonous propaganda that the Tablighi men were spreading the virus. Hate against the Muslims reached an all- time high. What, with Muslim vegetable sellers thrashed and hounded, not allowed to sell even the locally grown vegetables!

A dark shadow of apprehension and anxiety looms large about what lies ahead for us.

Ending with these lines of Sahir Ludhianvi, tucked in Ali Husain Mir and Raza Mir’s volume ‘Anthems of Resistance’ :

‘Tyranny is but tyranny; when it grows, it is vanquished

Blood however is blood; if it spills, it will congeal

It will congeal on the desert sands, on the murderer’s hands

On the brow of justice, and on chained feet

On the unjust sword, on the sacrificial body

Blood is blood, if it spills, it takes root

Let them hide all they want, skulk in their lairs

The tracks of spilled blood will point out the executioners’ abode

Let conspiracies shroud the truth with darkness

Each drop of blood will march out, holding aloft a lamp…

That blood which you wished to bury in the killing fields

Has risen today in the streets and courts

Somewhere as a flame, somewhere as a slogan, somewhere else as a flung stone

When blood flows, banoyets cannot contain it

When it raises its defiant head, laws will not restrain it

Tyranny has no caste, no community, no status nor dignity

Tyranny is simply tyranny; from its beginning to its end

Blood however is blood; it becomes a hundred things:

Shapes that cannot be obliterated

Flames that can never be extinguished

Chants that will not be suppressed.’

Views expressed in the article are the author’s own

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