The demolition of the Babri-Masjid on 6 December 1992 was a political earthquake of seismic proportions that jolted the country and triggered an existential mental turmoil across the entire spectrum of political and ideological thought. Twenty-five years hence, the reflex reaction of horror and shame that gripped the nation needs to make way for a calmer appraisal: an objective analysis that is more cerebral than emotional and one that makes a dispassionate attempt to ascertain the root cause of this sentinel event.
To ascribe the happenings of that unfortunate day to rank communal hatred, or classify it as a political shenanigan aimed to reap electoral bounty is simplistic and naive. Loose talk about Hindu majoritarianism is also baseless; hyperbole at its worst. If Hindu majoritarianism was really rampant, not a single mosque or church would be standing in India akin to the fate of Hindu temples in Pakistan. It is important to have a sense of perspective.
It was not just the pickaxes and the crowbars that felled the Babri Masjid; neither was it the reckless handiwork of an unruly clutch of vandals. It was repressed hurt that exploded into a bout of uncontrollable fury; an excruciating smouldering agony that had been exacerbated by constant trivialisation, deliberate marginalisation and insensitive mockery that dubbed this wound as a figment of lunatic imagination.
Basically, it was a failure to acknowledge and assuage the pain of a “wounded civilisation” (to borrow V.S. Naipaul’s phrase), a pain that had been inflicted by Islamic invasion and the British Raj. Central to this Hindu victimisation in post independent India was Nehruvian secularism, a newfangled ideology that propounded a warped brand of religious equanimity; one that equated secularism with devaluation of the Hindu identity and one that tried to forge Hindu-Muslim amity by propagating a false chronicle of history that papered over the barbaric atrocities of Muslim invasion.
The Mughal invasion of India saw the destruction of hundreds of temples. The sack of Somnath Temple in Gujarat by Mahmud of Ghazni is all too well-known. The destruction of Hindu temples was not random, but strategic: to stamp the domination of Islam over Hinduism—so major holy sites were targeted. The Gyanvapi mosque in Varanasi contains the remnants of a Hindu temple, which is believed to be the original Kashi Vishwanath temple. The Shahi-Eidgah Mosque in Mathura that abuts the modern Krishna Janmabhoomi temple today was also built over an ancient temple that marked the birthplace of Shri Krishna.
The Babri Masjid was also similar. In 1529, Mir Baqi, one of Babur’s generals, at his behest, supposedly razed a pre-existing Ram temple at Ayodhya and erected a mosque in its place. Of all the myriad places available in the vast expanse of the Indian subcontinent, why did Babar target Ayodhya, a place sanctified by Hindu tradition? Was it another symbolic attempt to stamp Islamic dominance? There is evidence that Hindus continued to offer prayers at this site even after the destruction. In fact, in 1855, the Faizabad District Gazetteer describes a bloody riot: “The desecration of the most scared spot in the city caused great bitterness between Hindus and Mussalmans. On many occasions, the fighting led to bloodshed, and in 1855 an open fight occurred, the Mussalmans occupying the Janmasthan in force…” The same year, Mahant Raghubar Ram moved the courts. Despite validating the claim, the judge dismissed the case citing the passage of time: “It is most unfortunate that a masjid should have been built on land specially held sacred by the Hindus, but as that event occurred 356 years ago, it is too late now to agree with the grievances.” (Court verdict by Colonel F.E.A. Chamier, district judge, Faizabad, 1886).
After a protracted legal battle and persistent pleas to the Muslim community to peacefully hand over this site, patience of some finally ran out on 6 December 1992. It was a symbolic counter to Nehruvian secularism and the historical wrong done to Hindus. True, we cannot right the wrongs of history. But to knowingly deny those crimes is to inflict another wound on the victims.
Faith is paramount in religion. In return for the thousands of temples destroyed what the Hindus were asking for was an unused, disputed religious structure that they believed was, is, the birthplace of their most revered God. Was that too much to ask?
Now 25 years later we are again at a watershed moment. A little accommodation can soothe a historic wound and usher in a long-lasting harmony between Hindus and Muslims, who hopefully will have it in their hearts to demonstrate some magnanimity. The ball is in the Muslim court.