Is it dharma to oust someone from their holy place?
Twenty five years after the demolition of the Babri Masjid, The Wire, through a series of articles and videos captures how the act of destruction changed India forever.
For Hindus in India, December ought to be a month of regret, remorse and introspection, and certainly not one of pride. This should be especially true for those who claim to be devotees of Lord Rama. Twenty-five years ago, a heinous act was carried out in Rama’s name by a self-proclaimed army of his bhakts. It put the Hindu religion to shame before the entire world, perhaps forever. It was an act of cowardice and deceit. More than that, it was an act of hateful violence against our neighbours.
Let us recall what happened on December 6, 1992. Lakhs of Hindus travelled from across the country and assembled in Ayodhya at the bidding of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Bajrang Dal and Bhartiya Janata Party led by L.K. Advani. The Hindus were told that the birthplace of their revered Lord Rama had been captured by Muslim invaders who built a mosque over it; it was portrayed as the religious duty of each Hindu to free the land from their clutches.
Before it all happened, bricks were being collected from every house and brought to Ayodhya. It was said that using those bricks, a grand temple for Rama will be erected. Those who raised the slogan of ‘Mandir wahin banayenge (We will build the temple right there)’ claimed in the same breath that the mosque will not be harmed. No one asked them how the temple could be built ‘right there’ if the mosque still stands.
Does this mean our leaders were telling us half-truths, which is a sin worse than falsehood itself? Was Yudhishthira, the epitome of truth, not punished for his half-lie? When the courts, the National Integration Council and others were told that the gathering on December 6 was only going to be a symbolic kar seva, did we not know that this was a fabrication and the real intent was something else?
When lakhs of Hindus gathered in Ayodhya on December 6, 1992, did they suddenly turn into a violent mob? Did their anger impulsively erupt and lead them to pull down the mosque? Was it momentary frenzy?
Twenty-five years later, we ought to have the courage to accept that all of it was a half-truth: our leaders were determined to bring down the mosque and those who gathered in Ayodhya that day did it more out of hatred for Muslims than love for Rama.
It was not our devotion towards Rama that made us assemble; it was because we wanted to insult Muslims and teach them a lesson. This was not a secret. The slogans raised by the convoy and during the rallies of Advani, who roamed the country on a Toyota car turned into Rama rath, made it clear.
We know now, as we knew then, that the site being referred to as the birthplace of Rama was never a pilgrimage site for our ancestors. In fact, before the temple movement most of us had not even heard of it. We manufactured a lie and then made ourselves believe it was the truth.
The lie was that a Ram Lalla idol had suddenly appeared one night in November 1949 inside the mosque we call Babri Masjid. We have witnessed such lies being circulated in our homes and villages before – the sudden appearance of an idol somewhere, or a peepal tree, because of which a place or a house is announced to be sacred, for instance. We are aware that these are land-grabbing tactics.
And so when the Ram Lalla idol was made to appear inside the mosque, we should have known that it was a ploy to seize the land. Those who were behind it knew this well, and even proclaimed it with great pride afterwards.
We knew that we were grabbing a place of worship from the Muslims of Faizabad and Ayodhya in the name of reclaiming Rama’s birthplace. Is it dharma to oust someone from their holy place? Is this the conduct of a true Rama devotee, to take indulge in deceit?
Second, is the conceited idea of ‘freeing’ the birthplace of Rama not a sin itself? Do we go to a holy site to display aggression or to show our devotion? Whether it is the Kumbh mela or the Baidyanath temple, does being there invoke respect and gentleness in us or arrogance and violence?
Those who gathered in Ayodhya on December 6 on the call of Advani and his comrades must introspect: what were they feeling when they assembled there?
Was there bravery in the act? If yes, why did most of them not have the courage to stay and guard the site after it had been ‘freed’ on December 6? Why did all the leaders laugh, hug and congratulate each other at first, and later cry over the incident and call it the worst day of their lives? Who was the one spreading lies? And who were the ones believing them?
After December 6, 1992, we are no longer in the condition to claim that we are the followers of the same religion which gave birth to Mahatma Gandhi, a proud Hindu who was revered and envied by great men of all religions. Whether Christians or Muslims, everyone hailed him as the greatest man of his time.
The Hindu dharma Gandhi followed was one of courage. It had no place for treachery, deceit, betrayal or cowardice. And so, when he started a movement against the government in South Africa, he made every step and every decision public. Every phase of his movement was published and he informed the government about it before taking steps.
Gandhi said he did not fear anyone as long as he chanted the name of Rama. This was his message to his countrymen. No weapons, no violence. Rama nama was both a weapon and a shield for him. Gandhi’s Rama was not bound by geography. It was a pervading spirit.
Those who get sadistic pleasures from the pain of others and those who use religion to build their own power are likely to meet a fate similar to Advani’s.
What Advani does is his own business. But now that a quarter of a century has passed, we need to understand the reason behind our weakness. How was he able to fool so many Hindus? If another’s property makes us rich, what is our own achievement? To conceal our pettiness, we have used Rama. Is there atonement for such a sin?
Apoorvanand teaches at Delhi University.
Translated from Hindi by Naushin Rehman. You can read the Hindi version here.