Thought Box



by HUMRA QURAISHI February 16 2024, 12:10 am Estimated Reading Time: 6 mins, 1 sec

Humra Quraishi recounts the days when there was respect and great pride in India’s diversity, and brings back memories of the demolition of the Babri Masjid, the moment from when Indians started to hate one another.

Amid all the communal poisoning, there stood out one heart touching picture from Jammu, which showed a young Sikh man rushing with an umbrella towards an elderly Muslim offering namaaz at the roadside when there was a sudden downpour! I gazed at the visuals for minutes. Even now, just before I began writing this column, I was seeing the images once more. So soothing for the soul. Takes one back to the years when we respected and loved each other’s faiths. Unlike today, when every effort is made, ironically by the people elected to safeguard the constitution of India, to break religious places of worship and people’s hearts simultaneously. The poisoning began in the early 1990s.

It was the LK Advani led ‘rath yatra’ in 1992 that sowed the seeds of the hate that we witness today. I can never forget the shot of Murli Manohar Joshi gleefully hugging Uma Bharti and LK Advani…the trio standing at the Babri Masjid site, celebrating, while it was being demolished by ‘kar-sevaks’ (translated to ‘people in service of humanity’).

Khushwant Singh then said, “Although I have no personal quarrel with Advani, he has changed the map of the country. Look at the way communal hatred is spreading across the country after he took out that rath yatra and destroyed the Babri Masjid.”

I asked him why he proposed LK Advani’s name as a Member of Parliament from New Delhi in 1989 and Khushwant answered, “Yes, I proposed his name, but I was disillusioned with the Congress at that time. Ever since Advani’s rath yatra, I’ve been critical of him. At a public platform here in New Delhi, I told him he’s responsible for sowing the seeds of hatred between the communities, in front of the audience, that his rath yatra from Somnath to Ayodhya culminated in the destruction of the Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992.”

In one of his writings Khushwant noted: “Advani, more than anyone else, sensed that Islamophobia was deeply ingrained in the minds of millions of Hindus and it needed only a spark to set it ablaze. He claims that breaking the mosque was not on his agenda; that he actually sent Murli Manohar Joshi and Uma Bharati to plead with those who went on the rampage to desist. If that was so, why were the two seen embracing each other and rejoicing? We don’t have to wait for the verdict of the Liberhan Commission to tell us what happened; we saw it with our own eyes”.

Khushwant wrote further: “The repercussions were worldwide. Enraged Muslims targeted Hindu and Sikh temples in Bangladesh and even in the UK. And in India, relations between Hindus and Muslims have never been the same. There were communal confrontations in different parts of the country - the serial blasts in Mumbai, the attack on the Sabarmati Express in Godhra and the massacre of innocent Muslims in Gujarat can all be traced back to the fall of the Babri Masjid.”

Needless to add, here, that the demolition of the Babri Masjid came as a shock. A jolt, with far reaching consequences. A sense of disbelief descended as news started trickling in of the destruction. Within a short span, news came of communal rioting and targeted violence and killings.

Worst was yet to be seen as I went to report from the riot affected Seelampur (East Delhi) – a predominant Muslim population of the poor and lower middle class, and men recounted the police checking to see if they were circumcised. One heard of many such incidents during that period, but it was impossible to believe this was happening at one end of the capital city. As I visited Seelampur in the following days, it seemed wrapped in gloom, with just one man (he was a businessman turned parliamentarian (Mohammad Adeeb) going about in a rickshaw and distributing food packets. What stood out was an unburnt home, a makeshift medical clinic run by committed Sikh and Hindu doctors (if I’m not mistaken there was only one Muslim among them).

Babri Masjid’s destruction and the reactionary riots that followed affected the Muslim community. Fear spread far and wide. Muslim children recounted they were taunted with comments like, ‘it’s time for Muslims to pack and move to Pakistan’! I wrote a feature, for the Illustrated Weekly of India, on the sudden rise in communalism in schools. It was shocking to see children be like that. It was a reflection of  the prejudices they carried from the homes of the so-called creamy upper layer of the middle-classes.  

As the former bureaucrat, Saiyid Hamid, and several sociologists pointed out, the jolt made Muslims think in terms of fending for themselves. Also, there came about a stark divide between the secular and the communal. Undoubtedly the turning point in India’s recent history has been the demolition of the Babri Masjid by the Right-Wing vandals veiled by what they call themselves - ‘Kar-sevaks’. Hundreds died in the rioting. Thousands were wrecked as communal divisions crept into everyday living.

The Babri Masjid incident bore ugly truths: The State’s involvement in destruction and  callous behavioural patterns of politicians and bureaucrats. It also saw the end of an era - of respect for each other.

Historian, Professor Irfan Habib, former chairman of Indian Council of Historical Research and Professor of History at the Centre for Advanced Study in History at the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), 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 a 475-year-old mosque brought shame and dishonour to the us. It’s not a question of Hindu or Muslim, but the destruction was an insult to the country and its citizens; an assault on the Indian secular consciousness. The then Prime Minister, Narasimha Rao, promised to protect the structure, but he just looked the other way.”

Compounding the massive tragedy, LK Advani was appointed Deputy Prime Minister of the country, Murli Manohar Joshi was appointed the Union HRD Minister, and Uma Bharti was made Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh.

Now comes the Bharat Ratna for Mr. LK Advani and PV Narsimha Rao.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The writers are solely responsible for any claims arising out of the contents of this article.