In 1992, Hindu extremists intent on building a temple on the location they believe marked the birthplace of their deity Rama, demolished the 16th-century Babri mosque. Consequent nationwide religious rioting left 2000 people dead.
In the 1996 elections, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which was closely associated with the mosque demolition emerged as the largest single party. Two years later, the BJP came into power after forming a coalition government.
Since 1991, a number of court cases have been filed relating to different aspects of the dispute. Several members of the BJP coalition government were also charged with abetting in the mosque's destruction.
In the midst of all of this, one ordinary man, Muhammad Aslam Bhure, has found himself at the center of the legal storm.
The Ayodhya case is being heard in three different courts, namely, the Rae Bareli special court, set up late last year, the UP State High Court in Lucknow, which has been hearing the case since the demolition of the mosque and the Supreme Court in Delhi whose intervention Bhure sought every time he discerned any derailment in the process of law.
Bhure says the recent order of the Rae Bareli court, discharging India’s deputy prime minister L K Advani but framing charges against his Bharatiya Janata Party colleagues has little or no bearing on the final outcome of his battle.
“The order of the Rae Bareili court will just be a footnote in the legal history of the case. It is my review petition filed in January this year against the 38 originally accused in the case, including Advani, that will decide the climax of this case,” he says.
“The Supreme Court has already issued notices to the accused in response to my petition which means it has taken my petition seriously. The Rae Bareli court’s order does not weaken my case,” he adds.
Bhure is just a matriculate and the only bread-winner of a family of wife and five children, three of them still at school. A cycle rickshaw garage that he owns is his only source of income. The cause he has taken up, even by his own reckoning, is too big for him.
“I am not the doer, I couldn’t be; it must have been a divine command that a person of my low education and poor income thought of fighting the case,” he said.
His modest education, however, hardly seems a handicap. Bhure reels off the details of the cases he has fought for 12 long years--first to save the almost five-century old Babri mosque from demolition, then to get those allegedly involved in the crime punished--without once referring to the piles of documents in his possession.
Bhure’s struggle to save the Babri mosque, built by the Mughal invader Babar and which many Hindus believe was constructed after demolishing an ancient temple marking the birthplace of their deity Rama, began in 1991 with a petition against the Uttar Pradesh state government.
Bhure believes he has compelling
reasons to continue fighting
The government sought to acquire the land around the mosque and hand it over to the tourism department, but thanks to Bhure’s petition the land was given back to the Wakf Board, the original custodian of the mosque and the land around it.
The court order came five days too late to save the mosque from demolition on 6 December 1992, but it upheld Bhure’s contention that the land on and around which the mosque stood could not be acquired by anyone pending resolution of the title suit over the disputed area.
After the demolition of the mosque by Hindu zealots, the government acquired the entire six and a half acres of land around the disputed site but was legally bound to protect it against any acquisition move.
In March 2002, however, the Vajpayee government, under pressure from the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, a Hindu organisation, made a move towards handing over a part of the land around the disputed area to a Hindu religious body for building a temple.
However, it was Bhure’s petition once again, insisting on status quo pending a resolution of the five-decade old title suit, which won the day.
Bhure believes there is no role for him in the title suit that has remained unresolved since 1950 when the first petition on it was filed in the local courts. A plethora of petitions were filed subsequently but the title suit is nowhere near being resolved.
It is generally believed that, in view of the religious sensitivity of the issue, no court is going to decide it in a hurry.
“The demolition of the mosque was a criminal act and if those responsible for it are not punished simply because they are in the government what message would the common people get? That the rule of law is only for them, not for the big shots?” he said.
Bhure insists that there is nothing personal about his petitions against the ruling party members, and as for himself, the fight has left him bankrupt.
“I never anticipated that the battle would turn out to be so long, that I would be pitched against the high and mighty of India or that it would leave me impoverished.”
“I am not the doer, I couldn’t be; it must have been a divine command that a person of my low education and poor income thought of fighting the case"
Muhammad Aslam Bhure
Bhure claims that that he has had to sell off a shop and a part of his house to pay for the legal costs.
Every application in the court, and he has lost count of how many he has filed, leaves him poorer by about $50. And this, despite his lawyer, O P Sharma, not charging him any his fees for his court appearances.
His wife begs him to withdraw but Bhure is in a dilemma. “If I withdraw after having come this far I will be suspected of a sell-out but I do not have the resources, not even the physical strength, to continue,” he says.
An attack of pneumonia, which kept Bhure confined to a hospital bed for 10 days in August, has also been a big blow. He had to spend $700 of his scarce resources for treatment.
To a question on why his celebrity status, at least in his own area populated by well-off Muslims, has not translated into material or moral help from the community, Bhure says, “A lot of people promised help but no one actually gave it.”
“ Now I wish for a speedy end to the cases because I am beginning to feel the pinch.” The flesh is weak, the spirit is waning and the only thing that keeps him going, according to Bhure, is his faith.
“Even the odds I am facing today must be God’s will,” he says. Not surprising for a man who sees the will of God even in the congenital blindness of both the children of his only sibling, a divorced sister.
“But today,” he says, “if, despite receiving threats to my life and holding the mirror up to the politically powerful, I am still alive, I have my mother’s prayers to thank for it.”