Babri mosque demolition: A ‘watershed moment’

Twenty five years since the medieval mosque was torn down by Hindu mobs, the issue still divides Hindus and Muslims.

Babri Mosque
The tearing down of the mosque and the jubilation of the mobs created a permanent fissure in India's social fabric [Robert Nickelsberg/Liaison/Getty Images]

New Delhi, India – On this day 25 years ago, thousands of Hindu nationalist mobs tore down a medieval mosque in the northern town of Ayodhya, in the state of Uttar Pradesh (UP).

The demolition of the 16th-century Babri mosque, which was constructed under the rule of the first Mughal Emperor Babar, triggered religious riots in parts of India that continued for months. More than 1,000 people were killed, in the worst religious riots since India’s independence in 1947.

The tearing down of the mosque and the jubilation of the mobs created a permanent fissure in India’s social fabric and instilled fear among India’s Muslim minority.

It paved the way for the consolidation of Hindu majoritarianism and the eventual rise of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) – the party behind the Ram temple movement.

Senior journalist Vidya Subrahmaniam has covered Hindu-Muslim relations for years, and she says December 6, 1992 was a “watershed moment”.

In a way, with the demolition of the Babri Masjid, everything broke, there began a normalisation of the hatred between the communities.

by Vidya Subrahmaniam, senior journalist

“In a way, with the demolition of the Babri Masjid, everything broke, there began a normalisation of the hatred between the communities. What it really did was, in middle-class drawing rooms, respected middle-class families started talking about Muslim as the ‘other’ and that ‘Muslims deserved it’.

“The destruction of the mosque unleashed all the dark forces within the community,” Subrahmaniam, who works for the Hindu group, told Al Jazeera.

Hindu supremacist groups such as Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) – the ideological parent of the ruling BJP – and Vishva Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council) want to build a temple on the site of the mosque. Many Hindus believe the mosque stood on the birthplace of the god Ram.

Left-aligned groups in the country are marking the anniversary as “Black Day.” Protesters in New Delhi said the destruction of the mosque “remains the severest of attacks on the secular, democratic foundations of the modern republic”. 

But Hindu nationalist organisations across the country are celebrating the day as “Shaurya Diwas” (Victory Day).

“We have been celebrating Victory Day for the past 24 years since that structure was destroyed. It’s natural that we celebrate. The monuments of slavery have to be destroyed,” Surendra Jain, joint General Secretary of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, told Al Jazeera.

“It was the glory, the strength, the bravery of the Hindus that we were able to remove that structure.

“This is a matter of pride for us that the Hindu temple will be built at that spot. There has been a lot of delay. Now we cannot delay any more,” Jain added.


‘A disputed structure’

On Tuesday, the Indian Supreme Court adjourned the hearing in the long-delayed case to February 8 next year. Earlier, a former chief justice proposed out-of-court settlement between the two sides.

Zafaryab Jilani, convenor of the Babri Masjid Action Committee that has been fighting the case on behalf of Muslims, dismissed talk of out-of-court settlement and negotiations.

“When they talk of solution they mean we should surrender our claim, and that’s not possible. That will never happen, we will not surrender,” Jilani told Al Jazeera.

“They are causing damage to the nation. The country has to revive its old values of secularism. Ultimately, they will not be victorious. The majority of the country is still basically secular,” he said.

The legal dispute over the site of the Babri mosque, built in 1528, has been running for more than 60 years.

The conflict was aggravated in 1949 when idols of Ram, one of the most revered Hindu deities, were placed inside the mosque. Following that incident, the mosque was locked and declared a “disputed structure”.

‘Administrative collusion’

In 2010, Allahabad High Court ruled that Hindus would get two-thirds of the land and be allowed to keep a makeshift temple that was built over the razed mosque’s central dome. The remaining one-third of the total 2.77-acre land was awarded to Muslims. But both sides challenged the order in the top court, which suspended the lower court’s ruling.

The case has also highlighted the “administrative collusion with the Hindu right”.

This pattern is now perfected, with India’s police investigating victims and survivors of recent attacks by Hindu lynch mobs.

Akshaya Mukul, author of “Gita Press: The Making of Hindu India” agrees.

“What has added to the grim scenario is the failure of the government, intentionally so, to implement the rule of law,” Mukul told Al Jazeera.

A Reuters investigative reportlast month said police aided in the efforts of right-wing Hindu cow vigilantes, who have forcibly taken about 190,000 cows from Muslims since the year of Modi’s election.

What has added to the grim scenario is the failure of the government, intentionally so, to implement the rule of law

by Akshaya Mukul, author of Gita Press: The Making of Hindu India

As the party at the forefront of the temple movement, the BJP has reaped rich electoral rewards.

The BJP managed to win just two seats in the 1984 parliamentary elections. The figure rose to an impressive 120 seats during the 1991 election, amid an aggressive campaign for the Hindu temple in Ayodhya.

In the 2014 elections, the BJP, led by Narendra Modi, scored a landslide victory by winning 282 seats in the 543-member lower house.

The emotive issue of constructing a Ram temple at the spot, a permanent fixture on the BJP’s election manifesto, helped consolidate Hindu voters. It also showcased the strength of Hindu nationalist politics.

This day, 25 years ago, started the “normalisation of communal politics in India and communalisation of ordinary Indians”, journalist Subrahmaniam said.

“And even though electorally it was still possible to defeat the BJP and its ideological parent body, the RSS, what they had unleashed, the change in the language, the mindset that Muslims are ‘enemies of the Hindus’, that sort of thing remained subterranean, it is always there. It would find expression every now and then,” she said.

“There seems to be a build-up to an understanding that only a Hindu temple can be built there now. My fear is that once this is done, it not only reinforces the divisions between the two communities but also sets in stone that things can be done this way, that even legally we are now a Hindu state,” she added.

Over 80 percent of the Indian population are Hindus, while Muslims make up some 14 percent of the total 1.3 billion people.

Mukul, the author, said all is not lost yet.

“A complete Hinduisation has not yet happened. There is still the Constitution and its safeguards. And despite its various shortcomings, the courts have safeguarded rights and liberty of individuals,” he said.

Source: Al Jazeera