06 April, 2010

Extract from Hindutva, Sex and Adventure


…. The next morning, Andrew took the fast train to Lucknow. As the boring Uttar Pradesh landscape unfolded in front of his unseeing eyes, he recalled a conversation he had had earlier with Imla about the Babri Masjid.

Ayodhya had been a pilgrimage site for Hindus as far as they can remember, he told her and Hindus are pretty sure that the mosque was built by Babur,

What proof do they have, she retorted?

Well, he went on, there seems to be an inscription on one of the walls that has recorded his name. It has been vouched by several reliable historians.

Hindutva historians, she mocked?

No my dear, British and German. Hindus are absolutely certain, he added, that the Masjid stands on an ancient Hindu temple, as the Archeological Survey of India had found many Hindu columns, broken idols and frescoes, when they had made some digging, before the Government stopped them.

She looked less than convinced…

So he added:

I have seen the order passed on 18th March 1886 by the Faizabad British District Judge, Col. F.E.A. Chamier, in which he wrote: "I visited the land in dispute yesterday in the presence of all parties. I found that the Masjid built by Emperor Babar stands on the border of Ayodhya, that is to say, to the west and south. It is clear of habitants. 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."

Ok, ok, she conceded, but don’t you know that the Babri Mosque had been taken over in 1949 by Hindus and that they have refused to hand it back to the Muslims ? Why should they want more than that? The have the status quo…

But Andrew was unfazed:

I was also shown by a colleague another court ruling of March 3, 1951 by the then Civil Judge of Faizabad, which stated: “it further appears from a number of affidavits of certain Muslim residents of Ayodhya that at least from 1936 onwards the Muslims have neither used the site as a mosque nor offered prayers there... Nothing has been pointed to discredit these affidavits. Of the 26 mosques in the region, only half of them were used for offering namaz in the early 1990s. It is also noted that there are about born - Rubbish, she said.

But, he shot back:

These are authentic court documents,

she shouted at him :

You saffron import from England; you let us deal with our own internal problems.

He checked in the hotel and booked a separate room for Imla, who was reaching later by air from Mumbai and went out to see for himself Ayodhya, which is a few kilometres from Faizabad. Andrew had felt that the whole matter was pretty simple, but as he entered Ayodhya, thinking of finding a mixed town, such as one generally sees in India, Hindu of course, but with its Muslim localities, their mosques, their women in burqa. he was surprised to find that, even more than Varanasi which he had visited recently, Ayodhya was a completely Hindu town, with scores of small temples scattered about everywhere, narrow streets and thousands of typically Hindu houses, whose teak pillars enclosed small central courtyards. Down below, he discovered a sacred river with its ghats; and then, high up on the hill, there were those two incongruous domes of this abandoned mosque.

He met Harsh Vyas, a local journalist, who confirmed that Ayodhya, like Varanasi, was one of the most sacred towns of the Hindus since five thousand years.

Our town is that of Ram, one of our most revered gods, he said.

Andrew of course knew that Ram, the hero of the Ramayana, represents the perfect virtues of Hinduism: courage, self sacrifice, righteousness, highest spirituality, humility…With his consort Sita, who also is venerated by millions of Hindus for having faithfully followed her husband in exile in the jungle. He also knew that millions of sadhus, wise men and simple folk tirelessly repeat his name all day long. When Gandhi was assassinated, his last words were: “Hey Ram”.

"When the Muslims invaded India between the seventh and the eighteenth centuries," Mani continued, they razed thousands upon thousand of temples to the ground. The temple at Ayodhya was one of them. But we Hindus never forget some shrines; they have been worshipped for too many generations so that collective memory cannot easily be erased.

He concluded:

Through the ages, the Hindus have silently passed the word on:

Remember Ayodhya.

He went back to the hotel in Faizabad, a little confused and thinking that journalists have always strong opinions, but that nothing is really black and white. Imla had already checked in her room and she was talking animatedly with other journalists:

Thousands members of the RSS have arrived from all over India to start the construction of the Ram temple, she told Andrew, without even greeting him. The RSS has given a commitment not to touch the mosque and to restrict construction to a religious ceremony symbolising the laying of the first bricks. But many of us think there is going to be trouble.

One of the other journalists added that an army of civilian and paramilitary police had been sent to Ayodhya and that the prime minister's security advisers had assured the Supreme Court that the mosque was safe. They had dinner with many of the other journalists and talked late of the night as more and more reports came that activists (karsevaks) of the VHP and other associated groups were also arriving in Ayodhya and that it could spell trouble tomorrow. At some point, Andrew went to sleep, laving Imla still talking politics with her fellow scribes and vehemently accusing the VHP and the RSS of ‘communalism’.

Next morning, which was December 6th 1992, he woke-up early, knocked on Imla’s door, who was still sleeping and shouted for her to come downstairs for breakfast. She sat at his table, ten minutes later, bleary-eyed

I slept at 3 she said, but nevertheless excited by what might lay in store for them. They quickly left for Ayodhya with their taxi, but at some point they had to abandon the car and walk on foot amongst a dense and excited crowd, which often looked at them with open hostility.

I am scared, said Imla, holding him by the elbow as a sadhu shouted some curse in a Hindi that Andrew could not understand.

As they came near the Babri Masjid, they saw firebrand Uma Bharati of the Bharatiya Janata Party, along with two top associates, Sadhvi Ritambhara and Achraya Dharmendra. Bharati shouting in a microphone two slogans to the crowds, 'Ram nam satya hai, Babri Masjid dhvasth hai,' (True is the name of Ram; the Babri Masjid has been demolished) and 'Ek dhakka aur do, Babri masjid tod do' (Give one more push, and break the Babri Masjid).

It was getting very tense and some activists were actually threatening journalists. Andrew and Imla thus took up a position on the roof of a building overlooking the mosque, a building with a telephone so that Andrew could report back to London. They were watching the elaborate Hindu ceremonies when they saw the barriers below collapse and young men wearing yellow headbands charge into the space where the ceremony was to be held. Television crews were their target. They attacked them with staves, knocked them down, and trampled on their equipment. This seemed to be the signal for a mass assault on the mosque. The police, who had strict instructions not to open fire, were swamped by wave after wave of slogan-shouting Hindus surging towards the mosque. In almost no time Andrew and Imla saw two young men scramble on top of a dome and start to break it down with hammers and crowbars. Soon they were followed by hundreds of frenzied kar-sevaks. In almost no time, half of the twin domes were gone.

Andrew and Imla rushed back to Faizabad to file their stories as the crowds had torn down the phone lines. It took a hell of a long time: most journalists had also come back to do the same and the telephone lines were constantly busy. When they returned to Ayodhya, they met groups of ecstatic Hindu militants chanting slogans in the narrow lanes. But as they got out of the car, they were surrounded by an angry crowd who recognized Andrew as a well-known British radio journalist. They locked them in one of the many temples. They probably thought Imla was not Indian, because she heard a huge argument as to whether they should kill them. Some people were arguing in favour of that. Then, others said

nai nai nai, mashhoor aadmi hai. It will be dangerous for us.

Andrew understood most of it and he became even whiter. He started talking to them in Hindi then, pleaded for the life of Imla and said he understood their frustration and anger. They were extremely surprised, debated within themselves in hushed tones, and after some time, reached a compromise : they were shoved into a temple room and put under house arrest. Later the kar sevaks decided to release them. When Andrew and Imla came out, they realized that the mosque had been totally razed to the ground.

They went back to their hotel, totally zapped and drained. Andrew got a line and did another long broadcast which he left to his London office to edit. He recounted all that happened, leaving out their imprisonment and while condemning the Hindu militants, commented that nobody had been killed and that the mosque had been disused for quite some time. Imla typed furiously on her laptop, concluding that this was:

The Blackest Day in India since her independence.

One thing for sure: whatever little sympathy she might have had for Hindu groups, through Andrew’s influence, had totally evaporated and henceforth this would become a subject of bitter dispute with him.

Today secularism has been killed in our country, she told Andrew, who kept quiet. They both went to have a shower….

(An extract from Hindutva, Sex and Adventure by John MacLithon)

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