Time to reverse the effects of Ayodhya

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A file photo of the demolition of the Babri Masjid
A file photo of the demolition of the Babri Masjid
Photo: AFP

TWENTY YEARS ago, the demolition of Babri Mosque on 6 December 1992 turned the polity of India in an adverse direction. The Liberhan Commission report showed that it was a pre-planned act orchestrated by the Sangh Parivar that shamed the Indian democracy and secularism. However, the RSS-BJP combine projected it as an act of nation building and marked it as Hindu Shaurya Diwas.

The BJP went on to emerge as the major party in the elections thanks to the communal polarisation that followed. And Congress, the so called secular party, Not only did it fail to protect the mosque as the party in power, it did everything to let things go on, as a passive onlooker or an active colluder. It started being said that what BJP does openly during the day Congress does it covertly, by the night. So while the BJP was programmatically communal, the Congress was opportunistically communal.

In all this, the role of police came as a shocker. It failed to do its allotted duty during demolition and in the violence that followed the demolition, it either looked the other way or assisted the rioters. The violence had a pattern. Of the 13.4 percent Muslims listed in the 2001 census, close to 90 percent were the victims. In fact, its role was suspect even in the aftermath of the violence. While the major victims of violence were the minorities, uniformly police arrested more from the minority community in large numbers. Police action was an evidence of the strong personal prejudices of bureaucracy against the hapless minorities. The starting point of its action was the presumption that they were criminals.

The polarisation of communities along religious lines that followed was so strong that it started becoming obvious in the way communities voted, the areas they worked in and the places they lived in. This is what led to the rise of communal forces like the Shiv Sena and and Narendra Modi to bigger electoral power and the systematic sidelining of Srikrishna or Liberhan inquiry commission reports. While the communal parties in power treated these reports with disdain, the Congress showed no interest in getting them implemented.

The impact of communalisation process was also visible in sections of the judiciary. While the Godhra riot cases had to be shifted out of Gujarat to see that the justice is done, in the Ayodhya judgment of Allahabad High Court, two of the three judges resorted to the ‘faith’ of the people to divide the ‘disputed’ land amongst three contending parties. This was something neither asked for by the litigants nor stood legal grounds.

The divisive violence has been leading to the formation of physical ghettoes where the sunlight of progress and liberal value can hardly reach despite the best efforts of the social workers committed to the cause of education and reform. In Mumbai, the Mohalla Committees played some positive role and do continue to play the same in some form, thanks to the affirmative action by some police officers of impeccable reputation and the social workers committed to the cause of peace in society.

Unfortunately the response of state and the social groups to mitigate the impact of the tragedy has not been adequate. Though the government has set up the National Foundation for Communal Harmony, its agenda and resources are too limited to address the mammoth task of teaching communities secular democratic values. The NCERT school text books have been improvised but these do not reach all the students, and the state boards are yet to follow them. The sensitisation efforts of the state, sensitisation of bureaucracy and police are far from adequate. Of course, they have an important task of keeping the country secure but education on national integration is much needed for them. The communal violence bill which can go a long way in this still lies in the freezer.

SOCIAL GROUPS have their own limitations. While some social groups have focused on getting justice and have praiseworthy results, communal ideologies and restricted mindsets make the journey an arduous one. The emphasis on awareness programmes, these remains patchy, ad hoc and underutilised. The programs for secular values, in the arena of culture, street theatre, songs, films, though have taken off well, remain nascent. We have a long way to go for national unity, which is very much needed at the present time. The act of nation building is to follow the path of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. one hopes that the lessons of Babri demolition are taken seriously by the society and state to reverse the trends initiated by this ghastly tragedy.

Ram Puniyani is a communal harmony activist based in Mumbai.
puniyani@gmail.com

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