"if you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen
the side of the oppressor." - Desmond Tutu.

The demolition of Babri mosque and growing threat of Hindu extremism Featured

Gurpreet Singh 

This year marks 25th anniversary of the demolition of Babri mosque by the Hindu extremists in India.

On December 6, 1992, religious fundamentalists razed an ancient Muslim shrine in the city of Ayodhya in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh.

The attack on the Muslim shrine was instigated by leaders of the Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), which is currently in power in India. BJP leaders continue to claim that the mosque was built by Babur—an Islamist ruler in 1528-29, after destroying a temple constructed at the site of birthplace of Lord Ram, one of the most revered Hindu gods.

During 1980s, the BJP intensified its vicious campaign for the reconstruction of the Ram temple with an aim to polarize the Hindu majority for electoral gains. The matter was further complicated by the so-called secular Congress party that was in the power back then.

It began pandering to Hindu fundamentalists and allowed Hindu priests to perform rituals at the disputed site. The Congress government even launched Ramayan—a TV serial based on the Hindu epic of Lord Ram—on public broadcast.

During the years that followed, all actors playing the main characters, including Ram and Raavan, the villain of the story, joined the BJP. These ugly developments culminated in the demolition of the mosque by mobs who had gathered there after a call given by the BJP. 

Notably, the then Congress prime minister P.V. Narsimha Rao could not muster courage to stop the mobs from assembling in Ayodhya despite warning signs of an impending danger to the mosque.

Rao was previously a home minister of India during 1984 when an anti-Sikh massacre was engineered by his party following the assassination of the prime minister, Indira Gandhi, by her Sikh bodyguards.

Thousands of Sikhs were targeted all over India by the mobs led by Congress party activists with the active help of the police. Rao failed to prevent both tragedies. 

As a budding journalist back then I was in Chandigarh, the joint capital of the northern Indian states of Punjab and Haryana. I still remember seeing Hindu activists gathering at various temples under the command of BJP leaders in the city to be recruited and sent to Ayodhya on December 6.

They frequently raised provocative slogans and the public walls were smeared with inflammatory and hateful graffiti asking Hindus to be ready for the bloodshed in Ayodhya.

Those were the times when a draconian anti-terror law, Terrorist and Disruptive Activities Prevention Act (TADA), was in use. The law was primarily formulated to deal with Sikh extremists who were running a violent campaign for a separate state in Punjab.

Although everyone could see that Hindu fanatics were also indulging in terrorism and violence, TADA was only used to suppress the Sikh militancy in the region and the government never found it necessary to detain those gearing up to destroy Babri mosque.

Babri episode therefore needs to be understood in the broader context of sectarian politics being played in India by the ruling classes with impunity.

Ever since the mosque was destroyed, the communal environment of India has turned highly sensitive. The incident was followed by anti-Muslim pogrom in Mumbai by Hindu extremists.

In 2002, anti- Muslim carnage was instigated by the BJP government in Gujarat after a train bringing Hindu pilgrims from Ayodhya caught fire, leaving more than 50 passengers dead.

The current Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, was the chief minister of the western state of Gujarat back then. The Modi government blamed Islamic extremists for the incident following which Muslims were targeted across Gujarat by mobs led by BJP supporters. They used techniques similar to those applied against the Sikhs in 1984.

For all these bloody events, the Indian state—whose constitution guarantees religious freedom—needs to be held accountable. Such practices have given space to the BJP to grow over these years.

The ascendancy of BJP to power in 2014 under Modi with a brute majority cannot be delinked from these incidents, which represent a clear pattern of using the might of the state to keep minorities under the boot.

Twenty-five years later we see how attacks on religious minorities in India have grown and with the BJP in power, sectarian forces have gained undue legitimacy. So much so, Ram temple rhetoric has also increased, as calls are being made to construct the temple soon at the disputed site.

The courts have also failed to intervene and do justice to Muslims who feel insecure and alienated in the current environment.

Attacks on Muslims suspected of carrying beef have increased. The self-styled cow vigilantes continue to haunt Muslim travellers, particularly in BJP-ruled states, with the backing of the police.

Since Hindus consider the cow as a sacred animal, the sale and consumption of beef have been outlawed in these states. On the 25th anniversary of the Babri incident, a Muslim labourer was lynched and then set on fire by a Hindu fanatic in the BJP-ruled province of Rajasthan.

If this were not enough, he made a video of this violent act and posted it on social media. The main suspect in the crime, Shambhu Lal, openly justified his action on social media, accusing Muslims of conspiring Jihad in India.

Ironically, the Babri mosque was destroyed on the death anniversary of great Indian scholar Bhim Rao Amebdkar—who predicted the threat of Hindu nationalism to the secular fabric of society much before India gained official independence from the British in 1947. 

His prophecy was proven right when the Babri mosque was pulled down in 1992. The assault on the mosque was a direct challenge to the secular constitution of the country that Ambedkar coauthored. 

Western powers need to open their eyes to recognize the growing threat of Hindu supremacy. It's hypocritical of the United States and Canada to go after Taliban in Afghanistan—following an outcry over the bombing of iconic Buddha statues by Islamic extremists in 2001—while continuing to ignore the misdeeds of the BJP so as to maintain cozy and diplomatic relations with India.

This is not to justify the actions of Taliban. Whether it was the demolition of Babri mosque or the bombing of Buddha statues, both actions were unacceptable and sacrilegious. But the outrage over one and silence over the other speaks volumes about the selective approach of the world leaders.

The BJP government in particular and the Indian state in general must be made accountable for the crimes against minorities in that part of the world.


Gurpreet Singh is cofounder of Radical Desi magazine. 
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Last modified on Saturday, 09 December 2017 03:56
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