Ayodhya: The Ram Mandir bhoomi pujan Wednesday brings a moment of joy for families of 17 kar sevaks who were killed in firing by Uttar Pradesh Police in October and November 1990, two years before the Ram Janmabhoomi campaign led to the demolition of the Babri masjid in Ayodhya.
The Ram temple trust, which is overseeing the construction of the temple, has invited them to the event that will also be attended by PM Narendra Modi, among others. Happy to be in the spotlight, the families, however, want the government to also help them out financially as a mark of respect for their loved ones’ “sacrifice”.
The 17 kar sevaks died as the Ram Janmabhoomi campaign hit fever pitch with BJP leader L.K. Advani’s rath yatra. On 30 October and 2 November 1990, they were among at least one lakh people who had gathered at Ayodhya to march towards the Babri masjid following a call from the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP). But the then Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav ordered police to open fire.
While the government figures pegged the number of fatalities at 16, those on the receiving end of the firing claim many more died.
‘No one has listened to us’
Kar sevaks were the volunteers who joined the Ram temple movement. One of those killed was Rajender Prasad Dharkar, who, according to his family, was all of 17 years old.
“My brother Rajender Prasad Dharkar was killed in the firing on 30 October. He had gone to participate in kar seva and it got really crowded… tear gas was also used and then the firing. He was only 17 years old but he wanted to do his bit,” said his brother Ravindra Prasad Dharkar, who will attend the bhoomi pujan.
“I have got an invitation and I am really happy that, finally, the mandir for which many people, including my brother, gave up their lives, is being built,” he added.
“But with this happiness, we also want someone to pay heed to us and our condition. We are still the same way we were,” he said. “No one has listened to our problems, whether it is the MLA, MP or the councillor. No one bothered to check how a shaheed’s family is living and surviving.”
Dharkar said he has three sons and as many daughters, but earns about “Rs 100-150/day selling bamboo baskets”. “Due to coronavirus, even that has stopped. This money is not even sufficient for daily needs, and then I have to pay off loans taken by my parents,” he added.
He said he would be happy even if just assigned a space inside the temple complex to set up a shop. “My request to PM Modi and (Uttar Pradesh CM) Yogiji is to either give me some space inside the temple, where I can put up a shop, or help me get a job because I’m not able to sustain myself,” he said.
‘My father gave up his life’
Seema Gupta’s father Vasudev Gupta had a sweet shop in Ayodhya. He was killed while returning home after hoisting the saffron flag, she told ThePrint.
“All our problems look insignificant in front of the fact that this mandir is finally being built. My father gave up his life for this mandir and, thanks to PM Modi, we are seeing this day,” she said.
Gupta, a graduate, now runs a garment shop and wants the government to help her with a job. “This shop will be removed as part of the road-widening project. It is the only source of livelihood I have. My request is, either give us some space inside the temple for a shop or a job,” she added.
In January, it was reported that the VHP has decided to felicitate kar sevaks, especially the families of those who died during the movement to build a Ram Mandir.
Gayatri Devi, widow of kar sevak Ramesh Pandey, who was 35 when he died on 2 November 1990, expressed similar hope as Gupta and Dhankar.
“I didn’t have much money (when my husband died) and still raised my kids. My sons do some private work and it’s barely enough for them. Even today, I don’t have any other source of income… This house that I live in is rented, so I hope the government will come to our aid,” she said.
“We are very happy that the bhoomi pujan is happening. My husband was 35 when he died in the police firing. He was associated with the movement, and the construction of Ram Mandir will finely put his soul to rest.