I was barely five years old when the Babri Masjid was razed to the ground by a frenzied mob. As India awaits the Supreme Court verdict on the Ram Janmabhoomi- Babri Masjid dispute in Ayodhya in the next few days, I recall how we sat down in front of the black-and-white TV set in the evening, and the DD News anchor solemnly, sans theatrics and melodrama, informed the viewers about the demolition. I remember the psychological impact that act had on me as a five-year-old and also the grim faces of everyone around, children, young people and elderly alike.
Today, I am not as concerned about the outcome of the Ayodhya verdict as I am about its possible fallout. Especially because all the noise around the court verdict has drowned out the silence about the bloodshed that followed the Ayodhya campaign.
The everyday threat of violence
As a child, I had reacted differently. I drew my instinctive reaction to this assault on a piece of paper in my drawing book. It constituted of three amateurishly drawn figures of a mosque intact, a mosque demolished and a mosque re-built. That was the demand of a child with a very nascent sense of justice.
A decade-and-a-half later, as a Left activist, I raised the same demand. My position was no longer an emotional response of a five-year-old, but a more informed one – about the promise and pact that the Constitution of India makes to the people of India.
But today, my concerns are informed by what violence, or the everyday threat of violence, does to people. It makes them forego their constitutional rights, and settle for an unjust peace.
I remember those heady days and months following the demolition of Babri Masjid when innumerable wounds were inflicted on the body-politic of our republic. News poured in of riots, violence and curfews from various parts of the country. Rumours and facts became indistinguishable. The news that came in from the city of Mumbai was particularly disturbing.
Twenty-seven years later, few have been punished for the trail of blood left behind by the infamous Rath Yatra with L.K. Advani at its helm. In fact, the loss of lives and the bludgeoning of the rule of law that took place back then have been conveniently erased from popular consciousness. The only debate now is about the outcome of the title suit.
A bias in punishment?
This erasure is part and parcel of the regime of impunity that has been craftily built for those who perpetrate communal violence and work overtime to divide and polarise. The idea of justice is central to the idea of democracy, and therefore it is pertinent that our memories of injustice are not allowed to fade away into oblivion.
When the Liberhan Commission, constituted 10 days after the demolition, finally came out with its report 17 years later, it indicted top BJP leaders like L.K. Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, Uma Bharti and Kalyan Singh for inciting violence and hate-mongering, and named the RSS, the Bajrang Dal and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. It is important to recall that when the panel was constituted, it was supposed to carry out a time-bound probe and submit the report within three months. The delay itself rendered the exercise meaningless and hollow, and none whom the report held responsible has been punished to date.
For the Congress-led UPA, the completion of the report gave it an occasion to mouth some hollow platitudes about its commitment to secularism. But apart from that, it never had the political will or the courage to act on the committee’s findings. The crores of rupees spent on maintaining the staff of this longest-running commission in Independent India stood wasted and justice was turned into a mere jest.
The Srikrishna Commission, whose mandate was to probe the gory Mumbai riots that followed the Babri demolition, met the same fate. The Mumbai riots took place in two phases in December 1992 and January 1993 and claimed nearly 900 lives – 275 Hindus and 575 Muslims – and left over 2,000 people injured. The committee noted in its voluminous (almost 25,000 pages) report that by January 1993, the riots were no more spontaneous like they were in December. The committee showed with elaborate proofs how the riots were engineered under the Shiv Sena and targeted Muslims. It indicted Shiv Sena leaders like Bal Thackeray, Gajanan Kirtikar, Milind Vaidya and BJP leaders like Madhukar Sarpotdar and Gopinath Munde.
The most noteworthy finding of the Srikrishna Commission was the “built-in-bias” of the police against Muslims. The commission enlisted 11 incidents where 31 policemen were found to be actively participating in murder, arson and loot. It even named the Joint Police Commissioner R.D. Tyagi for killing nine young Muslim boys at ‘point-blank and in cold blood’ in the infamous Suleiman Bakery operation.
One only needs to compare the state’s treatment of this report with its response to the Mumbai blasts, which followed the riots, to understand the communal bias in our justice system.
The investigation of the blasts took place in the TADA court, with 100 people being convicted; one of those on death penalty has been executed. On the other hand, the Srikrishna Commission report on Mumbai riots was never acted upon. In fact, the Shiv Sena-BJP government even tried disbanding the panel. Even the ‘secular’ Congress-NCP governments never acted on its recommendations. None of the police officers were punished. Some were, in fact, promoted to plum posts.
Then and now
From Babri to Dadri, we have come a long way, but there is an eerie seamless connection between then and now. Advocate Rajiv Dhawan, who represented the Sunni Waqf board during the Supreme Court hearings in the Ayodhya case, supposedly kept referring to the disputed land as ‘a crime scene’. But in reality, the crime scene was neither confined to that piece of land, nor to that fateful day on 6 December 1992.
These events of the early 1990s, in a way, laid the foundations for the hate and communal violence unleashed with impunity today. The Srikrishna Commission had particularly called out two newspapers Saamana and Navakal for whipping up communal frenzy against Muslims. The present-day TV newsroom anchors have mainstreamed hate with greater effect. That the blood and mayhem triggered by a rath yatra led by L.K. Advani can go unpunished makes it possible for a union minister to openly garland mob -lynching convicts now. It is no longer considered a problem to speak ill of or mistreat the minorities, because those doing so – from prime-time anchors, ministers to the mob on the streets – know that they need not fear the law.
The future of India as a constitutional republic rests on whether we are able to dismantle this regime of impunity.
The author is an activist and former JNU student. Views are personal.