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HomePageTurnerBook ExcerptsGyanvapi in Varanasi to mosque in Mathura—IAS officer’s first-hand account post-Babri riots

Gyanvapi in Varanasi to mosque in Mathura—IAS officer’s first-hand account post-Babri riots

In 'Of Giants and Windmills', former IAS officer Moosa Raza reveals about the aftermath of the Babri Masjid demolition, in his capacity as Advisor to the Governor of Uttar Pradesh.

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Many of the urban areas of the then large state of Uttar Pradesh, which had more than 20 per cent Muslim population, were facing serious communal riots after the demolition of Babri Masjid. Karsevaks from Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Haryana, Rajasthan and other states of India, who had influxed into the state, were roaming around in groups in the state. They were now targeting the Gyanvapi mosque in Varanasi, adjacent to the Vishwanath temple, and the mosque in Mathura. Reports of more than twenty deaths were already there on my table, and I had noted these figures for the 9–10 December. Kanpur, which was always a hotbed of communal politics, was facing serious agitation against the Muslims.

As an industrial city, it had a fairly large population of workers, a permanently disgruntled segment of the population. Lucknow, Gonda, Deoband (where the most important Muslim religious seminary Darul Uloom was located) and Muzaffarnagar had already suffered casualties. Saharanpur had seen several deaths in the wake of the demolition of the mosque, with the active connivance of the local police. Faizabad, close to Ayodhya, suffered many casualties. Allahabad, Agra, Noida, Kanpur and Varanasi, too, were badly affected. Barabanki, Unnao and Tanda were in the grip of marauding karsevaks, both local and imported.

The VHP and the bodies affiliated to the RSS had been demanding the surrender of three mosques, Babri Masjid of Ayodhya, Gyanvapi of Varanasi and the mosque of Mathura. After the demolition of the Babri Masjid, a wave of jubilation ran through the radical elements of the country, thoroughly indoctrinated by the hopes of a Hindu Rashtra. A call had been given out that people should not remain satisfied with the karseva in Ayodhya. If they want to earn punya (salvation), they should conduct karseva in their localities—meaning demolish all the mosques wherever found. Reports indicated that many karsevaks were assembling in Varanasi to give that dhakka (push). On Friday, which was three days after we joined, a large number of Muslims would be gathering in the Gyanvapi mosque for congregational Friday prayers. As curfew was in force, the administration would not permit them to join a large congregation in the mosque. Unlike Babri Masjid, Gyanvapi mosque was fully in the possession of Muslims and in active use, as it was surrounded by a large Muslim-populated area. Serious trouble was anticipated on that day. An atmosphere of Muslim phobia prevailed in the entire state.

Also read: Ayodhya after SC verdict: Nirmohi Akhara’s Mahant says Ram temple becoming RSS office

The media, too, could not remain unaffected by this phobia. Many of them, especially the Hindi newspapers and magazines, were quite vociferous in their hostility towards Muslims. Many complaints were received that the local papers were even publishing the daily programmes put out by the karsevaks and the right-wing parties to incite the people. Since the three advisors were jointly responsible for the administration of the state as a whole, I decided, in consultation with Mr Goswami, to fly down to Kanpur and assess the situation. After reaching there, I called a meeting of the peace committee comprising Hindu and Muslim leaders. Though they assembled at the behest of the advisor, it was obvious that they were reluctant participants. Neither group saw eye to eye on the various issues that were at that time agitating the emotions of the two communities.

Sensing the hostility, I advised the then DM to take special care of the vulnerable areas, post strong non-communal inspectors, sub-inspectors and the Provincial Army Constabulary (PAC) officials to control potential trouble spots, round up all elements on both sides, who would take advantage of the preoccupation of police in looting and rioting for their own benefit. I also urged the district administration to requisition the army’s help once any trouble started. The police forces were too thinly scattered to control the whole city.

Moreover, the PAC did not enjoy the reputation of an impartial force. Memories of the Hashimpura massacre were quoted, in which forty-two Muslim youths had been taken by the PAC to a canal near Meerut and shot down in cold blood. Hence, induction of the army would be crucial in case of any large-scale rioting. My long experience as DM of several districts in Gujarat had afforded me a lot of expertise in handling such situations. There were many useful suggestions offered during the meeting. The DM and SP, who were present, noted them all. I noted a few in my diary. Had these suggestions, even half of them, been put into action, many of the over 150 subsequent deaths in Kanpur could have been prevented.

Also read: Unseen photos of how Babri Masjid demolition was planned and executed in 1992

I returned to Lucknow after taking all these steps, reasonably assured of compliance. On 9 December, receiving disquieting reports of impending trouble from Varanasi, I decided to take the single-seater state plane to Varanasi to review the situation. When I reached the city, I first went to the Viswanath temple adjoining the mosque, and I could see groups of people standing at corners (perhaps karsevaks) glaring with great hostility at our cavalcade. The Kashi Viswanath Temple itself was under police protection, so was the adjacent Gyanvapi mosque. Among the twelve most holy temples of the Hindus, the Kashi Vishwanath Temple is considered holier than others, as it is located in the holy city of Varanasi on the banks of the holy river Ganga.

The responsible leaders of both the Hindu and Muslim communities who had gathered to meet me in the vicinity of the temple-mosque complex told me that complete amity had prevailed between the two communities earlier. The city was well-known for its silk sarees, and since the Muslims were weavers and the Hindus were the financiers and marketeers, the two communities were interdependent and integrated. Haji Abdur Rab, a prominent Muslim leader, expressed his lack of confidence in the police, especially the PAC, to control the situation, if it developed.

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