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Remember Rebuild Resurrect : Babri Masjid 26 Years On

The demolition was not an aberration or a flicker in time; it was the clearest example of the profound and long-term structural failures of the Indian state.

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Today marks the 26th anniversary of the demolition of the Babri Masjid, by karsevaks belonging to the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Bajrang Dal and others, on December 6th, 1992. The demolition, although the most vivid and violent spectacle of destroying an intimate marker of a Muslim presence of piety from the apparently secular and inclusive Indian public sphere, was only the culmination in a long history of events. The demolition was not an aberration or a flicker in time; it was the clearest example of the profound and long-term structural failures of the Indian state. Despite the fact that today it is known that over 13 legal documents exist which prove that idols were arbitrarily and forcibly installed on the intervening night of 22nd-23rd December, 1949, along with the assault and eviction of Muslims from the space of the masjid, it is the spectacular power of myth-making embedded in Indian public sphere which sustains the idea behind Ram Janmabhoomi movement as well as the constant threat of ‘restoring’ a temple which never existed.

From Hashim Ansari, the oldest litigant in the title suit of the Babri case till his death in 2016, once arrested and put into jail for two years for daring to call the azaan at the masjid; to Maulana Muhammad Yamin, the President of the Hashimpura Legal Advisory Committee until his death in 2007, there have been many Muslim litigants, lawyers, researchers and activists who have reposed their faith in the processes of Indian judiciary when faced with large scale violence, dispossession, pogroms, and utter marginalisation, while the judiciary has denied even their basic rights of testimony, so central to any idea of justice. Not only have multiple governments been complicit in allowing the installation of idols at the masjid, in taking over the space, forbidding any kind of namazfrom 1949 onwards, later unlocking the gates of the masjidin 1986, the shilanyas in 1989, the Rath Yatra in 1990, and finally being completely implicated in the physical demolition in 1992, it is also the judiciary which has enabled many of these processes. These include celebrated and ‘progressive’ judges like Justice J.S. Verma who reduced the karsevaks to “miscreants” without any identity, apart from arguing that it was the tolerance embedded in Hinduism which gave enabled Islam to be tolerant, as well as the Archaeological Survey of India which stubbornly defended its mythical proposition in court and elsewhere that the excavations found at the site pointed to an erstwhile temple, which has systematically been disproved by reputed archaeologists. The question of the court sitting in judgement over “whether the mosque is essential” to Islam (in the context of land acquisition, but having far reaching implications in general) is another attempt at usurpation of the most basic sense of dignity and practises of piety of the community as a whole. It is vital to remember, that in the name of maintaining the ever-lasting myth of ‘communal harmony’, it was Muslim prayer which was disallowed first at the barred space of the masjid after 1949, and this remains a well-known and widespread pattern even today, where the burden of maintaining neighbourhood harmony, good-will and peace has ensured that Muslim spaces, such as waqf properties, including mosques, madrasas and graveyards, which continue to be encroached at rapid speed, are never recovered or litigated due to the fear of sparking off a violent response from those in the powerful majority.After installing idols in 1949, the local administration maintained the need for regular Hindu prayers of the idols while barring namaz (the Faizabad District Court argued that Muslims, unlike the Hindus in need of access to idols, could offer namaz anywhere in the nearby mohalla), while simultaneously locking Babri into endless litigation which continues till date.

It is also highly myopic, then, to lay the responsibility of what happened to Babri and what all was done to many Muslims in its wake, merely in the hands of those who physically destroyed the masjid, or at the sole doorstep of Hindutva. Even as it is clear that Hindu nationalism has sharpened and brought to the fore the most violent of anti-Muslim fantasies, it would be a complete and utter failure to limit our reading of history to this. This abbreviated and self-serving reading of history has meant that many “secular” and “progressive” fronts, including all the major parliamentary left organizations and their student organizations within this campuscall for the “restoration” of secularism, democracy and the promise of a constitutional republic every year on the 6th of December, but never confidently demand “Rebuild Babri.”While some suggest a neat, secular, developmental alternative of universities, schools or hospitals where the masjidonce stood, others have shied away from the question of rebuilding anything at the site at all, and only demand for the arrest of the ‘perpetrators’. The flawed and exclusionary discourse of Indian secularism, which has always vilified and rendered as dangerous the mere possibility of a practising, believing Muslim in the public sphere cannot allow for the imagination of Muslim spaces at all, in their full vitality and presence. For many people, what once was a masjid has now become reduced to the ‘site of litigation’ and a space of ‘dispute’. The judiciary too, in dividing up chunks of an erstwhile mosque in the name of a title suit, forgets that mosques do not merely cease to be mosques because of majoritarian violence, deeply contested litigation processes, or the barring of prayer.

This is precisely why we remember Babri, year after year, no matter how powerful the secular social sphere’s desire to erase its links to Muslim existence, piety, or Islamic ethics. Whether in this campus or beyond, there exists an attempt to establish a discursive hegemony which is predicated on the binaries of secular/communal, public/private, fundamentalist/progressive.  The fight to remember and rebuild Babri cannot and will not be predicated on these binaries, and cannot be reduced to a fight against ‘fascism’, to replace political tyrants, or to ‘save’ secularism. It is fundamentally a question of Muslim existence, and Muslim subjectivity. For Muslims, Babri, as much as it is a painful memory, has and will remain a space of possibility, of rebuilding, of redressal and resurrection.

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