Home Politics Watching ‘Ram Ke Nam’ at the time of Ram Mandir

Watching ‘Ram Ke Nam’ at the time of Ram Mandir

The film, which meticulously documented the incident that scarred India so far that it could not survive, won several awards, including three international awards for Best Documentary. Beginning with the story of BJP leader LK Advani's Rathyatra from Somnath to Ayodhya, the film traces the events that led to the demolition of the Babri Masjid, claimed to be the birthplace of Ram, and the construction of a temple in its place. 

Snapshot taken from the documentary.

Ram Ke Naam is an awe-inspiring documentary by Anand Patwardhan that extensively documented the Ram Janmabhoomi movement that started in October 1990 and led to the demolition of the Babri Masjid. Years since the documentary was released in September 1992, more precisely, three months before the demolition of the Babri Masjid by Karsevak on December 6, that is, almost 32 years after it was first released, the month of January 2024, which witnessed the consecration ceremony of the Ram Temple, has been widely ‘re-visited’ the documentary.

The film, which meticulously documented the incident that scarred India so far that it could not survive, won several awards, including three international awards for Best Documentary. Beginning with the story of BJP leader LK Advani’s Rathyatra from Somnath to Ayodhya, the film traces the events that led to the demolition of the Babri Masjid, claimed to be the birthplace of Ram, and the construction of a temple in its place. 

Starting with a poster welcoming LK Advani to Ayodhya titled ‘Chalo Ayodhya Mandir Wahin Banayenge’, Patwardhan’s documentary is more than just an opinion piece. The film takes the audience on a journey through interviews with many people, including panicked Karsevaks on the Ratha Yatra during the incident, temple priests, local administration, and government officials. The documentary provides precise insight into how communal sentiments and attitudes began to take shape as a result of right-wing Hindu politics. By doing so, the film offers a compelling look at how these sentiments came to be and how they impacted Indian society.

The Babri Masjid in Ayodhya was built in 1528. Almost 50 years after that, Tulsidas wrote his commentary on the Ramayana, popularizing the Hindu god Rama. With that, the whole of Ayodhya was filled with Ram temples. Many people claimed that many of them were Ram Janmabhoomi. The film portrays its continuity with a lot of authenticity, given the background historical accounts of how the British used it and how it led to the present situation.

On 22 December 1949, according to the BJP and Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) narrative, Lord Rama appeared in a dream to a priest in Ayodhya. The god-king persuaded the priest to install the idol of Rama in the church. On the night of December 23, 1949, the VHP circulated footage of a child dressed as Rama standing inside the Babri Masjid with the narrative that Rama appeared at his birthplace in Ayodhya. That propaganda was disseminated in the form of videotape records called the Vision of Rama Bhaktan’s Dream. Through his documentary, Anand discusses how Sangh Parivar used the visual media to build popular support by filming the broadcasts of these scenes, beginning with the VHP logo.

The video campaign, featuring a miraculous presentation of the Lord, glosses over the human intervention involved in setting up the idol. It also reveals how people are hypnotized to manipulate their ecstatic love for the Hindu God and thereby use them.

Anand shows that the priest, Mahan Sevaka Das, who installed the idol inside the mosque, said directly that the District Magistrate of Ayodhya KK Nair was with him to install the idol. The documentary begins to describe the causality of these developments and conducts a thorough investigation of the operatives involved in the process. Anand questions the sense of worth of KK Nair through his documentary by showing only one press release containing the entire educational qualifications of KK Nair, who was born in 1907 in the Alappuzha district of Kerala. We can see many frames in the documentary where educational qualifications are perfect – exposing people with a broken sense of values.

On December 22, 1949, after the Isha prayer, the mosque was opened without the knowledge of its officials, and the idol was placed there. The next morning, Muslims who had come for Fajr Namaz were not allowed inside the mosque by a team comprising Magistrate KK Nair. The scenes of Haji Abdul Ghaffar Sahib, who was the last Imam of the Babri Masjid, is something that lingers in the minds of everyone who watches that documentary, especially the Muslim audience.

The day of the incident was a Friday. He tells Anand that Magistrate KK Nair sent them back with a promise that “you will conduct Juma somewhere else for one or two Fridays and you can perform the following Juma here”. The words of Imam’s son “Toh yeh usi juma ka intezar aaj tak kar rahe hain” (My father is still waiting for that upcoming Jumu’ah) are deeply etched in the minds of the present Muslim audience.

Ram Ke Naam is also a documentary that very authentically portrays the public opinion and public sentiment prevailing at the time of the incident and in many other parts of the country. It covers the public discourses of the time and also exposes the audience to the existing counter-public discourses of the same time. It shows how the ‘others’ are excluded from the public discourse, and they become a part of the ‘counter public.’ 

In the documentary, Anand portrays Muslims sharing many of their Babari mosque experiences, interspersed with an elderly Muslim villager’s counter question to the inquiry of the team, “Do you know anyone who used to pray there?”. “Those of us who are right before you used to pray there exactly. If you do not understand this yet, then what have you come to understand?” The old man asked the documentarian. These frames tell us what were the emotions of the Muslims in the vicinity of Babri.

After the demolition of the Babri Masjid, Anand reveals the faces of the people who prostrated at the Babri into the hearts of every generation to come. In other words, what we see in the documentary is not the Muslims who only heard that the Babri Masjid was demolished. Rather, they were the people who lived in that moment. This sparks a huge impact on the present Muslim audience. People are dying. Things have gotten out of hand. The scenes of Muslims saying that we have to wait for the court verdict is the beginning of a collective memory for the Muslim audience living during the court verdict and its implementation.

Most of the audience will feel that Pujari Lal Das is the central character in the narrative Patwardhan is trying to construct in the film, who is suggesting that “the whole dispute is a ‘play’ by the VHP for economic and political power”. His every word stands as an honest explanation of what happened there, rather than what was the sentiment of every Hindu who was not in the VHP’s net on this issue. Anyone who sees the documentary once will never forget his face and words.

We Hindus have no desire to destroy this mosque and replace it with a temple. After making it clear that the only people behind this are those attempting to manipulate Hindu votes across the nation, he tells Anand in a very critical manner that the Sangh Parivar does not take responsibility for considering the long-term effects, such as the number of deaths and the treatment of Hindus in areas where Muslims predominate. “No Muslim has ever made trouble here since 1949, that is, since the idol was placed within the mosque. However, the entire nation began to burn when they yelled that Babur’s descendants should carry the load,” claims Laldas, the court-appointed chief priest of the temple.

In this way, we can see the presence of people who saw the incident very neutrally in many frames in the documentary. Anand tried to portray the common and backward people from the Hindu community who are strictly against building a mandir by demolishing the mosque. Anand’s Visuals show that the question arose among a large number of common people as to why a mosque was being demolished and a temple was being built. The director is trying to make the audience more clear when he asks a farmer who tells him not to demolish the mosque if he is a Hindu. “Can we bear it if someone destroys our temple too? Same goes for them. Don’t destroy it. It’s wrong. It’s only Brahmin’s trick”. The words of that farmer who is from a backward class, take the audience to another important part of the subject.

Anand openly shows how the upper-class Hindus are responsible for this through the words of the backward classes. A resident woman can be seen in the documentary saying, “Once their hard-earned grain crops reach their hands, we are untouchable to them. We are still untouchable and invisible to all these Ram Mandir priests”. The local people who are worried about the peace and harmony of their area being destroyed by the Ram Janmabhoomi controversy are also an important part of the documentary. 

Anand has managed to capture the political aspects of the incident, including almost all the political figures who were involved. He references the arguments made by the BJP against Moolayamm Singh, the political explanations provided by the Left party, as well as scenes from important political meetings held that day. The words of the priest who spoke about the situation are also very helpful in understanding it. He points out that “None of the VHP leaders have given any donations or even come here to pray, but they have already started collecting funds for Ram Janmabhoomi.”

The documentary shows us that the local Hindus looked at this political exploitation of the VHP with displeasure. Laldas himself says that the people here are not satisfied with the fact that because of them we stopped praying and we had to go to court to resume it.

Patwardan illustrates the influence they had on the government through the experience of the Income Tax Officer who was investigating the financial transactions of the VHP at that time. The documentary presents us in his own words that the income tax officer who brought out the illegal financial transactions after checking their records was dismissed because of doubts about the financial transactions of the VHP since the start of the Rath Yatra. He is also an American graduate who returned with the desire to do something for the country, and states that “we can no longer expect anything from the condition left in the country”. Doubts raised about the impact of Hindutva on the system that prevailed at that time remain answers for today’s society, which is suffering the consequences of many of them.

The documentary becomes more relevant due to the inclusion of visual content such as the important slogans of the Ram Janmabhoomi Movement, related posters, and Rathyatra poems of the Karasevaks. The slogans “Saugandh Ram k khate hain,  mandir vahi banayenge”, “Ramjanmabhoomi ek jhaki hai, Kashi mathura baki hai” and “Bacha Bacha Ram ka, Janmabhoomi ke kaam ka” were chanted during the Rathyatra and can be seen in the picture along with the crowd who raised them.

“If there is no Ram, There is No survival” is a frame that shows how much upper caste Hindus were part of the processions that took place in the streets of Mumbai inviting people to the Rath Yatra with the English slogan “If there is no Ram, There is no survival”. The director captures the streets full of graffiti saying ‘Reach Ayodhya on October 30’ with his camera.

The background narration in the documentary which brings Advani to the scene with the background voice of “Kashi Mathura Baki Hai” is also significant. The film has a very simple but relevant narration like ‘BJP leader LK Advani imagines an air-conditioned Toyota car as a chariot and embarks on a Rathyatra as ending in Ayodhya on October 20’.

Through his documentary, Anand brings out the Bajrangal activists, Rath Yatra followers, and political leaders of those troubled days. The image includes statements by Bajrangal workers guarding the paths of the ‘Ratha Yatra’ with swords that they are “ready to remove all obstacles to their journey by any means”. Anand asks the crowd for more information regarding Rama’s birth, bringing to light how ignorant they all are on the subject. That is, he raises the question of what is the basis of those masses. Anand also finds people in that crowd who say, “We are from the Congress but we are Hindus. That’s what matters.”

The documentary which accurately captures the brutality and horror of the riots and its impact, also includes the scenes of the Rath Yatra passing by thanking the police authorities. The scenes of October 29 and 30 in the documentary which starts with the slogan “Maarenge Mar Jayenge, Mandir Wahin Banayenge” (We will kill, we will be killed, but the temple will be built there.) are very important. The frame cuts to the Karsevaks who are arriving in Ayodhya from different parts of the country to demolish the Babri Masjid. 

Buses of Karsevaks can be seen raising slogans like “the Hindu blood which is not heating up is not blood but just water” at the policemen who stop them. Anand reveals how the Sangh Parivar faced the prohibition order and police warm-up on the day of the incident by using upper caste Hindu officials through the footage of former police chief VHP vice president SP Dikshit using a police loudspeaker to empower the Karsevaks.

The documentary ends with the question, “We are all being displaced for Raman’s native land. Why should I leave my native home for that?” This event provides a continuum to the far-reaching consequences that have been created there.

The viewer’s inquiry as to what could have happened to Laldas, watching the documentary, especially the scenes of the day of the incident, ends with a message that appears on the screen at the end. The message stated that Ramjanmabhoomi Pujari Laldas was assassinated a year after the incident. 

Anand is the producer of documentaries including “Prisoner’s Consciousness” which tells the story of Indira Gandhi’s emergency period. This documentary of his has also been subjected to a lot of criticism and threats.

This documentary, which was released on YouTube, is one of the most significant pieces on the subject. If it were screened at Ram Mandir on January 22, 2024, in the presence of the country’s mainstream political leaders, filmmakers, and film stars, it would be the greatest honor for the filmmaker who is indebted to the world. 

Anand, thank you for this truthful work. We are indebted to you.