The 16th century Babri Mosque in Uttar Pradesh, India,
was destroyed by Hindu zealots on December 6, 1992.
It looked like baby puke. The glass of milk with a tinge of rose syrup, globules of congealed white floating in it. The man’s shop had been destroyed, the wooden slats of his roof had caved in, but he had tottered outside in the dark corridor and brought this for his guests. The window panes had broken and through a pointed shard he showed us the ruins.
I drank up the milk. Had I refused, it would have been an insult to his poverty, a mockery of the self-respect he was hanging on to.
It was days after the demolition of the Babri Mosque.
December 6 is a day I remember every year. 15 years have passed. Justice is still blind. Those who helped bring down the structure came to rule at the Centre of one of the most thriving democracies in the world; those who incited violence held positions of power.
Today, there is news about the Gujarat elections and its communalization. Gujarat’s history goes back to Ayodhya. Ayodhya goes back to centuries. Those centuries regurgitated began the death knell of minorityism, as we understand it.
“Are you a conservative?” she asked, as she gave me the once-over and shook her head. My clothes did not fit into her version.
“Are you a moderate?” I don’t look like I’d do anything in moderation, so that option was ruled out too.
“Are you a liberal?”
Why were these questions being asked?
Why must December 6 constitute my personal history?
Why do I write about it? Because I don’t want to forget, I don’t want anyone to forget.
Oh, it isn’t quite the Holocaust, they have told me. I know that. I have seen the skeletons of bunks in Dachau and felt like I was walking through the museum it was. I felt no pain.
This isn’t even the Partition of India, they say. Again, they are right. I wasn’t around then and I feel no link with that time.
December 6 I know because it grabbed me, wrenching an identity out of the lump in my throat. In the eyes of the objective world, it became a drama queen moment. Female hysteria, they said each time I wet the pages with tears.
“You don’t even pray,” they said. “So how does that mosque’s demolition bother you?”
It wasn’t the mosque.
What was then called Bombay still tried valiantly to be the intellectual slut; you could get what you wanted for a price. People held hands for peace, they collected clothes, they carped. I got grilles fixed on the outside door. Animals in a zoo.
The papers are silent now. The day is not significant unless a bomb blast takes place or elections are held in some part of the country.
My city had turned into a mortuary. The first day I had walked down the road, unaware of anything. Then someone said the phone lines were down. My pace quickened. As I was rushing past, the lady waddling beside me said, “Can you please walk with me? I have to get my grandson back from school. I am scared about what will happen.”
I was trapped. She was a Hindu. Why was she scared? I wanted to say something, but her face lined with creases stopped me. I slowed down, every step I took making me aware that things had changed. Her destination arrived. I could not even fake a smile. I nodded and went my way.
Her people had done it.
Today, December 6, 2007, my friend is leaving for ‘home’. She lives in America. 15 years ago we had gone together to those places. She was shooting a video film. I was asking the questions. In one particular area, a group of rich traders from the majority community told us how their businesses were destroyed. They found no mention in her video; my article gave them equal say. Not because what they said was important but because I was forced by my minority status to give both sides. I wanted to hit them in their starched clothes and shiny gold watches. I wanted to hit them because I had folded my hands in greeting.
“Namaste,” I had said, which is not unusual for us as Indians.
They said they could not offer us anything as one fellow chewed his beetle-nut leaf spiked with the colour of death. Deaths he had not seen. He asked me my name. I did not lie. “Oh,” is all he said.
Then, as though describing a far-away place in a matter-of-fact manner, he showed us a roundabout which acted as a demarcation. “Beyond that we call the place mini-Pakistan,” as he spit out crimson juice.
That is where the houses had been shattered and glasses of milk with rose petals were offered to us. There was silence in the voices, numbness in the eyes there.
Today I remembered the face of the father, aged more than his age. His young daughter sat in a corner. She would not go to school again. “English medium,” he had said with pride. They did not ask me my name. They did not ask me my religion. While leaving I impulsively said, “Khuda Hafiz”. I was like them. I had to stop pretending that the hazelnut-tinged cappuccino the white-gloved waiters brought me would make any difference.
My windows had not shattered; my cocoon did.
Today, I wanted to remind my friend. I hesitated. She told me about her other projects. She was headed home. I was home. I was living the reminder. I kept quiet, my voice as still as the old man’s 15 years ago.
Did I become a communalist? A rabid leader had said then, “If you have the guts, then deprive the Muslims of their voting rights, all these ‘communalists’ will become Hindutvawadis in no time.” Every sensible person who got angry about it was seen as a sane voice. Even the person who uttered these words was not considered insane simply because he, and they, were speaking from a position of authority.
The minute I opened my mouth I became “that Muslim woman using the minority card”. Terms like “paranoia” and “persecution complex” were used regularly.
Yes, I had become paranoid. I am not used to seeing blood stains and bullets and hearing stories about cops standing on the roofs of houses shooting young boys in the bylanes. I am not used to having people I know being asked to drop their pants to show whether they had a foreskin and if they did not they were bundled into jeeps. They became a threat. Circumcision was a threat.
Then came 9/11.
In The Black Pages, George Berglund landed in a city strewn with ashes and felt like a tourist “who had stumbled upon some ghastly truth”, which made him feel it was “a mythical encounter between the third eye of the western tourist with the third eye of Lord Shiva”. Of course, he was told to stay in his room. If he were one of us, he’d fret – for life, limb, and sanity.
As a former American officer who controlled the nuclear weapons for a NATO unit, his stint having “convinced me that the world was insane”, he was able to see street power. “Their violence keeps them entirely social, for it’s a counter-violence they practise as an avenue to group identity, a process of the bonding of the dispossessed. Their use of violence is another way to lay claim to socially produced wealth. The riots thus constitute the decriminalization of crime.”
But for Berglund it became a larger question, “Can we distinguish a riot from a pogrom, a pogrom from a holy war, and that from a holocaust?”
Bombay is a city known to get back on its feet. No one notices the cracked soles. The battleground was in Uttar Pradesh but the tremors were felt in the moolah-metro.
Excavations have taken place since to ascertain whether Lord Rama was born there. People were told not to damage the makeshift temple. It is a known fact that Hindus install pandals (tents) at will anywhere and they can be moved at any given time. And who were these worshippers? Where had they sprung from? Since 1993? In that case, the argument against the Muslims that they need not have got so agitated about the demolition of the Babri Masjid since no one prayed there would not hold. Does anyone remember Justice P. K. Bahri who had stated then that in a democracy such things happen, that it was an emotional issue and even if the Centre had produced evidence that it was pre-planned, the good judge felt such evidence would show, “that some sincere efforts were made by the leaders present on the dais that day, requesting such ‘kar sevaks’ not to cause damage to the disputed structure at all”?
It was a lie. The leaders on the dais were shouting in Hindi, “Dhakka maaro (break it)”; they expressed their happiness openly when the task was accomplished and some leaders even admitted there were more mandir votes than masjid votes.
In fact, no Muslim will vote on the strength of an assurance that the Babri Masjid will be restored, but many Hindus will whenever they are reminded about bricks and restoration of the temple.
15 years later Narendra Modi is reaping the benefits on that moment.
It is important to remember this date because it heralded the second Partition of India where geographical maps were carved in minds.
“Are you proud of being a Muslim?” I am asked.
It was not soaring ambition with me and I have not contributed to acquiring it, so there is no pride. I can see the flaws. But, I do not shy away from admitting that I do not eat pork. I do not hesitate to say that I belong to a minority community.
“You are hardly the type to represent Muslims,” they
Perhaps, they are right. I am only representing a muffled voice. A voice in the dark corridor carrying a glass of milk and a hand waving from a broken window. I represent the elite minds caged behind grilles. I represent my own helplessness. I represent a byline that makes them uncomfortable because it is a ‘Mossie’ name talking ‘Mossie’ things while not being ‘Mossie’ enough to pin against a wall. I woke up to those pinned against walls.
December 6 made me a political animal. It taught me about animus. Animus that cleaved through souls.
FARZANA VERSEY is a Mumbai-based writer-columnist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org