By Rana Ayyub
Like many Indians, I was glued to the television set on Saturday, awaiting the Supreme Court’s decision about the site of the Babri Masjid, an important mosque and monument of faith for Indian Muslims demolished in 1992 by right-wing Hindu nationalists.
The court delivered a huge victory for the nationalist government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, by awarding the land at the heart of the clash to a Hindu litigant over Muslim objections. I watched the verdict in Washington with a Muslim family from India who had migrated to the United States in 1993. My host shut off the TV as news anchors called it a victory of Lord Ram. He looked at his 80-year-old mother and said, “I am glad we left when we left.”
Before and after the verdict, the government made calls for prudence and respect — and at the same time, many couldn’t help but gloat.
At the Supreme Court, lawyers chanted “Jai Shri Ram” (“Glory to Lord Ram”). Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, who read the verdict, took his colleagues to dinner that night at the posh Taj Mansingh in Delhi.
On social media, the verdict was celebrated by right-wing nationalists. Journalists and writers called it a welcome closure to a conflict that had lasted almost a century. A senior leader of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, L.K. Advani — who was one of the leaders of the mob that demolished the Babri mosque, which triggered one of the bloodiest anti-Muslim pogroms in the country — declared victory on television. “It is a moment of fulfillment for me because God almighty had given me an opportunity to make my own humble contribution to the mass movement, the biggest since India’s freedom movement, aimed at the outcome which the Supreme Court verdict today has made possible,” he said.
Like many Indian Muslims back home, I’ve struggled to make sense of the kind of “justice” that is being celebrated, this closure and relief many speak of. Whose closure? As a child of the 1992 anti-Muslim riots that followed the demolition of the holy mosque, I was made to revisit the traumatic decade, when a wake of communalism changed the narrative on secularism in the world’s largest democracy.
Muslims in the country are on edge. A relative called me after reading my comments on Twitter and Facebook lamenting the verdict. “Will you just shut up?” he screamed on the phone. “We have to live here. Your family and my family, don’t make it difficult for us; we cannot have another mob breaking into our house.”
Growing up in the ’90s, I remember my Muslim family was widely respected in our Mumbai neighborhood. My father, a public school teacher and a member of the Progressive Writers movement, did volunteer work. People used to tie a thread on his head on Guru Purnima, a festival that celebrates teachers. We had a social identity, never a religious one.
Everything changed on Dec. 6, 1992, as the Bharatiya Janta Party and other right-wing Hindu organizations such as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad marched toward the Babri Masjid with thousands of Kar Sevaks (devotees).
Advani, along with other BJP stalwarts including Uma Bharati, gave provocative speeches in favor of razing the Babri Masjid to the ground. That morning, as they demolished the historic 16th-century mosque, we sat in our one-room apartment watching the barbarity in fear.
And things only got worse from that point.
Our neighbor, a Sikh man, came knocking nervously at our door. He entered our house, sweat dripping from his forehead. He told my father that rioters were marching to our house to take me and my sister. I was 9, my elder sister was 14. Hundreds of Muslim women were raped during that time as part of anti-Muslim riots. Within minutes we were whisked away from the back door on our neighbor’s motorcycle with our heads covered. We were taken to a locality of Sikhs where my sister and I took refuge in a house for two months. We had no means of communicating with our family.
I would cry and ask my sister about the well-being of our family back home. From that point on, we were Muslims, outsiders, invaders. When we returned home, nothing was the same. Our neighbors were no longer just our neighbors — they were Hindus now. The next month, my family — like thousands of other Muslim families — moved to a Muslim ghetto.
In the eyes of the country, we were Muslims first and Indians later. I was moved to a public school in Deonar, a suburb in Mumbai where I was slurred for the first time, by my classmates, who called me “landya” (“bastard child”). The term was popularized by editorials in right-wing newspapers in Mumbai.
On Saturday, India’s Supreme Court called the demolition of the Babri Masjid illegal but chose to reward the same mob and its leaders with permission to build a grand temple at the disputed site; Muslims were given a piece of land, far removed from the site that was once a grand symbol of their faith.
My country chose to “other” me and millions of Muslims yet again, paving the way for right-wing Hindu nationalism to fulfill its dream of a Hindu Rashtra (Hindu Nation).
The perpetrators of the destruction and violence that claimed more than 1,000 Muslim lives in 1992 were invited to celebrate and not atone for their crimes.
Muslims in India fear that this would indeed be the beginning of reimagining India with Muslims as second-class citizens as envisaged by right-wing supremacists. A resounding message has been sent to the more than 200 million Muslims in the country that they must bear every humiliation and injustice with the silence expected of an inferior citizenry. I and millions of my co-religionists have been made to feel like an orphan yet again in the land we have loved, cherished and called our own. A land whose liberation from the British was fought by revolutionaries and freedom fighters that included our own forefathers. I wonder if that cherished freedom holds any meaning in the new India that seeks to erase my legacy and my existence.