by Meghnad Bose
Having extensively documented the Ram Janmabhoomi movement and the foiled attack on the Babri Masjid in October 1990, Anand Patwardhan is one of the people best poised to tell us about the lessons we must remember from Ayodhya so that the bloody history of riots and violence does not repeat itself three decades later.
Days ahead of the Supreme Court verdict on the Ayodhya title dispute case, the filmmaker makes an impassioned plea to maintain peace and harmony, no matter what the top court decides.
Patwardhan’s award-winning documentary ‘Ram Ke Naam’ had released in September 1992, less than three months before the disputed structure was demolished by a rampaging mob on 6 December.
Speaking to The Quint, he says, “In a sense, I think that we are still suffering the consequences of that act even today, because the divide between Hindus and Muslims has never been really healed after that point.”
He adds, “I’ll tell you a shocking thing that happened. From time to time, in those days, I used to be invited by the IAS Academy in Mussoorie, to show my films and talk to the probationers. But after the demolition of Babri Masjid, I was told by some of the cadre there that 6 December had been celebrated in the IAS academy as the day of Diwali.”
We asked Patwardhan what the lessons to remember from Ayodhya are. The following are excerpts from his response:
Rumours and Misinformation
When the riots began in Mumbai, to whip up the hysteria, a lot of rumours were floating. I remember, on the Worli Sea Face, people stayed up all night along the coast because there was a rumour that the Arabs were going to attack us to support the Muslims and there was going to be an invasion from the sea.
All this rumour-mongering contributed to the frenzy reaching the heights that it did. I am very worried about how the news following the 2019 verdict will be carried about, whatever the judgment is… whether people will be instigated towards violence.
I am sure that sections of social media, WhatsApp, etc, will be put to use, as they have been over the last few years, in a very communal manner.
The Hate-Peddling Media
There were publications actively inciting violence. For instance, the Shiv Sena mouthpiece ‘Saamana’ had a bold headline saying ‘Let Bombay Burn’, which politically obviously paid dividends. As far as I can remember, TV news was extremely controlled. There were no images shown on TV of what was going on.
However, though media coverage was bad in those days, it was not even half as bad as it is today. There is a cause of concern that a biased media will fan the flames. I hope they don’t do it. I hope they realize that they are playing with people’s lives, and are therefore restrained in their reporting. Restrained, not by not telling the truth. The truth needs to be told in a way that does not aggravate the situation even further.
Complicit Politicians, Negligent Police
Even though Mulayam Singh had said that ‘not even a bird would be able to enter Ayodhya’, we found that karsevaks had arrived in the middle of the night, from all over the country. It was hundreds of thousands of people, and then I actually saw, and filmed, that the police were arresting people, putting them in buses and then a few yards away, they were releasing them.
They would get out of the buses and come back and join the protest again. Sections of the police were in connivance with the protesters.
In fact, one of the slogans that the VHP and others gave was “Hindu Hindu bhai bhai, beech mein wardhi kaha se aayi?”
My experience in Ayodhya was from two years before the demolition – October 1990. At that time, what I found was that in village after village, in Ayodhya itself, and in the neighbouring twin city of Faizabad, there was very little communal discord.
I talked to Hindus and Muslims. They said, “We’ve been living here as neighbours all through. There’s absolutely no discrimination between us in these local areas but it’s the outsiders who are coming now, mainly the karsevaks who are bringing trouble.”
The communal frenzy is not a grassroots frenzy, it is being imposed from outside.
What We Could Do Instead: Express Our Solidarity
It was terribly tragic to see what was happening in 1992. As citizens, although we were afraid because there were mobs sometimes on the streets but whenever we could, we took out peace marches. I was part of a group called ‘Ekta’.
Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians – all of us together, we took out a march from Azad Maidan in Bombay, to Thane. It was a two-day march for peace. There were many such actions and we got good support from the public.
Ahead of Ayodhya Verdict, a Plea for Peace
Maybe you can get citizens of this country, who have some standing in different communities, to speak to the public about why they feel that peace should be maintained under all circumstances.
Because this is not worth dying for. Whatever the decision, it is not worth dying for. It is not worth killing for. It is something that has to be discussed in all fairness, with the truth.
At the same time, anybody using any of this to stir violence against the other, should be nipped in the bud. No god wants to see bloodshed unleashed in his/her name. So whatever your religion may be, it doesn’t teach you to hurt others.
Article first published on The Quint.