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Mainstream, VOL 62 No 6 February 10, 2024

Once we respected and loved each other | Humra Quraishi

Friday 9 February 2024, by Humra Quraishi


8 February 2024

In the midst of all the surcharged communal poisoning unleashed all around, last week there stood out one great heart-touching picture…Coming from Jammu, it showed a young Sikh gentleman rushing with an umbrella towards an elderly Muslim man offering namaaz along the roadside, unmoving even in the midst of a sudden downpour! I kept gazing at those visuals for minutes at a stretch. Even right now, just before starting to write this column I kept seeing those visuals. Something or everything so very soothing for the soul. Taking one back to the years gone past by when we respected and loved each other and the diverse faiths.

Unlike today, when every effort seems on to break not just brick structures but even human bones or whatever remains of our brittle bones and malnourished forms. Correct me if I’m wrong but the communal poisoning that started getting unleashed right from the early 90s, is peaking as never before.

It was L K Advani led Rath Yatra in 1992 that sowed the seeds of divides and communal tensions. I can’t ever forget the particular shot of Murli Manohar Joshi gleefully hugging Uma Bharti and LK Advani… the trio standing at the Babri masjid site, celebrating, as the masjid was getting destroyed by the Kar Sevaks.

This is what Khushwant Singh had commented – “though I have no personal quarrel against Advani but Advani has changed the entire map of this country. The way communal poisoning spread out in the country after he took out that rath yatra and destroyed the Babri Masjid.”

And when I’d asked Khushwant that in 1989 he had proposed the name of LK Advani as MP from New Delhi ,but then why that complete U-Turn, Khushwant had detailed, “Yes, I did propose his name but that time I was disillusioned with the Congress. Ever since Advani’s rath yatra, I have been critical of him. And at public platform here in New Delhi, I told him in front of the audience that he’s responsible for sowing the seeds of hatred between the communities… his rath yatra from Somnath to Ayodhya culminated in the destruction of the Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992.”

In fact, in one of his writings Khushwant had detailed – “Advani, more than anyone else, sensed that Islamophobia was deeply ingrained in the minds of millions of Hindus and it needed only a spark to set it ablaze. Advani claims that breaking the mosque was not on his agenda; that he actually sent Murli Manohar Joshi and Uma Bharati to plead with those who went on the rampage to desist. If that was so, why were the two seen embracing each other and rejoicing? We don’t have to wait for the verdict of the Liberhan Commission to tell us what happened; we saw it with our own eyes. …At an event I even told Advani to his face, in front of an audience, ‘You have sowed the seeds of communal disharmony in the country and we are paying the price for it.’ ”

Khushwant also wrote details to the offshoots to the Babri masjid destruction – “The repercussions were worldwide. Enraged Muslims targeted Hindu and Sikh temples in Bangladesh and even in the UK … And in India, relations between Hindus and Muslims have never been the same. There were communal confrontations in different parts of the country: the serial blasts in Mumbai, the attack on the Sabarmati Express in Godhra and the massacre of innocent Muslims in Gujarat can all be traced back to the fall of the Babri Masjid.”


Going back to the winter of 1992. Needless to add that the Babri masjid destruction came as a shock. A jolt, with far-reaching consequences. A sense of disbelief had descended as news had started trickling in of the masjid destruction. Within a short span, news had started coming of communal rioting and targeted violence and killings.

Worse was to be seen and heard as I went to report on the riot affected Seelampur ( in Delhi East, with a predominant Muslim population of the poor and lower middle class) and Muslim men recounted how the police checked for circumcision marks! One had heard of such incidents taking place whilst the masjid demolition was on, in Ayodhya, but couldn’t really believe this to be taking place at one end of the capital city. And as I visited Seelampur the following days, it seemed wrapped up in utter gloom, with just one man (much later I’d come to know he was a businessman turned parliamentarian Mohammad Adeeb) going about in a rickshaw, distributing food packets. Also, what had stood out was an unburnt home, which was a makeshift medical clinic, run by a group of committed and dedicated Sikh and Hindu doctors and activists (if I’m not mistaken there was only one Muslim activist in that group).

Babri Masjid’s destruction and the reactionary riots that followed did jolt and affect the Muslim community. Fears and apprehensions spread out. In fact, Muslim children recounted they were taunted with comments along the strain - it’s time for Muslims to pack up and move towards Pakistan!

I wrote a feature, for the Illustrated Weekly of India, on the sudden rise in the communal surcharge in schools. It was shocking to realize how communal the young had become and that too studying in some of the best-known public schools. A definite reflection of the prejudices they’d been hearing in their homes, in the company of parents or relatives, the so-called upper middle-class creamy setups of this capital city.

As the former bureaucrat, Saiyid Hamid, and several sociologists pointed out the jolt made Muslims think rather in terms of fending for themselves. Also, there came about a stark divide between the secular and the communal.

Undoubtedly the very turning point in India’s recent history has been the demolition of the Babri Masjid by Right -Wing brigades. Hundreds died in the reactionary rioting. Thousands were wrecked and ruined as communal divisions crept into everyday living.

The Babri masjid destruction bared ugly truths: The State’s involvement in that destruction and together with that very callousness of the who’s who on the political and bureaucratic circuits. It also saw the end of an era, of respect of each other’s sentiments and emotions if nothing else.

As the well-known historian Professor Irfan Habib, former chairman of the Indian Council of Historical Research and former Professor of History at the Centre for Advanced Study in History at AMU, told me, “There wasn’t a Hindu or Muslim reaction to the destruction of the Babri masjid. As an Indian, I felt insulted and it was a blow to the image of my country. The destruction of the 475-year-old mosque brought shame and dishonour to the country….it’s not a question of Hindu or Muslim but the very destruction was an insult to the country and its citizens; an assault on the Indian secular consciousness …And the then prime minister Narasimha Rao who’d promised to protect the structure had just looked the other way.”

Compounding the massive tragedy, LK Advani was appointed deputy prime minister of the country, Murli Manohar Joshi was appointed the Union HRD minister and Uma Bharti was made chief minister of Madhya Pradesh.

Now comes the Bharat Ratna for Mr LK Advani!

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