For Ayodhya residents, peace more important than Ram temple; Hindus, Muslims resent extremists threatening communal harmony

Saurabh Sharma | Feb 26, 2019 | 7 min read



By Saurabh Sharma

 “Ayodhya has the best communal harmony and should be projected as an example to the world”. That is Gulnaaz Begum, 33, as she basks in the sun and sips tea in the garden outside her home, a stone’s throw from the disputed temple site, humming a Hindu religious song blaring from a loudspeaker in a nearby temple. “I know more Hindu devotional songs than the songs of my religion,” she says. Yet, she does not want her kids to live and grow up in Ayodhya, and has bought a piece of land outside the town.

Ayodhya has been the epicenter of the Sangh parivar’s temple politics. A religious get together held here last November by the Vishwa Hindu Parisad (VHP) saw saints and seers converging on the town and urging the government to fix a date to start construction of a Ram temple. A large number of Hindu devotees thronged Ayodhya and many Muslims left town out of fear.

Gulnaz Begum’s fears emerge slowly. “We feel like we are living in a conflict zone,” says Gulnaz. “There is an uneasy calm amongst the Muslim community whenever a large number of people come to the town on the call of a political or religious leader and we have to close our shops,” said Gulnaz, whose husband runs a garment shop in Faizabad district, now renamed Ayodhya . “I want to provide a safe and secure environment for my children.”

Like every other resident of Ayodhya, all that Gulnaz yearns for is an end to the communal frenzy that the Hindutva activists keep stoking. “Every day we sleep with a fear of redux of 1992 when our brothers and sisters were killed in the communal riots which broke out after the demolition of the Babri mosque.

“But let me praise the police,” she quickly adds. “We have the support of the Hindu community and though the BJP has done great work on the development front, they should avoid saying anything which can disrupt the communal harmony of the town”.

Which is easier said than done. The town remains a powder keg as Hindutva fringe groups keep stirring the  communal cauldron by constantly demanding a quick decision by the BJP central government on construction of the grand new Ram Temple and threatening to go ahead with the construction on their own if the government does not accept their demands.

The RSS and their ilk claim that site where the mosque stands now was once a Ram temple, torn down by the Mughal rulers. One little publicised fact is that the Supreme Court had tasked the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) to excavate the area surrounding the mosque to try and establish if this was indeed true. The ASI’s findings, which were made public, was that a temple had existed on the site over which the mosque was built. But the ASI report did not specify it was a Ram temple, as the RSS and other Hindutva groups insist. If anything, the ASI report indicates that it was probably a Shiva temple.

True, for decades till it was pulled down, the mosque was unused and inactive. But on Independence Day, 1947, the Babri Masjid had been an active mosque managed by the Waqf board. Then, on December 22, 1949 it became a temple, when an idol of Ram Lalla appeared mysteriously inside the mosque. The decrepit mosque structure had remained till its demolition in 1992. And a makeshift Ram temple was quickly built on the land owned by the Nirmohi Akhara near the mosque.

Ever since then, first the Allahabad High Court and now the Supreme Court have been grappling with a raft of petitions over the ownership of the land on which the mosque stood, on whether a Ram temple existed there before the mosque was built, and who would own the land and manage the new Ram temple if and when it got built.

The main petitioners are the Nirmohi Akhara, claimants to the temple land, the Sunni Waqf Board, the custodians of the Babri Masjir, and surprisingly, Lord Ram Lalla himself, who was accepted as a petitioner by the Allahabad High Court.

The Supreme Court had subsequently decided to combine all challenges and new petitions and have one hearing for all. After a number of delays, the Supreme Court has now set up a constitution bench including the chief justice to sit on Feb 26 to fix the time and schedule of future hearings.

Meanwhile, the Centre, even as it avers that it will not take any decision till the courts give a final decision, probably to counter the aggressive calls by fringe Hindutva groups, in January petitioned the Supreme Court to hand over two thirds of the disputed land to the Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas, the trust overseeing the Ram temple building plan.

And as campaigning for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections gains momentum, the demand for a speedy decision on the construction of the new temple is being ratcheted up again, by people like Acharya Satendradas Jain, the court appointed chief priest of the makeshift Ram Temple.

 “The BJP is not in any mood to construct the temple,” said the Acharya.  "They are just playing with the faith of people. It was one of their main promises in 2014, they could have done something since they are in power in Centre and also in the state but not a single step was taken. The government is just fooling everyone. I am going to make a boycott call against the BJP very soon in the coming elections. If saints and people can bring you to power then they can uproot also,” added Satyendra Jain.

But the acharya’s views are at odds with that of the townsfolk, many of whom are miffed with the constant imposition of section 144, which prohibits people assembling in the town. Like Chunky Pandey, 43, a local shopkeeper at the Saryu Ghat (river bank) who echoed much of what Gulnaz Begum expressed.

 “The first thing the government should do is ban provocative speeches and slogans,” said Chunky Pandey. "This is not just effecting the other section (Muslims) but also affecting us as we have to close our shops from fear of violence, ransacking and riots. It is the will of god that nothing unfortunate has happened in the last one decade but tension prevails and we live in fear. You construct the temple and I will also contribute in the construction but please stop making Hindu-Muslim statements," he said.

Everyone is now looking to the Supreme Court to resolve this issue. Iqbal Ansari, the chief petitioner on behalf of the Babri mosque says that he believes in the constitution and will obey whatever the Supreme Court of India orders, but with a caveat. “The apex court should also observe how attempts are being made to disrupt communal harmony and should prohibit any kind of provocative activity in the town,” said Ansari. “I do not have any problem with the BJP and would say that they have done a lot for the Ayodhya. I would have both temple and mosque constructed here and end this dispute”.

But electoral compulsions have their own dynamic. Political commentator J P Shukla is convinced that the stakes are higher for the BJP in the coming elections and the construction of Ram Temple in Ayodhya will again be a big campaign plank. "It is one of those issues which can bring you to power but it is not going to be easy as the BJP did nothing in the last five years and now people are understanding that this poll promise was nothing more than a Jumla".

Yet, in the end, as Shukla said, "for the citizens of Ayodhya, the only resolution is peace and nothing else”.














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