It is difficult to pass through Ayodhya without overhearing conversations on the Supreme Court’s judgement on the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute. The anticipation leading up to today’s verdict has shifted to a feeling of, “Thank god the case is done with. The land’s fate is now sealed.”
At 10.30 am today, a constitution bench headed by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi announced the verdict in the Ayodhya case, giving possession of the disputed site in Ayodhya to the Hindus and directing that the Centre or the Uttar Pradesh government allocate five acres of land at a “suitable place” for the Muslims to build a mosque. The bench also said the trifurcation of the disputed site — as mandated by the Allahabad High Court in 2010 — was “legally unsustainable”.
Life was normal in and around the city this morning. Shops were open, hawkers were in business, and the public was out and about — from the suburbs of Faizabad to the heart of Ayodhya. Traffic was strictly regulated but those on foot weren’t asked any questions.
As news of the judgement trickled down to the ground, there were small bursts of celebration but no organised pomp. A pedestrian would break into a loud chant of “Jai Shri Ram” and a passing motorcyclist would readily reciprocate. The ghats of the Saryu — home to many well-known qilas, or forts — were mostly deserted. Instead, excited crowds flocked to local temples. The slogan “Jai Yogiraj, Jai sarkar” rang out at several of these congregations, where joyful bhajans had many on their feet.
The main street that veins through Ayodhya only lacked its tempo travellers and e-rickshaws. The market was open and buzzing with people, with occasional pauses when cavalcades of paramilitary forces or the Uttar Pradesh police passed by. But their presence seemed unnecessary, for the most part.
Most residents of the town this correspondent spoke to welcomed the court’s decision. Ashutosh Tripathi, 49, said the verdict was the culmination of a “historic case”. “The decision did not go against anyone’s religious feelings,” said the lawyer. “Ram is our faith, and the nation is our brotherhood. There is no Ram without the nation, and there is no nation without Ram.”
Karuna Verma, 38, described the verdict as “positive” and said everyone is happy with it. “All this was made possible only by Narendra Modi. We have to let the coming generations know that there is no need to elect anyone else but the Bharatiya Janata Party.”
In Ayodhya, the media presence was obvious. Most journalists were parked at the town’s entrance near Ram ki Paudi, the venue of the Uttar Pradesh government’s grand deepotsav on Diwali eve a few days ago. Some headed to the temples, collecting tribes of sadhus around them for juicy interviews. At Lakshman Qila by the Saryu, a News24 anchor managed a loud collective of templegoers and sadhus, and gave them gleeful cameratime. The sadhus were also content — they invited him and his crew for a special Saturday meal within the Qila precincts.
At the other end, a Doordarshan cameraperson was prasad-hopping: moving from one shop to the other in the main Ayodhya market and asking owners if all was well with their businesses.
It’s all well, said the stoic owners.
Inside the bylanes that crisscross the town, the mood was muted. The sound of television news filtered through from houses, but the streets were mostly empty.
The Muslim community in Ayodhya is not ghettoised, but are scattered throughout the little town. Only in two localities, Begumpura and Syedwada, does one find Muslims in larger numbers. Here too, Hindus live alongside them. It is easy to distinguish Ayodhya’s houses by religious denomination: the Hindus usually carve a swastika or Om outside their homes, or embed tiles with deities at the entrance. Homes that lack these are usually Muslim.
In Begumpura and Syedwada, it was calm and locals discussed how much they hoped this tranquillity would prevail. Muslim residents told this correspondent they were glad the verdict was out and that they didn’t have anything to be unhappy about.
However, they were anxious that the verdict might spark a repeat of 1992, when the Babri Masjid was demolished. Residents said they hope law and order prevails. The memories etched 27 years ago pushed Muslim families in these neighbourhoods to take precautions, like sending women and children to Faizabad and other towns nearby.
This anxiety probably explains why Begumpura and Syedwada were barricaded today with thick bamboo at certain points, though not manned by police personnel. Residents said this was the administration’s attempt to make sure that “undesirable elements” do not cause any ruckus in the area. There were no such barricades in other localities.
The barricades in areas like Begumpura and Syedwada.
On December 6, 1992, The Indian Express reported that “Ayodhya is burning”. The story said: “There are bonfires and spirals of smoke everywhere. There is utter lawlessness.” Months after the demolition of the mosque, journalist Ruchir Sharma told the Citizens’ Tribunal on Ayodhya that on December 6, he had been on the terrace of the town’s BJP office when he saw shops and houses burning. “I asked one of the karsevaks on the terrace, ‘So whose houses are there?’ He said those were Muslim houses.”
Anees Mohammad, 59, witnessed it firsthand. One of the 4,000 or so Muslims who form the single-digit minority in the town, Anees comes from a family of garland-makers who have been employed by the local temples for decades.
“The karsevaks who came in 1992 were outsiders,” he told Newslaundry. “They couldn’t tell me apart from a local Hindu because there’s hardly any difference. Humaari bhi boli wahi hai, pehnawa wahi hai.” Our speech is the same and so is our attire.
Shabir Ali, 75, lives down the road from Anees. A former manager in Ayodhya’s electricity department, he said outsiders, like the karsevaks in 1992, do not comprehend the town’s social life the way locals do. “Wo pehchante nahi hai,” he explained. They don’t recognise us. “They are hostile towards Muslims for the sole fact that they’re Muslims. They don’t realise that Hindus here don’t think that way.”
Ali was 48 years old when the Babri Masjid was brought down. When mobs of karsevaks ran riot in Ayodhya, he ran to a local cemetery and hid inside a grave. “They were assaulting Muslims and burning down our homes. Death was hanging like a sword over my head that night. My breath was taken away,” he said. “But fortunately, there was a man called Paramhans Maharaj whom my father knew well. He made a loudspeaker announcement asking karsevaks to not target Muslims in Begumpura. ‘Don’t do anything to them, they are ours,’ he said. Many of us made it alive because of him.”
Today, Ali is satisfied with the Supreme Court’s judgement. “The Muslims of Ayodhya are very happy with the judgement. Yes, there is a little pain in our hearts, but what can we do about it?” he said. “But no one was caused any problems here. Both the parties got lands. We received five acres of land, and what would we have achieved by making a masjid over there anyway? The court’s judgement is well-thought-out, given the circumstances. It made sure that there will be no untoward incident.”
He added that members of some Muslim families in his neighbourhood left their homes for a couple of days, ahead of the verdict. “They sent their wives and children away because they were afraid. They usually go to their relatives’ homes in the neighbouring region.”
Ayub, 47, too lives in Begumpura. The night before the verdict, he said, a langar was held in their locality as part of early Eid-e-Milad celebrations. “The judgement is okay as everyone says. Prime Minister Modi said everyone should accept it and so, we do.”
The women and children in Ayub’s family are out of town. “Some of went away ahead of the verdict, and some are attending weddings in Faizabad.”
His neighbour, Hazrat Ali, said the Muslim community had made up its mind about the verdict, whichever way it went. “We would accept it. And we have no issues with it. Now I just hope there is peace in Ayodhya, there’s employment. Lives should become better.”
Has Ali sent his family away, too? “Yes, we had memories of 1992. We were a little afraid. Rumours also spread like fire here: there was talk about violence on the day of the verdict. So some of us sent our families away. But not everyone, there are neighbours who have stayed back.”
(top) Ayub and (bottom) Hazrat Ali.
Anees, however, was not as worried. “There is fraternity with the Hindus in Ayodhya. I don’t think anything would go wrong. Common Muslims don’t have much to do with political issues here,” he said.
This is why he shied away from leaving town with his family. “Lives are entwined in Ayodhya. If I have to ask for a loan from a Hindu brother, I can do it here because he would trust me with his money. But if my life is all about living outside, I’ll have to build new bonds and restart.”
Sajad Ali, who makes drums that are used in local temples, lives in the Gadiwan Tola of Ayodhya. On a good day, he makes about Rs 400 at work. “The karsevaks burned down the whole house in 1992. Not even a spoon remained. We ran away to our village some 36 kilometres away. It took three months to rebuild everything. I had to borrow a lot of money from here and there.”
Sajad Ali with his family in Ayodhya’s Gadiwan tola on November 1.
Sajad sent the women in the family away last night. He said, “I was confused: should they stay or not. There was fear that things might turn out like 1992. I saw all that, so I sent them away. Some of them have gone to relatives’ houses. It’s a precaution. Some have gone away, some have stayed back. I also packed away my tools inside the house and locked it.”
Sajad said he has no quarrel with the Supreme Court’s judgement. “Whatever the court has given to the parties, I have no problem with it.”
The concerns of Shabir Ali and Sajad Ali offer a contrast. Shabir, who lives in a gated duplex and enjoys the benefits of retirement, is alarmed about the social fabric and the safety of the local Muslim community. “Dil aur dimaag badalte samay nahi lagta,” he said. It doesn’t take much time for hearts and minds to change.
Sajad’s anxieties have to do with his livelihood. “The work stops when the atmosphere is disturbed. It becomes difficult to survive when outsiders come and communal harmony breaks. Things are calm now but there’s a sense of unease. Only time will tell how things unfold. But the community will follow the court’s pronouncements in any case,” he said.
For Ayodhya’s Muslim community, “peaceful coexistence” is a term for calculated existence.
“We don’t do anything that might lead to tensions,” Anees said. “We are mindful of how to go about doing our business. And if there are tensions, which is rarely the case, we secure the safety of our wives and children.”
But there are also examples that guarantee social warmth. “When communal tensions arose in 1992, karsevaks were on the prowl and looking for Muslims,” Mohammad Hafeez recalled. “Hindus in our locality gave them the wrong directions.”
In the wake of the Ayodhya verdict, the formula that Muslims in Ayodhya abide by is simple: if you have good relations with your neighbours in Ayodhya, nothing will go wrong. Things go wrong when “outsiders” pour into the town and disturb the peace.