‘What Do We Have to Do With Mandir-Masjid When We Don’t Have Jobs’: Ayodhya, 26 Years After Babri Masjid Demolition
For most Ayodhya residents, Ram Temple is a non-issue, but the same can’t be said of right-wing organisations. Our ground report.
80-year-old Ayesha is sitting at her doorstep. When we ask her about the Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s Dharma Sabha, she says, scared and gasping for breath, “For the last 7-8 days news channels have been showing that they are coming. We were afraid that there would be riots like in 1992 (riots that occurred in the city after Babri Masjid demolition). So we have sent younger the women in our family away to other relatives.”
With the VHP’s Dharma Sabha and arrival of right-wing men in Ayodhya, Muslim families have started fleeing the city. In most houses, only men and old women have stayed behind.
Remembering the 1992 riots, Ayesha says, “chaaron taraf cheekh hi cheekh sunai de rahi thi, ye bagal wale pandit ji nahi hote to hum log bhi zinda jala diye gaye hote. Wo bandook lekar apne chhat par pehra de rahe the ki bahar wale koi hamare mohalle mein nahin aaye.” (Screaming and crying could be heard all around. If it wasn’t for our neighbour, Pandit ji, we too would have been burnt alive. He sat guard on the terrace with a gun so that outsiders don’t come inside our Mohalla).
Ayesha’s husband Samimullah says, “We have four sons and three daughters. All the children except one daughter are married. Day before yesterday (November 24), we sent all the women to our relatives. Today(November 25) everyone will return. The destruction in 1992 riots was so painful that we are still frightened.”
Employment, not Mandir-Masjid
“There are so many Ram Mandirs, what’s the problem if one more is built. We want an end to this chapter. We are living in fear for the last 26 years”, says Samimullah’s son, Mohammad Rafi. Rafi says he used to work as a property dealer but demonetisation severely affected his business, causing it to shut down. Rafi is now forced to work as a mason.
Rafi’s neighbour, 20-year-old Ibrahim is studying Economics at Awadh University and sculpts idols of Hindu gods for a living. He said, “My brother’s wedding is on the 29th (December) but the entire household had to leave fearing mischief and violence at the Dharma Sabha. We haven’t even distributed wedding cards yet.”
Most residents of Mughalpura Mohalla are Muslim. The mohalla has a population of about 125-150, but just before the Dharma Sabha, only 3 people were left. The entire area was deserted.
Guddu, an E-rickshaw driver, also told us that many people in the locality left fearing a riot-like situation. “My uncle, Md. Ameen, was burnt alive during 92 riots and that fear is still inside us”, says Guddu.
Abdul Tahir runs a cycle repair shop. He said that he has not been able to work for many days days preceding the Dharma Sabha. Police had closed the roads leading to the locality because of which no one goes there. Tahir said that he doesn’t have any faith on the police because during the ‘92 riots, Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) had been stationed there. Still people were killed and houses were also torched.”
“On December 6, 1992, PAC was stationed here. But at 10 in the morning, when Kar Sevaks started arriving in huge numbers, they (PAC) left us in their hands and said ‘our duty has ended’…we are afraid of the outsiders,” said Tahir.
Adgadanand Chouraha lies towards the north of the city. In this predominantly Hindu area, there is a mosque at the main chauraha. Mohammad Ashiq Ali, a Municipal Corporation supervisor, is sitting outside the mosque. He tells us, “the people who have gone through the pain of 1992 riots are afraid this time”.
“Ram Mandir issue is for outsiders, the local people are facing so many problems in their lives that we do not have any time to think about it. As far as the issue of Ram Mandir in Ayodhya is concerned, it is an issue between two brothers of a family which should be resolved peacefully by them”, says Ali.
He adds, “Innocent youth get convinced by Hindutva groups and come here (Ayodhya) in the name of Mandir-Masjid. But in case of a riot, if someone’s life is lost, no one takes responsibility for them (youths).”
Ramkumar Shrivastav, a retired fourth-class worker, says, “What do we have to do with Mandir-Masjid when we don’t have jobs. We do not have any resources or any work. Educated youngsters are roaming around unemployed. We (Hindus and Muslims) have been eating together and this love and brotherhood has been there for a long time.”
When asked about the local MLA and MP, Shrivastav looks irked. He says, “We haven’t seen our MP Lallu Singh and MLA Ved Prakash since the elections. They come sometimes, but visit only math-temples, donate money to the priests and leave. The get around 50-100 votes from there (temples and maths).”
The real issues of Ayodhya residents
Nandkishore Gaud, an auto driver, said, “I drive someone else’s auto. But due to the Shiv Sena rally here, I haven’t been able to go anywhere. We don’t have money to eat. Why would we care about temples? The government should give us stable employment. Four of my daughters have finished their BA but none of them found any jobs. Three of them have been married. Two of my sons have also finished their BA and one of them works as a labourer at a medical shop in the city.”
Gaud says that they did not benefit in away by the Narendra Modi government coming into power. “This government is only changing names, what will we get out of it? In 2016, we did not receive any gas (LPG) subsidy. My subsidy was being transferred into someone else’s account. Then we complained and started receiving it. But subsidy gives no relief when we are forced to pay more than a thousand rupees for a gas cylinder.”
Gaud says that the under Akhilesh Yadav’s government, he used to receive some money under Samajwadi pension scheme. “But now, Yogi ji’s (Yogi Adityanath’s) government has stopped the pension. We have neither a pension nor the support of the government.”
Shravan Kumar, also a resident of this area, completed his M.A. in 2008. But he has to work as a shoe-maker. He says that he earns around seven to eight thousand rupees a month but it is not enough to feed his family.
Kumar adds, “We applied for construction of a toilet two years ago. But haven’t received anything yet. Because we are forced to go outside the house and defecate in the open, if a curfew is imposed in Ayodhya, my family won’t be able to even relieve themselves.”
What do the local MLA and MP have to say?
Both the MLA and MP in Ayodhya come from Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). When we asked the MP, Lallu Singh, about people’s grievances, he said that he doesn’t get time to meet the people ever since he became an MP. MLA Ved Prakash Gupta also gives the same reason, “My constituency has a population of five lakh. Hence, it is not possible to go door-to-door.”
Where the votes are: Sant samaj, temples, ashrams
A student at the Motihari temple, Satyaprakash says “The city is dotted with temples chhavnis, and maths. All them want the Ram Mandir. Live by Lord Ram’s name, die by Lord Ram’s name.”
Satyaprakash is from the Motihari district in Bihar. He says that in Ayodhya, there is a temple in named after every district in Bihar. “Each temple, chhavni, math has anywhere between ten to a thousand people living there. These people have been residing here for a long time and even have ration cards and voter ids. During elections, politicians mostly go to temples and maths.”
There are many kilas (Ashrams) in Ayodhya. The mahant of the Siyaram Kila, Karunanidhan Sharan Maharaj says that 80 out of the 100 devotees at the kila are from Bihar. This is the situation at all the kilas in Ayodhya. He says that most of these people have voter ID cards.
He says the 80 per cent of the voters in the area are sants and supported by sants. He says the remaining are dependent on the sants. If these voters become self-dependent, “they will chase us (sants) away. He adds, “If the sants leave, these people will starve to death…”
According to Karunanidhan Sharan, Within the Sant Samaj or the community of saints in the city, there is a consensus about the Ram Mandir issue. “We just want the temple to be built, we have no other demands,” he says
Shiv Sena’s posters have been put up all over the city. There are many in the city who support the Shiv Sena. A devotee at the Gaya temple, Ram Bharat Das, who has been serving at the temple for the last 25 years, says, “in four-and-a-half year, no temple has been built. Our faith in this government is reducing. From the Prime Minister to the President is ours (BJP’s) but the promise is not being fulfilled.” He says that Shiv Sena is new in the area, BJP has been there since the beginning. But the sant samaj’s confidence in the BJP is shaking.
Click here to read the original report in Hindi.