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Friday, October 2, 2020
Indian Press on Mahatma Gandhi’s Spiritual Ideology, Babri Masjid Demolition and COVID: New Age Islam's Selection, 2 October 2020
By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
2 October 2020
• Being Witness to the Babri Masjid Demolition
By Seema Chishti
• About Closure, Not Justice
By Neerja Chowdhury
• Rajchandra and Gandhi’s Spiritual Ideology
By Anup Taneja
• I, Me, Myself?
By Dr Saleh Tabib
Being Witness To The Babri Masjid Demolition
By Seema Chishti
October 02, 2020
Kar Sevaks atop the dome of the Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992. | Photo Credit: The Hindu Photo Archives
No court judgment can erase what journalists recorded in Ayodhya in 1992
In the FIR carefully written out in Hindi at Thana Ramjanambhoomi, Ayodhya on December 11, 1992, I mentioned two U-matic tapes, one camera battery, one Hanimex still camera and a still film roll. I was reporting back then on television for a monthly video news magazine, Eyewitness. But writing FIRs was certainly a first for someone two and a half years into the trade. A photocopy remains with me of the ruled sheet — now Exhibit ‘K’-139 in the ‘AP’ (Ayodhya Prakaran) Lucknow Court.
Reporters like me, rushing to capture the beautiful town of Ayodhya on the banks of the river Sarayu, ended up scrambling between recording the social and political tensions that brewed away from the grandeur of the Sarayu and the story that silent Ayodhya told of living with juxtaposed centuries-old truths.
How I landed the assignment was a question I was asked later. I attribute that to my Executive Producer Karan Thapar’s faith in my fluency in Hindi and familiarity with U.P. then. In addition, I was born to a Hindu-Muslim couple, which meant I was familiar with the customs, traditions and prejudices of both sides. What was clear in our monthly news meetings was that something important was bound to occur on December 6, given that thousands had been allowed to gather there by the Bharatiya Janata Party-led State government headed by Chief Minister Kalyan Singh. There was a court order permitting “symbolic construction” outside the Babri Masjid. The State government gave a sworn assurance to the apex court that no harm would be allowed to fall on the 16th century mosque, the epicentre of massive turmoil whipped up by a countrywide rath yatra two years earlier and campaigns for years preceding it, making it a symbol of hate.
The age of the journalist foregrounding herself was still a few decades away. But as the focussed demolition was captured by cameras and pens, reporters and camerapersons did end up as part of the story. After ensuring that their devices stopped recording the demolition that started taking place shortly before noon, reporters were evicted from the site of the “symbolic kar seva”.
But notebooks, ballpoints and cameras were still to be able to capture what unfolded. Recorders of the event — photographers like Praveen Jain and reporters like Mark Tully, Ramdutt Tripathi and Rakesh Sinha — managed to gather their notes, pictures and wits to tell the tale.
This reporting assignment lasted a long time. Reporters were turned into witnesses in courts and an inquiry commission always managed to bring the assignment back to life. All ‘ground’ stints are excellent teachers; this one more so. Tracking the story of the nation from then on made the reporter’s notebook a really thick and much thumbed one. The one disturbing question after this week’s Central Bureau of Investigation court order is whether vandals attacking journalists to ensure that no evidence survived of the demolition have won this round.
But the first draft of history was recorded faithfully then and it will hold good against all attempts to rewrite the events of that fateful day. No court judgment can erase or overturn what a bunch of journalists saw, recorded and wrote from Ayodhya on December 6, 1992.
Seema Chishti was reporting from Ayodhya for ‘Eyewitness’, HTV’s video news magazine on December 6, 1992. She is an independent journalist/writer based in Delhi
In November 2019, the Supreme Court gave its go-ahead for building a Ram temple where the Babri masjid once stood. And now the special CBI court has given its judgment that no one is guilty of having demolished the mosque on December 6, 1992. The judgment may bring a closure to the Ayodhya chapter. But it has not brought justice.
It was no less than the country’s Supreme Court which had in 2017 and in 2019 pointed out that the demolition of the masjid was ‘a calculated act’, ‘unlawful’, and ‘an egregious violation of the rule of law’.
The special CBI judge has cited lack of evidence against LK Advani, MM Joshi, Kalyan Singh, Uma Bharati and 28 others and acquitted them. Forty-nine of them were originally charged — 17 died during the pendency of the case — of criminal conspiracy and lesser crimes like incitement, rioting and creating enmity between communities. They have been pronounced not guilty on all charges.
CBI judge SK Yadav has attributed what happened on that fateful day to a spontaneous outburst of anger and emotion. A few hundred angry people can climb atop the 16th century mosque but cannot desecrate it with their bare hands in the heat of the moment, all within five hours. There were photographs and eyewitnesses showing kar sevaks using shovels, pickaxes, rods, ropes and more. So they, at least a group, had come prepared and knew what to do. Who were these faceless people? Even if they were ‘Pakistanis’ or ‘terrorists’, as alluded by the judge, we are nowhere nearer the truth about their identity.
Twenty-eight years — and six PMs belonging to the BJP, Congress and the Third Front — down the line, we still do not know who was responsible for it. That does not say much for a nation of a billion-plus people, a system of parliamentary democracy we have taken pride in, or our institutions, be it the judiciary or the investigating agencies. If anything, the judge puts the CBI—the ‘caged parrot’ or ‘its master’s voice’ in the words of the Supreme Court seven years ago — on the mat for shoddy investigation. Even minimum requirements like the authentication of documents and videos was not done.
It is really our institutions which are in the dock today. And the Ayodhya judgments have once again underlined the new reality of how much these institutions have undergone a change. That it should take 28 years to get a judgment speaks volumes about the state of affairs in the judiciary. By this time, the accused could have lost their memory, and they deposed only a few weeks ago. Advani is 92 years old, Joshi and Kalyan Singh 86 years. India has also moved on. Today, two out of three Indians have no familiarity with Ayodhya or the demolition, with 65% of the population under 35. And half the Indians were not even born in 1992 and would accept whatever they are told about what happened years ago.
The trial started seriously only three years ago. No other issue has determined the trajectory of Indian politics in independent India as has Ayodhya. A verdict, either way, after 28 years, is anyway a mockery of justice.
Had the verdict, hypothetically speaking, held any of these senior BJP, RSS or VHP leaders guilty, it would have brought them centre stage again as charioteers of a movement which catapulted the BJP from a pathetic two Lok Sabha seats in 1984 to 80-plus in 1991 with the graph climbing upwards after that. The foundations of the edifice later erected by Vajpayee and Modi were laid in those years of Advani’s Ram rath yatra in 1990, and the temple movement that followed. It created the ‘mahaul’ which led to the demolition. Had Messrs Advani, Joshi and others been charged, they would have gone in appeal, and the focus would have shifted back to them again. Today, they are on the margins.
As things stand, the Ram mandir is getting identified with Modi. The ruling for the temple has come in his tenure. It is he who laid the first brick for its construction on August 5 this year. It is he who is fulfilling the Sangh Parivar’s core agenda. In all likelihood, he will inaugurate the temple when it is completed in the run-up to 2024 General Elections. It may give the BJP some electoral advantage in UP in 2022, and nationally in 2024. The mandir today has become more about Modi than about Advani, Joshi, Kalyan, Katiyar or Uma.
There was a time when Advani had made an offer to the Muslim leadership — that if they agreed to let the mandir be built in Ayodhya, the BJP could let go of its claim on Kashi and Mathura. But this was neither acceptable to the Muslim side nor to the VHP at the time.
In the last few weeks, the Mathura-Kashi issues have come to the fore again. Petitions were filed for the removal of the Gyan Vapi mosque and the Shahi Idgah located inside the Kashi and Mathura temples. The Place of Worship Act, 1991, was also challenged in June this year. Legislated during PV Narasimha Rao’s premiership, it prohibited any change in the status of any religious place as it existed on August 15, 1947, barring Ram Janmabhoomi. Therefore, it went to protect Kashi and Mathura as they stand today, with the mosques inside their premises.
With the two judgments on Ayodhya, Hindu militant groups may now be tempted — and emboldened — to push the envelope to ‘reclaim’ Kashi and Mathura. It was part of the VHP agenda. From the moves made recently, it seems that they may keep it as an issue in reserve, which can be hyped up if the economic hardship increases in the months to come. So the Mandir story may be far from over.
In his very first meeting with Shrimad Rajchandra, also known as Raichandbhai – a Jain poet, mystic and philosopher – in July 1891, MK Gandhi was convinced that he was a man of great character and erudition. What appealed to Gandhi most about Rajchandra was his spotless character, wide knowledge of scriptures, his burning passion for Self-realisation and above all, his ability to remember and attend to many things simultaneously.
Despite being engaged in the business of pearls and diamonds, Rajchandra yearned to see God, face-to-face. Gandhi writes: “The man who, immediately on finishing his talk about weighty business transactions, began to write about the hidden things of the spirit, could evidently not be a businessman at all, but a real seeker after Truth.” According to Gandhi, Rajchandra was the very embodiment of non-attachment and renunciation; he considered the whole world as his family and his love extended to all living beings. Gandhi imbibed from Rajchandra his lessons for self-improvement and on Truth and non-violence.
Long before Gandhi came to be called as a ‘Mahatma’, he faced a spiritual crisis in South Africa when his Christian and Muslim friends were pressing him to convert to their faiths. During this crucial phase Gandhi sought advice from his spiritual guide, Rajchandraji, in a letter which contained some questions relating to spiritual matters. One of the questions raised by Gandhi was: “If a snake is about to bite me, should I allow myself to be bitten or should I kill it, if that is the only way in which I can save myself?”
Rajchandra wrote back saying that though he would hesitate to advise that he should let the snake bite him, yet, at the same time, it was important to understand that after having realised that the body is perishable, where lies the justification in killing the snake (that clings to its body with love) and in protecting the body that has no value for him?
Rajchandra further said that anyone who wants to evolve at the spiritual level should allow his body to perish in a situation like this. Even for a person who does not desire spiritual welfare, it would not be advisable to kill the snake; the reason being that this sinful act will result in severe punishment in the nether worlds. However, a person who lacks culture and character may be advised to kill the snake, but we should wish that neither you nor I will even dream of being such a person.
Little wonder that Rajchandra’s emphasis on truth, compassion and non-violence in every walk of life later crystallised as the fundamental tenets of Gandhism, which played a significant role in the Indian struggle for independence! The inner bond between Rajchandra and Gandhi initiated a brilliant new chapter, not only in their own lives, and in the history of Gujarat, but in the cultural, political and spiritual history of the entire nation.
Gandhi said, “Many times I have said and written that I have learnt much from the lives of many a person, but it is from the life of poet Raichandbhai, I have learnt the most and I must say that no one else has ever made on me the impression that Raichandbhai did.”
Anup Taneja is author of the book, ‘Influences that shaped the Gandhian Ideology’ published in 2020
I have been a COVID doctor for the last few months. At least technically. My hospital and medical college was designated a COVID only centre, several months ago. My specialization shelved for the pandemic. The response was not strictly our specialty domain. But all hands on the deck was the order and all hands it has been, since.
Due to the close association and observation of COVID patients I took more than normal interest in the evolution of the medical response to this disease across the world. The images that were beamed in from the world were quite alarming. It seemed that the whole world had become an intensive care unit and a significant part of the population would be wiped out. Each country developed a standalone response while secretly copying others.
We got our first patient many months back and despite years of medical training our morbid curiosity turned out to be unwarranted. The patient was a normal looking old man. Just like the rest of us. Only that test was somehow positive and he could infect others. He was quite amused by the activity around him. The thing that struck us most from those early encounters with these patients was their difficulty in coming to grips with the loneliness of isolation. The first few days in the hospital ward were the toughest for them. Away from family with a disease that was not fully understood amidst strangers and white clad unrecognizable figures doing their faceless rounds. The garbled voices from the masked figures making them feel more isolated than ever.
As time went by we realized that the disease would take time to be fully understood. The vaccine wars have not made it any easier, neither have the ever-increasing numbers. Humanity’s inability to develop a composite response under one flag has been one of the enduring legacies of this disaster. Under our PPEs we could not show compassion and could manage to see the patients barely, inadequately, imperfectly but they were nevertheless thankful. Imperceptibly, as healthcare workers, we realized that it was just a matter of time before we got the infection ourselves. And the likely source Would be the community and not our patients. The ward in some ways seemed safer than the outside world.
A week ago, I awoke in the middle of the night with the feeling as if a knife had been driven into the right side of my chest. I had experienced mild fever the night before. I couldn’t lie down. I knew that the expected visitor had arrived. With a weariness of routine hanging over me, I went through the motions of the COVID investigatory protocol. The result was a foregone conclusion. Pneumonia with a little water in the chest cavity. Stable parameters. Home isolation.
Now I have been in isolation for 8 days. For the first time in many years, time sits heavily on my hands. The clock is unwilling. I want to fast forward it but it seems to be frozen. The glass seems to have interminably entwined it. I look at the walls and notice subtle things that I haven’t seen in years of residence within these four walls. The grains of wood speaking about the age of the tree that bore them, the flowers in the wall paper frozen in bloom and the tracks in the flooring attesting to constant use. The room is beautiful but cold, bereft of human company. The phone rings and I talk. The worried acquaintance at the other end is akin to a worker in a PPE. The voice metallic, and far away. I write often. It is my weapon against the nibble of depression. But the mind refuses to focus and the fingers are unusually tired. I think of my ageing mother and my kids. I think the odds of surviving are quite high but it is the ominous small percentage that keeps cropping up. I am not especially enamoured with life but like any human being at my age I have some unfinished business. That is a pull and a big one at that.
The television sits silent. The news, unpalatable at best, is especially unappetizing. I look at the picture and want to climb in and sit on that rock beside the river rapids. I spend a lot of time answering messages from patients requesting treatment of their own afflictions and niggles pertaining to my specialty. It is strange to answer when you feel unwell. But I have desire to help that overcomes my tiredness. Some are unaware of my sickness, some know about it but don’t seem bothered by it, while as others forget about their own illness if I let on. Human nature is very varied. Within a couple of days, I sink into a routine. The days get easier. I read about patients in the past pandemics. Isolation is a recurring theme. It is important for the patients and even more important for the family.
Some of my acquaintances want to visit despite the risks. It is my duty to refuse and I do it as politely as I can. I can feel the compassion and thank my creator for having such people in my circle. My mother is quite worried about me. She prays and prays a lot at that. She has a rather unaffected prism that filters complicated issues for her. She does what her experience and faith tell her to do. It empowers her in many ways for such situations. I think that the adage I, Me, Myself has many shades which are especially prominent during this isolation. Does it even stand to reason?
The pandemic isolation also drives home the point that one usually does not notice so acutely amidst the grind of daily life. As a doctor I realize acutely that nature is a behemoth that needs to be respected. I feel humility before this force should be a second nature to us. We are still picking stone pebbles of knowledge on a vast beach. We, probably, will forever be picking pebbles.
On day 6 of my isolation I send my family for their mandatory COVID test. The reports return the next day. I thank God once again as all of them test negative. Later in the evening, I hear that my young son has thrown a tantrum. Unfortunately, as a COVID isolated parent, I cannot talk to him directly. So, I call him on phone. He seems quite grumpy. I know he is a listener. I ask him why he is so irritable. That is when he says something that hits me like a brick. Baba, he says, I wanted my test to be positive so that I could be with you.
This love borne out of childish innocence is surely enough to make my heart skip a beat. As expected, I am left speechless.