Silent flows Saryu

Silent flows  Saryu

It is difficult to notice the ordinariness of daily life in Ayodhya. A city cursed out of its sleepy town existence that perhaps was used to waking up only to the festivities that thousands of pilgrims brought with them from around the country. This day, 17 years ago, changed everything. Ayodhya, meaning that which remains unvanquised, was ironically crushed when the last brick of the Babri Mosque fell to the ground.

It is thus inevitable that when we think of Ayodhya, we only remember December 6, 1992, and the mayhem and madness that it brought with it across the country. We do not think of Rahul, Ashok, Rehan, Afroz or Naaz sitting under the warm winter sun in their college lawn texting messages on their mobiles, discussing the latest cricket scores, or the last purchase they made while at a mall in Lucknow. Or the fact that Hindu and Muslim families flock to the same cinema hall to catch the new Akshay Kumar release. The fact is that though life goes on as usual, Ayodhya has become that ill-fated town that can never bury its past. A glorious past that sadly seems to have been wiped out since this day that year.

The Atharva Veda mentions Ayodhya as “a city built by Gods” that was as “prosperous as paradise itself.” Today, it is a small, rustic city where all the major streets have been blocked and barricaded. Where the self-appointed karsevak will take the December 6-aftermath tourist around the proposed model of the Ram temple. Their commentaries rife with anecdotes culled from history and fiction.

The narrow and cramped lanes of Ayodhya still reverberate with the sound of bhajans and temple bells and conch shells as devotees make a beeline for darshan of Ram Lalla at the makeshift Ram temple at the disputed site. Similarly, the Muslims, who make up two percent of the population, also go about their daily rituals of offering namaz and celebrating their festivals without any difficulty.

Although the lanes and the shops have not changed much there is something amiss. The Hindu and Muslim neighbours who would once unconsciously take part in each other’s festivals, now are more guarded. According to Dr Janardan Upadhyaya, head, department of Hindi at the Saket Degree College in Ayodhya, “There is some degree of mistrust between the Hindus and Muslims since the demolition, though we still live peacefully. We do visit each other’s houses during festivals but the warmth is missing.”

Local scribe Arshad Afzal Khan also corroborates Upadhyaya’s views. “There is an undercurrent of tension. The two communities do not trust each other any more though they do not show it outwardly,” says Khan. “The Ram temple may not be an issue here but the Muslims have not forgotten the demolition,” he remarks, adding that the authorities have failed to punish those responsible for the rioting in Ayodhya soon after the demolition.

Deep divide
Haji Mehboob, one of the plaintiffs in the Ram Janambhoomi-Babri Masjid Titles Suits, also echoes similar sentiments. “Muslims do not feel safe in Ayodhya any longer,” he remarks. He claims that many people, who had fled the town in the run up to the Ram temple movement and after the demolition of the mosque, have not returned fearing for their lives. “The temple issue has changed everything,” he says, adding that there are some elements among the Hindu leadership who do not want an amicable solution to the problem. “We (Muslims) want to resolve the vexed issue through mutual negotiations. Even the court judgement will not resolve the problem as the losing party will not readily accept it. The best way is to sit and talk,” he added.

The mistrust between the two communities here can be gauged by the attitude of the local religious leaders. “The mahants of Ayodhya, especially those associated with the VHP, cannot be trusted,” says a prominent Muslim leader preferring anonymity. Similar mistrust is present on the other side as well. “The Muslim leaders of Ayodhya do not want any settlement of the issue,” remarks a Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) sympathiser sadhu.

However, VHP spokesman Sharad Sharma looks at the change differently. “Ayodhya shot into limelight internationally after the demolition of the mosque. Because of the spotlight the roads have widened and even the civic amenities have improved considerably,” he says.

Swami Narayanacharyaji Maharaj, a former VHP leader, however, believes that there is no love lost between the Hindus and Muslims of Ayodhya. “The trouble mongers had come from outside. The rioters were not locals,” he believes.
But he does admit that the spirit of Ayodhya seems to have taken a beating. “Over half of Ayodhya is barricaded. You can see police and PAC personnel at every corner, important buildings and religious places,” he says. Obviously, all these are grim reminders of a horrific past that is still simmering in the city’s present and which its citizens fear may lead to an uncertain future.

For the younger generation, though, the temple issue is only a part of history. Many of them were children when the mosque was razed to the ground. For them, there are more pressing matters of education and career to attend to. “I was just a kid then so I do not have much of an opinion on the issue. All I am interested in now is that it should not in anyway ruin my chance of a better future,” says Rahul Singh, a student of BA at Saket Degree College, the only degree college in Ayodhya.
Ashok Tewari, another student of the same college, was seven years old when the mosque came down. He feels that Ayodhya will never be the same again. “Even if the Ram temple issue is resolved through the courts, the distance between the two communities in the town will always remain,” he says.
“We know the politicians do not want to resolve the issue. They just want the matter to linger on so that they can draw political mileage from it,” says Rehan, a resident of the predominantly Muslim market area of Terhi Bazar.

Sacred Saryu
Interestingly, the shopkeepers selling puja items in the narrow lanes near the makeshift temple now find the television soaps like ‘Bandini’ and ‘Balika Vadhu’ more interesting than the story of ‘Ramayana’. Says one of them, “Evenings are reserved for TV. Gone are the ‘Ramayan’ days (referring to the popular serial on DD years ago). Cable TV is offering so much more.”

A visit to the town makes it clear that though the temple issue no longer evokes the kind of reactions it once did, it has divided the town along communal lines. Politicians and religious leaders may not admit it on record but in private conversation they say the division is complete. While the politicians may feel that the temple issue could be resolved amicably, common people feel otherwise. “There cannot be any amicable solution to the problem,” says Haji Mehboob. “The land of the mosque can never be transferred to someone else,” he adds.
On the other hand, president of the Ram Janambhoomi Trust Mahant Nritya Gopal Das wants Muslims to come forward for karseva to build a grand Ram temple keeping with the sentiments of crores of Hindus. “Setting up commissions to fix accountability is sheer waste of money,” the Mahant says. “Ram temple is a matter of faith for crores of Hindus.”

Meanwhile, people from across the country continue to throng the makeshift Ram temple where Ram Lalla sits under the tent surrounded by unprecedented security. Extensive frisking and checking have not deterred the devotees. The government which is spending millions on security, does not seem to be spending much on improving the infrastructure.

The VHP workshop which once reverberated with the sound of stone slabs being cut for the Ram temple by workers from Rajasthan wears a deserted look. Thousands of stone slabs with ‘Jai Shriram’ inscribed over them lie under the open sky with no one to take care of them. Oblivious of the securitymen, sits an old man with a donation box where people, mainly devotees visiting the site, drop their contributions. He also issues receipts for the donations.

The sacred Saryu river on the banks of which Ayodhya sits remains a silent witness to the happenings here. During auspicious religious occasions a large number of devotees cover a long distance, called the chaudah kosi (42 kilometres), to take a holy dip in this ancient river — the waters of which is supposed to destroy even the deadliest sins. Ayodhya too waits for the two warring sides to walk the distance and meet halfway.
SANJAY PANDEY
IN AYODHYA

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