Saturday, October 2, 2010

Ayodhya: then and now Nilofar Suhrawardy (India)

Eighteen years ago, as I watched the live-telecast of Babri Masjid’s demolition from Madison (USA), yes I did feel hurt, sad, angry and of course tensed as well as concerned about my close relatives in India.

A few phone-calls with family members assured me that they were safe and fine. But I did remain angry and hurt at India’s secularism and security-services being put to shame as a few hundred thousand extremists took law in their own hands by demolishing the mosque and communally targeting Muslims in most parts of the country.

The headlines in print media and television-news blamed Hindu terrorism for the demolition and accompanying riots. My immediate priority was to raise my voice as an Indian Muslim and question those allegations. So I did. How could the entire Hindu community and religion be blamed for what some percentage of extremists adhering to this faith had indulged in? A terrorist is a terrorist and cannot be linked with any religion. Defending India’s multi-religious secularism, I questioned the ease with which Islam and Hinduism were linked with terrorism.

Now, when Ayodhya issue is in news again, the Indian secular fervor has overshadowed the communal frenzy. Understandably, against the backdrop of nation-wide riots witnessed during the late 1980s and early 1990s over the Ayodhya crisis, the Indian leaders and people have a legitimate reason to fear rioters taking to streets again.

Communication revolution and political developments over the past two decades have played a major role in preventing the communal violence today. The new generation of voters was not even born or were just mere toddlers when the Babri Masjid was demolished in 1992. The youngsters then had access to just one government-controlled television channel, the Doordarshan. The likes of BJP leader L.K. Advani certainly were able to organise “rath-yatras” (chariot processions) to propagandise their stand towards the Ayodhya issue. Though there has been tension in the air about reaction to “verdict,” nobody has even talked of repeating those “yatras.” The answer is simple, even if they did; today’s generation is least likely to join them. Besides, in the present multi-party coalition-era, even the BJP is fearful of losing secular allies and Muslim votes by turning “communal.”

There was a phase when a riot in one corner of country could provoke riots in other parts too. Indian secularism faced a major litmus test when Gujarat carnage occurred. The riots remained primarily confined to Gujarat as people across the country witnessed the carnage on the small screen. Yes, communication revolution played its part in prompting them to remain inside their houses and take their own decisions. The recent Ayodhya verdict may be regarded as another litmus test. Irrespective of their reactions to the verdict, by defying apprehensions and defeating threats of 1992-riotious phase being repeated, the people have played a crucial role in displaying their secular spirit to the world at large.

Nilofar Suhrawardy is an Indian 

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