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20 years of Babri demolition: Impact on Muslim society
By Mazher Hussain
Rarely has the destruction of a single building impacted history as much as the demolition of the Babri Masjid. Apart from becoming a watershed in the history of Indian politics, it has emerged as the singular defining moment for the Indian Muslim society. As significant as the partition of India, but while partition impacted and continues to impact the Indian Muslims negatively, demolition of the Babri Masjid seems to have given a new life and direction to the Muslims in India.

Intra-Community Linkages

Post partition, most of the Muslim middle class had migrated to Pakistan, leaving a few rich and mostly poor Muslims behind with little or no social, educational or cultural interaction between them. Vast majority of the poor Muslim community had no one to turn to and felt orphaned. Coupled with this was the structural exclusion of Muslims from the general domain of development by the establishment and society at large that restricted the access of the Indian Muslims to educational, economic and development opportunities that brought their situation to a level below that of the Dalits as per the available development indicators. Even the Constitution of India excludes Muslims from the domain of entitlements by extending reservations on religious lines- available only to caste Hindus and not to Muslims or Christians.

But around the phenomenon of the demolition of the Babri Masjid and the agitations and violence that preceded, accompanied and followed it, a sense of commonality, belonging and empathy developed within the Muslim community due to the shared sense of insecurity and increased profiling irrespective of their class or location. This resulted in the emergence of a connect between the elite, the emerging middle class and poor Muslims leading to increased and sustained intra-community interaction and collaboration in the social, educational, economic and political spheres. These new found intra-community alliances saw the establishment of scores of organisations and institutions at different levels oriented to further the educational, economic and social development of Muslims in general and of poor Muslims in particular. So many and so varied avenues for development were never available to the poor Muslims before and most of these were being provided by the rich and middle class Muslims. Even if this did not greatly improve the situation of the community, it at least arrested their slide into greater impoverishment.

Construction of a New Muslim Identity

Pre Babri Masjid demolition phase, most elite and educated Muslims did not fully identify with the community and the general sense of a Muslim was of being poor, illiterate and orthodox. Educated and elite Muslims often heard a comment that “you don’t look like a Muslim, you don’t act like a Muslim” and most felt happy at not being bracketed with a community perceived as backward. With such dissociation of the educated and elite classes of Muslims from the community identity, the image of the community suffered even more making Muslims easy targets for ridicule, despise and exclusion from the spheres of development, entitlements and even claims of equal citizenship. The Rath Yatra and the accompanying communal frenzy that gripped the country leading to innumerable riots and culminated in the demolition of the Babri Masjid succeeded to a large extant in dehumanizing and demonizing not just the poor, illiterate Muslims but all sections of the community including the elite and the educated. The Muslim stereotype became all inclusive encompassing all sections and classes. Further, while initially the derision was restricted to poverty and backwardness of the community, in the communally surcharged atmosphere of the 70s to the 90s the culture, practices, traditions and even the religion of the Muslims became targets for explicit aversion.

So long as the poverty and backwardness of the Muslims was being ridiculed, some of the elite and educated Muslims also joined in this derision. But when the culture, traditions, practices and even the religion itself came under attack and the ambit of the community got expanded to include all Muslims, irrespective of their class or station in life, every Muslim- including the educated and the elite- started feeling the insecurity, vulnerability and derision for just being Muslims and realized the absurdity and injustice of it all. This made the educated, middle class and the elite Muslims to revolt against such profiling and to begin asserting that yes, they are indeed Muslims and proud to be so. Even atheist Muslims also started accepting their socio-political Muslim Identity even while rejecting faith. Hence, these anti-Muslim movements of the Hindutva forces that lead to the demolition of the Babri Masjid also pushed all Muslims- poor, illiterate, orthodox, progressive, educated, middle class, elite and even the atheist together into one identity and made them one community. (Post 9/11 and with Islamophobia, this process has started acquiring international dimensions). It is ironic but the pet slogan of the Hindutva brigade of those times “Garv se kaho hum Hindu hai” (Say with pride I am a Hindu), seemed to have remained a slogan but resulted in making most Muslims accept their “Muslimness” and assert it openly.

Thus, post Babri demolition “Muslim” became a broader and complex identity to include the entire range cutting across class, sect, caste, linguistic and even faith-unfaith divides. This not only lead to triggering numerous initiatives for the development of the community with provision of generous resources, and in some cases, active and sustained participation by the educated and rich Muslims, but also resulted in initiation of new political processes in the community and the country with far reaching implications.

Political Transformation

The Demolition of the Babri Masjid also saw the demolition of the traditional Muslim leadership that had kept the community confined within the concerns of security and assured protection of the Babri Masjid at all costs and made it as the prime Muslim agenda for almost a decade. Most of these leaders got buried in the dust from the demolition and Muslims started searching for new leaders and new agendas- this time, agendas of justice, equality and development. As a result, Muslims started accepting even non- Muslims like Mulayam Singh Yadav, Lalu Prasad Yadav N.T. Rama Rao and others as leaders of the community.

While politics is an instrument of development for others, the Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid movement and the resultant formation of the BJP government at the center made Muslims realize the importance of who rules and its impacts on the security, identity, culture and economy of the community. This lead to greater political awakening and participation of Muslims in political processes and brought an end to the earlier indifference of both the Muslim masses and the classes to politics. For all Muslims, politics became a matter of life and death.

With the expanded contours including the poor, rich, illiterate, educated, orthodox and the atheist together as a community and greater participation in the electoral processes, the political influence of Muslims has started becoming slightly more than their numbers because of increased percentage in voting and tactical use of the vote. Muslim vote emerged as an important political factor with two objectives: Keeping BJP out and securing rights and entitlements that are due to them as citizens.

Anti- Jan Sangh / BJP agenda was always a crucial ingredient of Muslim politics for reasons of security but with the formation of a composite and expanded identity of the community, coupled with increased political assertion and impact, Muslim concerns entered the domain of rights and entitlements for the first time after independence. It is this awakening of the Muslim community to their rights as citizens and growing demands for a politics of entitlements that compelled the Congress Government to constitute Sachar Committee and lead to the recommendations of the Ranganath Mishra Commission.

With all these crucial transformations in the community composition, identity expansion and political reorientation of the Muslim community that constitutes over 14% of the population, the politics, development trajectory and rights ideology of India can never be the same again. Thus Babri Masjid is one destruction that seems to have initiated the reconstruction of a community and reorientation of the political direction of a country.

Tailpiece:

Demolition of the Babri Masjid robbed BJP of its prima agenda. Had the domes of Babri remained intact, BJP could have been still setting the political agenda of the country and ruling the roost while the Muslim community would have continued to be mired in issues of protection and security. The Hindutva forces were able to use the domes of the Babri Masjid as images of revulsion to mobilize masses for political gains. But with the domes destroyed, they seem unable to project the vision of the Grand Ram Temple to energise enough numbers to propel them to power once again.

(Mazher Hussain is Executive Director of COVA, a national network working on issues of communal harmony in India and peace in South Asia.)


News Updated at : Tuesday, December 4, 2012
 
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