The Demolition, 25 years after

05 Dec,2017


By Ranjona Banerji


Tomorrow marks the 25th anniversary of the demolition of the Babri Masjid. Sitting here today, you can see the aftershocks of that calamitous event have not yet left us. India has not been the same, nor will be, by the likes of it. The fissures that tore into India’s social fabric have not just remained, but they have widened. The actual destruction began with the Ram Janmabhoomi movement in the late 1980s. But it was December 6, 1992 that cemented the end.

And for the India media, that was a watershed moment, in more than one way. Although the world’s media were gathered at Ayodhya, as “kar sevaks” and BJP and RSS workers thronged around the mosque, ostensibly for one more rally, there were no Indian 24-hour news channels. If it is possible to imagine such a world. For another, Indian broadcast news was still controlled by the government. Mobile phones did not exist either.

However, the 1991 Gulf War had brought satellite television to India and it was through the BBC World Service that most people saw or heard about the mosque coming down.

But to backtrack. As fissures of Hindu-versus-Muslim started again in India on a major scale since 1947, with the LK Advani-led Rath Yatra or Carriage Procession (in a car) across India towards Ayodhya, the Indian media began to separate itself into Hindu versus the rest. Until then, journalists were perceived as largely left-leaning and the general trend was to examine the government and for managements, usually to give in to the government. The Emergency in 1975 was a big lesson about the dangers of giving in, not that everyone has learnt from that.

But the sort of all-out sycophancy that one sees in today’s new channels was largely missing. It owes its existence to the changes that developed in the media after the demolition of the Babri Masjid. It is not that India had not had Hindu-Muslim riots before that. Since Partition, there were eruptions, large and small. The scale post-Babri however was horrific and to everyone’s surprise, the main focus of this hatred from Bombay, India’s commercial capital until then considered to be a city apathetic to India’s political upheavals.

The riots that broke out in December 1992 in Bombay – as it still was then – were an eye-opener for journalists. It was one thing to have arguments of “us” versus “them”, to have colleagues wearing badges which read “Garv se kahon hum Hindu hain” (Declare that you are Hindu with pride). It was another to have colleagues who celebrated communal bigotry. The other shock to the media was that no one saw it coming. Bombay was the sort of the city, one believed, where everyone lived together, jostling for space and giving up identity to make a living. Clearly not.

The January 1993 riots were a different story. They were a planned, calibrated attempt to change the city, to carefully attack its Muslims. It was also a push by the Shiv Sena (and riding on Bal Thackeray’s coattails, the BJP), to further establish itself in Bombay as not just the champion of Maharashtrians but also specifically Hindus.

However, when you compare the media then and now, it definitely covered itself better then. The riots were reported, at great personal risk. The government was taken to task for its inaction, from the Centre to the states. Even without relentless TV coverage, the chief minister of Maharashtra was replaced.

For those of us who lived through those times, the future was evident, even for those of us who refused to acknowledge it. Today, one is amazed by the lack of knowledge and of a sense of contemporary history among young journalists. Even 10 years ago, I have had young journalists explain to me that the riots were a direct consequence of the bomb blasts of March 1993. They were unimpressed that I was an eye-witness, as they were absolutely certain of their facts, having been brought up on a diet of Hindu-Muslim hatred and the enormous and dangerous romanticisation of Bombay’s underworld by Bollywood. You can still see it in the obsession of some news channels (and newspapers) with gangster Dawood Ibrahim even as India faces more real and very dire challenges.

The demolition of the Babri Masjid legitimised sectarian hatred in India and all those who had held back on their communal thinking now felt free to air their prejudice and bigotry. And now, 25 years later, we see it around us and accept it as normal, even in the media.

Lest we forget, once, we were better than this.


Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and commentator. She is also Consulting Editor, MxMIndia. The views here are her own.



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