The Corner

An Anniversary in India Today

Today, December 6, 2008, was the sixteenth anniversary of the destruction of the Babri Masjid, a potently symbolic mosque in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh in North India. On this date in 1992 150,000 Hindu nationalists demolished the mosque that is thought to have been built by the first Mughal emperor, Babur, on top of a temple that many Hindus believe marked the birthplace of Lord Rama. This organized act of destruction triggered a chain of events, riots, attacks, and bombings, that burnt through India for over a year.

It is reported that one from the small number of gunmen who held the financial capital, Bombay or Mumbai, in a siege state for four days last week, cited Babri Masjid as one of the reasons for the bloodshed that was being inflicted across the social strata of the city.

As is so often the case in the version of modern India that is being sold to the rest of the world, we are reading, almost solely, about the horror of the attack on the lives and way of life for the wealthy and privileged — those who have always seen such places as the emotive Taj Mahal Hotel and rarefied Oberoi as sacrosanct, hushed sanctuaries of retreat from “real India.” But the majority of those gunned down were “real India,” the commuters at Victoria Terminus (Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus). They are the same people who got straight back on the trains after a series of seven bombs that killed over 200 people in July 2006, another set of attacks attributed in part to Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, the Pakistan-based group that increasingly seems to have been behind this latest attack. These people on the trains, in the station, and on the street, are the people who absorb the destruction that is thrown at them from all sides, extremist versus extremist. They suffer the pain and loss, and then try to carry on until something breaks in them, or until a man stands up among them and chants a slogan that they are no longer able to ignore..

So today marks another raw raising of the ante of religious extremism.

Here, today in Delhi, it charged the air with toxic static. Many talk of wanting a peaceful resolution, whether it be on the subject of mosques and temples, the status of the conflict-riven state of Jammu and Kashmir, or the water rights to Pakistan that Lashkar-e-Tayyiba claim India cuts off at will. But we are governed by sound-bite. The brutality of this is that the words of supposed reconciliation count for nothing when a crowd gathers and a cry for revenge goes up.

 – Justine Hardy is the author of several books on Kashmir. The latest one will be published by Free Press in June 2009, In the Valley of Mist, Kashmir’s Long War: A Family Story.

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