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Written by Dipti Nagpaul | Mumbai | Published: December 4, 2017 1:56 am“The demolition of Babri Masjid was unarguably a watershed event in independent India. In the 25 years since, the country continues to experience the grim consequences, especially the deepening communal divide. “(File Photo)
An activist helps a woman, a victim of the riots in Mumbai that followed the demolition of Babri Masjid. As she accompanies the young woman to the spot where she was brutally raped, she listens to her talk about the cruelty of the perpetrators and the apathy of the onlookers. A few weeks later, the activist finds herself in the same neighbourhood; this time, to meet the family of the prospective groom for her niece. Memories of the young woman rush into her head, and with them questions about the people she is meeting. Did they turn a blind eye to that woman’s plight as she screamed for help on that unfortunate day? Were they complicit in the act through their silence?
When Shaila Satpute looks back at the Babri Masjid demolition and its bloody aftermath, the memory comes back to haunt her. Formerly the general secretary of Maharashtra for Janata Dal, Satpute recounts this story as part of a personal essay in the book, ‘Babri Masjid, 25 Years On’. A collection of such personal essays by a mix of journalists, activists and artists, the book marks 25 years of the Babri Masjid demolition and will be released this week. The compilation also doubles up as a special edition of the Indian Journal of Secularism, managed by acclaimed activist Irfan Engineer, also the series editor of the book.
“The demolition of Babri Masjid was unarguably a watershed event in independent India. In the 25 years since, the country continues to experience the grim consequences, especially the deepening communal divide. However, it didn’t only impact — and devastate — the lives of those directly affected by the incident or the bloody aftermath across India; thousands of people look back at the day as one that altered the course of their lives. The book chronicles some such stories,” says Engineer. The 15 essays have been contributed by activists Flavia Agnes, Rekha Thakur and Helen Bharde, thespians Dolly Thakore, Sushma Deshpande and Shafaat Khan, among several others.
Sudhanva Deshpande, a member of the Delhi-based theatre group Jana Natya Manch, doesn’t merely look back at the demolition but recounts the important events over a period of eight years that shaped Indian politics and also him. His essay, ‘I came of age during the worst eight years of the Republic’, talks about the anti-Sikh riots that he also closely witnessed while growing up in Delhi, as well as the murder of his mentor and friend Safdar Hashmi.
In contrast is journalist Pratap Asbe’s ‘25 years to reach the trial stage in a special court’, where he not only recounts the horrific event as he witnessed while reporting it in 1992 but also his experience as ‘Witness number 213’ in the case that remains unresolved.
The idea for the book, being published by Gyan, however, came from Delhi-based academician and activist Sameena Dalwai who says “recording of memories” was her starting point. “Sometimes when I look back, I realise my anger has worn off but there is a deeper understanding of what happened and what has since followed. This chronicling is also important, in my opinion,” she says. This is demonstrated also in Agnes’s essay that speaks of the failures in the feminist movement of the Eighties in the light of the 1993 riots and the setback it suffered due to the Babri Masjid demolition.
Playwright Ramu Ramanathan, who co-edited the volume alongside Dalwai, says the challenge was in getting the contributors to write. “Many journalists and political activists declined to write because their memories of 1992-93 were too painful,” he points out.
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