December 6: Memories Sweet and Sore

Let the past remain the past. We must learn to move ahead on the road to peace and progress, living a life of cooperative co-existence, writes Syed Nooruzzaman

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Syed Nooruzzaman

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Let the past remain the past. We must learn to move ahead on the road to peace and progress, living a life of cooperative co-existence, writes Syed Nooruzzaman

Every year when December 6 comes and the demolished Babri Masjid is in the news, I am reminded of the day when I saw the old structure majestically standing at a prime location in Ayodhya (UP) where now a temple is coming up. That those fighting for the destroyed mosque to come up again where it was once upon a time have lost the case in the Supreme Court forever is not the point of discussion here.

What I intend to underline is that those were different times, different from what we experience today. The times have undergone a sea change since then. Though the Constitution allows us to profess a religion of our choice, there are many who unfortunately hate each other mainly because of this factor. We target each other, we try to lynch someone because of that person’s religion being different. Who bothers about what the Constitution asserts – all are equals irrespective of our religion, caste, region, language or skin colour, and we must respect each other’s religious belief, etc!

Those who hate a person if he or she is not their co-religionist actually try to belittle the sacred document, the Constitution, painstakingly prepared by constitutional heavyweights of the time gone by. They gave us a document which must be preserved in its pristine purity in the larger interests of the country.

December 6 reminds me of the days when some Muslim families, being extremely fear-stricken, found it safe to shift to their non-Muslim friends’ houses for a few days. However, before that fateful happening in Ayodhya nobody could think of objecting to offering of prayers or namaz even if it was held in the open for a short while. Nobody then behaved as some misguided, fringe elements have been doing in Gurugram for some time, opposing the holding of Friday prayers despite the prior permission accorded by the authorities.

But the days gone by are part of history. India today is not what India yesterday was. Let us hope India tomorrow is different from what we find it now. Let us hope India tomorrow does not have people strong

enough to think of targeting religious places of those who do not profess the religion they adhere to. Let us hope what people in Tripura – where many mosques were damaged and some destroyed – experienced recently does not happen again. Let us hope what the world saw in Ayodhya is not repeated in Mathura or anywhere else as the country can ill-afford the success of such dirty designs.

The politically motivated madcaps of Gurugram have been behaving irresponsibly perhaps to remain in the limelight, conveniently ignoring the fact that taking out of religious processions, sometimes blocking traffic movement for a while, has never been objected to. People have been taking it in stride. This is real India – people living a life of cooperative co-existence. This India must be defended in the larger interest of peace and stability in society.

Gurugram’s fringe elements, trying to destroy the country’s traditional social fabric through their un-Indian behaviour, must be resisted by all sensible people, particularly their co-religionists.

Had the journalists, most of them in their twenties and thirties, who encouraged me to accompany them to the then Babri Masjid (irrespective of their contrary belief) been like Gurugram’s madcaps, I would not

have got the opportunity I cherish till today.

I am talking of the days soon after the lifting of the national Emergency in 1977 (imposed on June 25, 1975) when I happened to be part of a group of journalists who had gone to a village in UP’s Gonda district on an invitation from the RSS to see with our own eyes how a top RSS ideologue, Nanaji Deshmukh, was endeavouring to change the face of the area he had adopted under his mission aimed at “uplifting the poorest of the poor”.

While coming back from the Gonda village, I along with the other accompanying journalists visited the Ayodhya mosque on being persuaded by some of them, specially a special correspondent of Panchjannya, a Hindi weekly, brought out by the RSS. Of course, I was suggested not to do anything in the mosque complex which could indicate that I was a Muslim. But I did not hear my group members, saying that I should be left alone in my taxi, away from the historic mosque in Ayodhya.

But those were different times.  One could hardly find people who would hate their compatriots because of the religious factor. Today’s political giants were political pigmies then. The imposition of the June 1975 Emergency, a foolish decision taken by the then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, led to the downfall of the Congress and provided the then Jan Sangh (today’s BJP) an opportunity to grow into a political force to be reckoned with. The Congress’s loss has been the BJP’s gain. Of course, some caste-based parties have also gained in the process of the decline of the Congress, but that has no significance here.

December 6 also takes me back to the days when we at The Tribune, a Chandigarh-based highly respected daily, brought out by a secular trust, had to write an editorial on the Ayodhya happenings for days together. None of those whose job it was to write edits – Assistant Editors and above – would come forward to do the difficult task. Not because we could not do justice to this kind of an assignment. The main reason was that taking a stand and maligning the forces behind the gory development, was not an easy task. Nothing was hidden. Who played what role could be easily pointed out. But the atmosphere that had come to be created demanded utmost restraint. We feared what we wrote would be seen against the backdrop of our religious belief.

Interestingly, the Editor-in-Chief was on long leave. The number two in the hierarchy, a Muslim (not yours truly), ultimately, did the job of writing one edit (we carried three edits every day those days) daily on the highly controversial subject for a week or so and with distinction. He was considered a liberal and he came out with flying colours as a liberal.

A senior colleague, whose cabin was next to that of mine, would give me the details of the destructive activity on December 6, 1992, every time our messenger brought the printouts of the Ayodhya-datelined stories from the teleprinter room, take by take (as we would then call it in journalistic parlance). He was a South Indian Brahmin, but a known leftist. He would often say, “See, they have now destroyed this part of the structure and that part of the structure. But they are not realising in the heat of the moment that they are, in fact, destroying the secular image of the country in the world. India would never remain what it had been in the comity of nations.”

However, let the past remain the past. India today and India tomorrow need to be given precedence over India of yesterday. We must learn to move ahead on the road to peace and progress, living a life of cooperative co-existence.

[The writer, a Delhi-based political columnist, is a former Dy Editor of The Tribune, Chandigarh.]