"The greatest national tragedy since the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi."
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Last Updated: Friday, September 24, 2010, 19:26
“The greatest national tragedy since the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi”, this is how Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao described the unfortunate event of 6th December, 1992. It is a different matter that he was “napping” on the wintry Sunday that year, when the entire edifice of India as a secular nation was shaken.

After prolonged politics over the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid issue, the Karsewaks finally destroyed the disputed structure at Ayodhya, leading to one of the worst communal scenarios in the history of India.

I was barely 10 years old then, but I vividly remember the events in my city, Bhopal, as if it were just yesterday. Suddenly the entire city had been shut down. There was a distinct glint of fear in every eye. My school declared holidays all of sudden. It seemed that the entire city was in the dread of the unknown.

Bhopal is a city divided into two major parts- old Bhopal and the new Bhopal. Old Bhopal has a huge Muslim p
opulation, whereas the new Bhopal comprises relatively mixed population. After the demolition of mosque at Ayodhya, the city of lakes didn’t have enough water to douse communal flames.

As Muslims and Hindus targeted each other, at least 142 died in Bhopal, one of the highest death tolls in the country at that time.

My father and the elders suddenly became extremely cautious, as our residential area became vulnerable site. Doors and windows of houses were completely shut at all times. The entire city was under curfew. We all literally felt under house arrest for quite a few days. Dad had hurriedly purchased huge amounts of ration, so that we were stocked up to sustain for a long period without having to step out.

I was quite astonished to see that dad was not only hoarding food, but also collecting huge stones in several buckets, and also keeping hockey sticks handy. I could not understand the meaning of this peculiar behaviour, and only as I grew, did I learn that these were for self-defence.

The paramilitary had to be called out and was carrying out red flag marches. The number of paramilitary troops on the streets of Bhopal made it look like a garrison town. For us kids, we were more than happy that there was no school. We just thought it was time for fun, but when we saw our parents’ terrified faces, we too slipped into silence.

Interestingly, all of a sudden our neighbours suddenly became like a close-knit family. I would like to mention here that it did not really matter whether they were Hindus or Muslims. The city’s conflagration could not break our long standing bond. What we feared were irate mobs, and the riots only made all of us come closer.

Many parts of the city remained very tense. In a nearby locality, very close to ours, many houses were torched. The value of life suddenly became very cheap.

Women lived in perpetual fear about whether the male members of their family would return home safely. There were also cases where in the name of religion, people took the opportunity to settle old animosities. Markets were flooded with tapes of provocative speeches by leaders like Uma Bharti and Sadhvi Rithambara, adding fuel to the fire.

Mostly thought of as a saviour in distress, religion had become the biggest threat to life. It was like people were thinking “Why can’t I just be a human being? I do not want a religion. Please let me live at any cost.”

Ayodhya is not the only place in India where there is a dispute over a mosque and temple. Places like Mathura and Kashi Vishwanath at Varanasi are also potential flashpoints. But we have to understand; these mosques were made by invaders who had come to India with the purpose of loot and creating havoc. But today 400-500 years later, if we turn knives on each other for a temple and a mosque, then we end up killing our own countrymen and destroying our own property.

We need to break the vicious cycle of distrust and destruction, and move ahead.

First Published: Friday, September 24, 2010, 19:26

(The views expressed by the author are personal)
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