How The Revolt Of 1857 Moulded The Babri Masjid-Ram Mandir Dispute

This post is a part of YKA's user-run series, Unravelling Ayodhya, by Mir Raza. Join the conversation by adding a post here.

Belief is above a country and its constitution. It has no place for logic, and reasoning, or for that matter, even historical evidence. The timeline of the Ayodhya issue amply exemplifies how belief gained dominance over an issue buried for centuries. Up till now, the connection of the 1857 revolt against the British, with the Babri Masjid-Ram Mandir dispute, has remained out of the gaze of those curiously awaiting the verdict. The failure of India’s first struggle for independence brought the Muslim community ‘under a coma’ but emboldened a bunch of ‘Bairagis’ (one who is free from worldly affairs) to construct Ram Chabootra in 1858, one year after the mutiny.

In the process of building the Chabootra, they forgot that their fortress-like headquarters – ‘Hanuman Garhi’ were a gift from Muslim Nawabs. The ‘Bairagis’  even erased from their memory, how Nawab Wajid Ali Shah had invited the wrath of fellow Muslims, and delivered a verdict in their favour with his famous couplet, stating: “Hum ishq ke bande hain, mazhab se nahi waqif, kaaba hua to kya, budkhana hua to kya” (I know only love and I am unaware of religion. It hardly makes a difference to me whether it is a Kaaba or a place of idol worship). 

It was not an easy verdict to deliver. More than 3000 Muslims and many ‘Bairagis’ were killed, when, under the banner of a fanatic Maulvi, Muslims tried to capture Hanuman Garhi, in complete defiance of the ruler. Responding to the call of harried ‘Bairagis’, the Nawab deployed his army, suppressed Muslims with an iron hand, and ensured that Garhi remains under the possession of ‘Bairagis’.

The Nawab lost his kingdom in 1856, and the next year saw unprecedented unity as a sequel to his bold decision. The struggle for freedom failed, courtesy the support extended by some princely states involving Hindu, Muslim, and Sikh rulers.

For Muslims, it was unbelievable that they were no longer rulers, while Hindus did not develop any such feeling. For them, it was just another change in rulership, and they accepted the British as masters of the land, under whose regime they could avenge what they perceived as historical wrongs of Muslim rulers.

With the Muslim community deeply depressed, ‘Bairagis’ raised a platform outside the Babri Masjid, and pleas of its Imam and ‘Muazzin’ (person who gives Azaan) Mohammad Asghar, fell on deaf ears. He moved several petitions in 1858, 1860, 1877, 1883, and 1884, for the removal of the Chabootra, but the British authorities fully ignored his pleas in an apparent bid to appease the majority community. Thus, letting the Muslims know, that with the exit of the Mughal Empire, they should realise their relegated position.

The event took a dramatic turn when Raghubar Das filed a suit in the court of a sub-judge, who dismissed the petition. Das had done this to gain the title of the land, and seek permission to construct a temple on the Ram Chabootra. He appealed against the verdict; however, it met a similar fate in the highest court of the then United Provinces.

The mosque and Ram Chabootra coexisted with occasional bloodshed until India gained independence. The propagators of ‘Hindu Rashtra’ theory went into a self-styled coma after the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi. As ‘Bairagis’ had exploited the situation after the fall of Awadh dynasty, the failure of 1857, ‘Hindu Rashtravadis’ resurfaced with the daredevil act of Abhiram Das, in 1949. The subsequent events changed the character of a case of trespassing, forcible entry, and defiling of a place of worship, into a matter of belief.

The lacklustre approach of Congress regimes, both at the centre and state, legitimised what was illegally grabbed, and converted into a raised platform, constructed in the compound of Babri Masjid. A lot of graves were dug out by ‘Bairagis’ and replaced with ‘aasans’. It is worth mentioning, that before partition, they made successive attempts to capture Babri Masjid after reducing to debris a nearby ‘Kanato wali Masjid’. This propelled the British authorities to permanently station a police guard, to avoid any untoward incidents. However, in 1949, India was certainly different; the secular Congress had sympathisers for those visualising a Hindu Rashtra, as Muslims had taken away East and West Pakistan.

After attachment of the disputed site, the issue remained buried for several decades. It surfaced when a delegation of ‘Rashtravadis’ called on the then chief minister of UP – Vir Bahadur Singh. The CM was in the habit of openly declaring himself as a true disciple of Mahant Dig Vijay Nath, who had served with ‘distinction’ as All India Hindu Mahasabha’s general secretary.

Singh hailed from Gorakhpur, and the delegates were pretty convinced that he would do exactly what they thought appropriate. They told the CM that the matter was not sub judice, and it was purely an administrative decision, that was restraining devotees of Lord Rama from accessing Ram Chabootra. An obliging Vir Bahadur immediately summoned the file and found the plea genuine. He considered it as a golden opportunity to win the majority vote bank. He used his trusted men to convince Rajiv Gandhi for ‘shilanyas’ ceremony after the locks on the disputed site were opened, on an order of a district judge.

Unfortunately, Singh died in a mysterious plane crash in France, and his successor allowed the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to reap rich dividends from an issue that was built by unsung characters, like Raghubar Das, Abhiram Das, Awadh Kishor Jha, and many others.

The fiery speeches of Praveen Togadia should be seen in the backdrop of the Ayodhya timeline, after 1857. They clearly indicate that it was the handiwork of Hindu Mahasabha, promoted and propagated by Vishwa Hindu Parishad, (VHP) and BJP, who had the last laugh, without sacrificing much, and also at the expense of Hindu Mahasabha leaders.

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