Nahi Hai Dharm Hargiz Wo Faqat Andhi Siyasat Hai..
Tujhe Tera Ye Dars-e-Shaitaniyat Jisne Padhaya Hai!
-Jagan Nath Azad
A quarter of a century has passed by, yet the entire incident is etched in my mind so clearly that it hurts like it did on that fateful day. I witnessed mayhem which broke loose at this pious site. It was a day when humanity at large and all secular-minded people across the globe lowered their heads in shame.
A Muslim, journalist, and a woman, even after 27 years I am still struggling with the sequence. I am not able to decide which of these was hurt the most. In just a few hours everything closed around me, I lost my sense of logic, and there was just this deep burning sensation of anger and loss, a coming down of values. Honestly, I felt neither fear nor panic, only an upsurge of sadness and pain. But I will say this till I am alive: I became a part of history that I’m ashamed of.
That day I had gone with the Voice of America team that reached Lucknow from Delhi. We drove down to Faizabad and it was late evening when we arrived in the twin city and checked into our hotel rooms. Everything looked so normal. In fact, on our way to the hotel, we even saw a wedding procession and Peter Heinlein, the bureau chief of VOA South Asia, even joked that nothing was going to happen and that was disappointing for someone who had traveled all the way from Delhi for an exciting coverage.
The next day, December 6, we left for Ayodhya after a good breakfast. We covered 13 odd miles in a jiffy. There was a massive gathering of men in saffron and matching; it was a plethora of international media. We soon got down to work. Engaging in conversation with spirited men dressed in saffron and hearing the leaders giving rousing speeches. That was ok.
A few minutes later we were near the site where later demolition took place. I took upon myself the responsibility of interpretation, something I had never done but discovered I did pretty well. Peter had his mic and was recording everything, but soon enough we heard a commotion, there was a rush, an upsurge, some of the local media friends asked me to move up to the raised platform for safety.
I’m glad I listened to them. In minutes there was unprecedented chaos. Peter continued to record the noise, the commotion, the slogans of Jai Sri Ram. He paid a price for being professional. He was pushed and punched and soon, I lost sight of him. Badly beaten up, the 7 ft tall man had gashes on his bald head, but his loyal driver managed to drive him safely to Delhi at neck-breaking speed.
The frenzy that unleashed cannot be described in words. The men in saffron climbed up the dome shouting Jai Sri Ram. Hindutva leaders L K Advani, Uma Bharti, Ritambara kept boosting up the morale of the Kar Sewaks on loudspeakers. There were abuses galore for Muslims.
Journalists were attacked, their cameras snatched, and photo films pulled out and trampled upon.
We ran for our lives, but there was no shelter. The police were aiding the Kar Sewaks and they refused to provide shelter.
Four of us including senior journalists Sharat Pradhan, Rajiv Sabdey (Saakal, Pune), and Hissam Siddiqui, got together. The two brave Hindu scribes risked their own lives for us, two Muslim journalists. We managed to cross human barriers manned chiefly by volunteers from South India. We walked and we walked, crossing danger, walking over railway tracks smeared with human excreta, tired, hungry but unhurt. We hitched-hiked in a press van carrying printing material that was coming to Faizabad. It was a big relief. We were safe and alive and ready to tell the world this story.
Just a few days later I was to leave for Europe for journalism training. I recalled with emotions and pain each incident for the German newspaper Deutschland.
After December 6, I met Peter just once. It was a meeting full of emotions. I was meeting a relative, not the bureau chief of VOA. We lost touch, but I am sure he, like all of us, can never forget this day till he is alive.
As for me, my soul is scratched forever. My wish for the younger generation is that they never witness such a day in their life, ever. The pain solidifies in your very being. You have to live with it forever.
My soul takes refuge in the words of my then Editor-in-Chief of The Times of India, the late Dilip Padgoankar.
“Ten thousand mad Indians is not India,” he said. I truly believe him.