IN THE AFTERNOON of 6 December 1992, Tariq Masood, a ninth-grade student in Gorakhpur, western Uttar Pradesh, saw the television go black in the middle of a Doordarshan news bulletin. The electricity in the town was cut off for the rest of the day and the batteries in their radio were dead. A few hundreds kilometres away, thousands of karsevaks led by various Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) workers had converged on the disputed site of Babri Masjid-Ram Janambhoomi. Gorakhpur was under curfew. A phone call broke the news that the karsevaks had destroyed the Babri Mosque. Tariq sat quietly by his lawyer father, numb, watching him repeat the same words, “There must be a mistake. They must be lying.” In the days following 6 December, India was torn apart by a series of riots, which killed around 2,000 people, mostly Muslims. “For many years the destruction of the Babri Masjid shaped my life,” Tariq, now a 32-year-old IT consultant, told me when we met recently in Delhi’s Zakir Nagar area. “We went into a huddle. My father’s Hindu friends stopped inviting us home and we stopped inviting them to our ceremonies. I had no Hindu friends for years.”
After 17 years, 400 meetings, and 80 million rupees, the Liberhan Commission came out with its 1,029 page report in December, blaming the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) for organising the demolition of the mosque and naming 60 BJP, RSS and Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leaders, including former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Riotous scenes followed in the parliament for a few days, but the commission’s disclosures were hardly a revelation. Videos of Atal Bihari Vajpayee inciting a crowd of karsevaks at a Lucknow rally on 4 December, two days before the masjid’s demolition, have become staples on YouTube. Soon after the Liberhan report was made public, VHP leader Vinay Katiyar bragged to a television channel that 6 December 1992 was the “proudest day of my life.” Katiyar’s voice seemed to have an edge of desperation, a world away from the confidence of the 1990s, when he was a man journalists wanted to interview, when the Ram Temple movement had its last burst of fervour. He reminded me of March 2002, when a few weeks after the Gujarat pogrom, Ramchandra Paramhans, who headed the Ram Janambhoomi Nyas Trust, was leading thousands of karsevaks from across India in an attempt to defy a Supreme Court ban on construction at the disputed site by laying a foundation stone for the Ram Temple.