How Muslims in India Responded to the Demolition of the Babri Masjid

23 July 2017

Seema Mustafa is a senior journalist who has reported for papers such The Pioneer, the Indian Express, the Telegraph, and Asian Age, and is currently the editor of The Citizen, which she founded. Mustafa’s grandfather, Shafi Ahmed Kidwai, was a freedom fighter, and her grandmother, Begum Anis Kidwai, served as a member of parliament in the Rajya Sabha from the Congress party for 12 years. Her father, Lt Col Syed Mustafa, served in the Indian Army, and her mother, Rafia Kidwai, was an editor, one of the first Muslim women to be employed at the National Herald. In her memoir Azadi’s Daughter, she writes about her experiences as an Indian Muslim: from her childhood in Delhi and Lucknow; to reporting on the ground in Assam, Uttar Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir; as well as living through the communal tensions in 1984 and the early 1990s. “I am a Muslim, culturally but not religiously,” Mustafa writes in the preface to her book. “It is an identity that I decided, very consciously, to adopt along the way to help counter the stereotype of the Muslim that was being created by the political parties, and even governments, in India.” “I find all my identities under threat today,” she adds. “As a woman, as a journalist, as a Muslim, as a secularist, as a liberal and even as an Indian, because the Idea of India … is under threat.”

In the following extract from the book, Mustafa recounts the effect that she noticed the Muslim community undergo after the anti-Sikh riots of 1984, and how this changed leading up to, and after, the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992.

Muslims as a community were absolutely shocked at the level of the violence in 1984. I remember the fear in Muslim homes during those days, as relatives called wondering whether the fury of the mobs would turn against them. An aunt was heard fervently thanking God that the assassins of Indira Gandhi had not been Muslims, an echo of what the minorities probably said when Gandhi was killed by Nathuram Godse. Given the surge of communal hate and violence at that time, a Muslim killer would have ensured the virtual annihilation of the community and plunged India into bloody chaos from which it would have in all probability emerged as a Hindu, and not a secular state. In 1984 too, the insecurity amongst Muslims was palpable, even though they were not in the sights of those holding the gun.

The build-up to the demolition of the mosque preyed on this insecurity. Muslims travelling in trains did so under false non-Muslim names, as they were afraid of being targeted. The situation worsened after the demolition, as minorities in India realized that they could no longer rely on the state for protection. I was returning from a visit to Uttar Pradesh and got onto a train from Lucknow without a ticket, hoping as was usual for us reporters, to convince the ticket collector to allocate a berth. I immediately ran into a high profile group who offered me space—Raghu Rai, Mohan Bawa to name a few—who were returning from a visit to Ayodha to give the artist’s perception of the demolition. They were angry and incensed and we started talking about what they had seen and found. Finally a man in the opposite berth could take it no longer and sat up to shout, “Stop it, you are disturbing us.” It was fairly early in the night, so clearly this was not the reason. He then lay back with a loud “Jai Shri Ram” the clarion call of BJP supporters those days. Mohan Bawa with his flowing beard shouted spontaneously, “Allah o Akbar,” with the rest of us shushing him, even as we choked with laughter. And then fell silent, suddenly aware of the gravity of the situation.

My father was at the time living alone in Lucknow, and the situation there was tense. Mobs would often parade through the colony he was living in, shouting communal slogans. We begged him to take down his nameplate, but being an army officer, he refused. Muslims were feeling the heat, and memories of the massacre of Sikhs in Delhi came alive as neighbours came out to assure each other of safety and security.

Seema Mustafa is a senior journalist who has reported for papers such The Pioneer, the Indian Express, the Telegraph, and Asian Age. She is currently the editor of The Citizen, which she founded.

Keywords: Babri Masjid riots Babri Masjid communalism Muslims in India