It was on December 5th, 1992 – a full day before the Babri Masjid demolition – that I realised there was a definite plan in place.
It was hazy winter’s day in Ayodhya, 17 years ago, when I was whisked away by a bunch of kar sevaks to a “secret location.” The spot turned out to be a lonely stretch of hilly land just north of the masjid – and what I saw sent a shiver down my spine. There were at least a hundred or more volunteers with crowbars and steel rods enthusiastically slicing off parts of a mud and rock hill, a “mock drill” for tomorrow morning, I was told. It all looked very amateurish, but the intent was all there. One of them told me conspiratorially, “We are prepared to pound the masjid to rubble. Wait and watch….”
Still, the next day, nobody expected a full-scale demolition. Yes, there were hundreds, maybe thousands of determined kar sevaks ready with crowbars. But could they challenge the large armed police presence? There were rumours that the RSS were already asking volunteers to go home peacefully after the shilanyas (foundation ceremony for a Ram Mandir). A senior journalist told me that the BJP and other Hindu organisations needed the masjid to fan the movement. “They won’t kill their golden goose,” he scoffed pompously.
He was proved wrong, pretty early in the day. It all happened in a flash. As the shilanyas was being carried out outside the Babri Masjid, a group of kar sevaks suddenly started pelting stones at the police contingent guarding the mosque. It still surprises me how within minutes the armed police abandoned their posts around the structure. There was a huge roar from the crowd. And them suddenly in a one big surge the kar sevaks moved forward towards the masjid. Within minutes they were crawling all over it, hammering away at the walls and the roof.
And the ones, who weren’t hammering the masjid, decided that journalists would do just as well. All journalists, conspicuous by their prominently displayed VHP-issued press badges, were targeted brutally. Photographers and camera men were specially attacked – their equipment smashed and their tapes and films trampled upon. All of us where then pushed into a nearby structure called Sita ki Rasoi and locked inside. Some of us managed to get onto the roof, only to be pelted by stones from the kar sevaks all around. “Let us finish our work, then we will set you free,” was the common refrain.
After a few hours a few of us managed to escape, masquerading as kar sevaks by donning the saffron headband they all were wearing. Two of us, Dibang (now a well known TV anchor, but who then worked for the Illustrated Weekly) and me, in a rash decision, decided to go right inside the masjid. Through a haze of dust in an eerie light, I saw hundreds of men hacking away with fervour at the ancient mortar. From the roof, loose pieces of brick and stone would fall, injuring many. These injured men would be carried away in stretchers and new sevaks would quickly take their place. I even saw some take away souvenirs – old slabs with intricate inlay and Arabic inscriptions.
Later we sat nearby on a mud knoll watching the masjid’s domes fall one by one. The first fell around 2.30 pm in the afternoon and there was a huge roar of approval from the crowd and shouts of “Jai Shri Ram.” The second fell around 3. 40 pm. The last dome finally fell at 4.30 pm. We got up silently and started making our long way back to our Faizabad hotel. It felt like someone, or something had died in all of us.