December 6, 1992 is a day that has gone into history books. I witnessed the event that made it historic. But it is not something I’m proud of.
We left Lucknow for Ayodhya, 130 km east, early in the morning. The previous night, then chief minister Kalyan Singh had assured us, “Babri Masjid will be safe.” But I also remembered some of L.K. Advani’s words in his recent speeches then, while on his way by road from Delhi to Ayodhya. “Kar sevaks (Hindu volunteers) are not going to Ayodhya to sing bhajan kirtan ( devotional songs),” he’d said.
The town was bursting at the seams with enthusiastic kar sevaks. Saffron was the colour of the day. Locals had opened their doors and kitchens to them. Rama fervour ran high.
A huge crowd, watched over by a large posse of security men, had gathered around the barricaded Babri Masjid, or ‘disputed structure’ as it was called. We managed to reach the podium from which Sangh Parivar leaders, with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad in the forefront, were making speeches.
The speeches were the same, no different from what we’d been hearing for years, about the Babri Masjid being a ‘symbol of slavery’.
Suddenly, a handful of kar sevaks broke through the iron barricades, amid loud cheers and Jai Sri Ram slogans. Security men made no effort to hold them back.
Once the barricades fell, the kar sevaks were unstoppable. Some climbed the Babri dome, others began to smash the foundations of the structure using the barricades they had uprooted.
The security men looked on, the observers sent by the Supreme Court looked on, the Sangh leaders looked on. None of them moved.
It was sheer madness thereafter. We ran down from the podium towards the structure that was being assaulted. Thick dust from broken columns and walls filled the air.
A kar sevak held me back. “They are beating up journalists. They will tear your clothes,” he warned. Many journalists who got too close to the kar sevaks were beaten. A number of press photographers, in particular, had their cameras smashed.
The three domes came down, one by one. As the sun was setting, we left, searching for our car.
As we drove out of Ayodhya, Muslim homes were being burnt. I was so disturbed, I wanted to weep.
My colleague in Lucknow, a Muslim, M. A. Hafiz, was waiting for me at the office. “I was worried for your safety,” he said. I couldn’t bring myself to look him in the eye.