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Babri demolition anniversary: Regret, anger haunt kin of Mughal-era mosque’s last imam

Abdul Gaffar Khan’s daughter-in-law says the family fell on hard days after the demolition. ‘But we stayed here. Where will we go…’

india Updated: Dec 07, 2017 07:45 IST
Dhrubo Jyoti and Pawan Dixit
Dhrubo Jyoti and Pawan Dixit
Hindustan Times, Ayodhya
Ram temple,Ram Mandir,Ayodhya
Imam Abdul Gaffar Khan’s house, a couple of kilometres from the Mughal-era mosque, is now decrepit and overrun with weeds.(HT Photo)

At the house of the last imam of Babri Masjid, Abdul Gaffar Khan, December 1992 was supposed to be a month of festivity.

The house, a couple of kilometres from the Mughal-era mosque in Ayodhya, had been decked up for his granddaughter’s wedding.

Read | A timeline of key events in the Babri Masjid, Ram temple controversy

The courtyard of the two-storied house was strewn with gifts, money and clothes. Little did the family know the celebrations would be marred by the mosque’s demolition, an event which was to change their lives forever.

“We ran away from our homes as riots started in town. When I came back on December 29, I saw the house had been ransacked and set ablaze. We never recovered from that day,” said 70-year-old Taibunnisa Begum, the daughter-in-law of Khan, who died in 1990.

The wedding finally took place in January 1993, funded by the community and some money from the compensation received from the government.

Begum still lives in the same house, now decrepit and overrun with weeds.

The sawing machine (used to cut wood), a source of income in those days, has rusted. In one corner is an e-rickshaw that the family rents out for Rs 300 a day.

Begum says the family fell on hard days after the demolition. “But we stayed here. Where will we go…our home is here, there is no place for us anywhere else,” she tells Hindustan Times.

Her husband and the imam’s son, Mohammad Sabir, was killed in the looting and rioting on December 6 that rocked the town as tens of thousands of frenzied kar sevaks (Hindu religious volunteers) descended on it.

Around 10am that day, Begum’s son Mohammad Shahid says kar sevaks tore pages of the Quran and threw it on the roads.

“Our houses started getting attacked around noon. My father and I ran in different directions. I was saved, he was killed,” says the 48-year-old.

“I regret I couldn’t save him. I had faith they wouldn’t kill him. After all, he was respected, the imam’s son, and would supply wood to nearby temples as well. But December 6 changed all equations,” he says.

The imam is present in their memories, and in a grainy photograph saved on Shahid’s phone.

Begum remembers when she came to the house as a new bride at 17, Khan was a respected man who led prayers at the Babri Masjid, and later at the local Tedhi Bazar mosque.

Shahid has three brothers — Rashid, Hamid and Khalid — who have settled in Mumbai and Saudi Arabia.

Their incomes have somewhat steadied the family ship. Shahid’s elder daughter is preparing for her medical entrance examinations.

But Shahid and Begum seethe at the perceived injustice of Sabir’s murder. “No one has asked us what happened to him, who killed him,” Shahid says.

Stories of the imam’s knowledge and acumen are lore among the town’s prominent Muslim families, but none is as resonant as that of Haji Mehboob, one of the original litigants in the Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi title suit.

Sitting in the sun with a government-appointed guard, the 79-year-old recalls his youth and memories of the imam.

“My father, Haji Pheku Sahab, was the muezzin of the mosque and we would often play in the fields nearby. Often, we would catch a glimpse of the imam, who was known for his command of the Quran,” he says.

For him, the demolition’s worst legacy is in the continued mistrust between communities.

In this, he finds resonance in Satyendra Das, who has been the chief priest at the Ram Janmabhoomi makeshift temple for 25 years and described the demolition as a painful event.

“I have always heard that terrorists demolished the structure. Disputed or not, it was Ram’s temple,” he says.

First Published: Dec 07, 2017 07:45 IST