While the Supreme Court has postponed until September 28 its hearing on a plea to defer the Allahabad high court’s verdict in the Ayodhya title suit, in the pilgrim town itself, there’s no dispute: The place was, and is, Ramjanmabhoomi for its Hindus.
Nowhere in Ayodhya, not in shop addresses or official signages, in the directions yelled out to lost visitors from teashops or police chowkies, or anywhere close to the disputed area, is the “spot” referred to as anything else but Ramjanmabhoomi. Even the official parlance refers to it as Janmabhoomi. For a disputed structure, there is remarkably little dispute.
“The point isn’t that everyone calls it Ramjanmabhoomi; the point is, it is Ramjanmabhoomi,” says Purshottam Kumar, owner of Shri Ram Chandra ki Sarvottam Samagri, a shop in the main market that sells religious paraphernalia: from headbands worn by karsevaks in 1992 to strings of prayer beads and saffron scarves. Kumar’s is the fifth generation that has lived and worked on the same spot and he explains that each generation has known that this is the place where Ram was born and that there was a temple. “What will the court’s judgment change? Nothing,” he says smiling benignly. “Every Hindu knows in his heart that this is the Ramjanmabhoomi and it will not be anything else.”
The security is heavy: two rings of fencing, one yellow, one barbed, guarded by village chowkidars, home guards, the PAC, Rapid Action Force and CRPF. CCTVs hover over, ominously overseen by armed men on watchtowers. At the entrance, every object on one’s person including belts and pens is removed. There are five full-body checks. A group of women from Gujarat is on a pilgrimage. They will go from here to Nepal. “We’ve come to take Ram’s darshan. There used to be a mosque nearby but went long ago,” explains Sushilaben Kanojia of Rajkot.
After walking for several minutes inside what feels like a labyrinth, devotees are deposited 10 feet away from a statue of Ram, Sita, Laxman and Bharat, a fence separating them from visitors. A sign reads ‘Don’t Wait Here’. The sanctum sanctorum is enveloped on all sides by a tent. This is where the Babri Masjid once stood. Not just the mosque, not even rubble is visible any more. Obviously, there is no Muslim worship here.
The first and only time that TOI saw or heard the word Babri all day was in a cramped two-room house where a 90-year-old man with a hearing aid was being harangued by journalists. ‘Babri Masjid Reconstruction Committee’ read the hand-painted words on the doorway to Mohammed Hashim Ansari’s house. One of the litigants, and the last surviving of the six who were on the same petition, Ansari demands that the court give its verdict soon. “At least in my lifetime,” he says pleadingly, adding, “All of Ayodhya’s Muslims are waiting for this.”
Bangle-seller Mohammed Arif’s family has lived here in the old city for four generations. “I was here when they broke the mosque and I saw the city aflame,” he says softly and with no anger. “Everyone knows what happened. It was on TV. We don’t want to stir up trouble. If that means not referring to the area as Babri any more, so be it,” he says. Arif and his family have little interest in the verdict. “They can build a church if they want, I don’t care,” he says. But they’re all watching TV intently on the pavement outside his shop. “For news of trouble,” says his teenaged daughter Saira.
“There are two parallel forces in the country, one that supports anarchy and one that supports the rule of law,” says Khalid Ahmed, who heads the Helal Committee which offers legal help to the two disputing sides. “The first one gave its judgment on December 6, 1992, when it tore down the mosque, killed 17 Muslims in Ayodhya and burnt down 450 shops, punishing Muslims for the sins of their forefathers. We are still waiting for the judgment of the other force,” says Ahmed.