Ranjona Banerji: The hatred we unleashed in 1992

Dec 06, 2017, 07:15 IST | Ranjona Banerji

Today, it will be 25 years since the demolition of the Babri Masjid. But, we still remain in the miasma of prejudice, bigotry and suspicion

I was not in Bombay, as it was called then, on December 6, 1992. I was on holiday in Calcutta (as it was called then) when the rumours began and then we saw it on the BBC: The Babri Masjid in Ayodhya had been demolished by 'kar sevaks' as BJP stalwarts and the world's media looked on, some triumphant and some overjoyed. Even as far away as I was, that riots should break out in Bombay came as a tremendous, almost personal shock. My city, where people lived together more harmoniously than anywhere else, joined by a joint purpose of hard work and professionalism and just getting on with it? A city where you could be yourself? A city I grew up in, so happily and innocently? What a hoax that turned out to be, one felt.

Babri Masjid was demolished by 'kar sevaks' on December 6, 1992. File pic
Babri Masjid was demolished by 'kar sevaks' on December 6, 1992. File pic

By the end of that year, I was back in Bombay, but I soon realised that the worst was not over. The atmosphere was charged with communal hatred. Huge 'maha-aartis' organised by the Shiv Sena outside temples kept the fans aflame. People used the sort of language against religious minorities, and Muslims in particular, which was until then rare in polite society. It was evident that matters were being brought to the boil once again. And so it happened on January 6, 1993, far more viciously, disastrously and catastrophically.
We all know that something changed for the worse in those months. Although it seemed that Bombay found its 'spirit' once again when it recouped instantly after the bomb blasts on March 12, 1993, that was just a chimera. It lulled us into inaction and apathy. But, the undercurrents of hatred, bigotry and prejudice were now on the surface.
Many people like to pinpoint that moment on the change of name from Bombay to Mumbai. It is a good use of a symbolic idea, but it is too pat, too obvious. The change was clearly brewing within long before, even if some of us were unaware of it. Given the scale of violence from the Bombaywallah, who was until then seen as politically apathetic and chronically self-obsessed, earlier thoughts of willy-nilly 'harmony' were patently false.

In spite of all the benefits brought to the city by liberalisation and growth, that old Bombay has gone forever. The city never recovered from what it had done to itself. We did not realise it at first. It was still an easy city to live in, it was still relatively safer than other Indian cities, it still had a liberal outlook on surface, it was still more 'tolerant' than other places. The lower-middle-class building complex where I lived in the suburbs showed the most amazing courage as rioters banged at our gates, demanding that Muslim residents be handed over to them. Today, Muslims are not allowed to live in several such complexes.

And as time passed, every attack on Mumbai's sensibilities was tolerated. The city's centre and its people were abused, some thrown out of where they had lived for generations in the name of 'development', and few cared. The poor had to be moved out, was the argument commonly heard, because they had no business to be here. The heart had gone out of Bombay anyway, and who gave a hoot if the mill workers who built the city, for instance, were replaced by Mumbai's malls?

I watch closely as a few citizens try to fight for the trees of Aarey, so close to where I once lived and then sometimes, the doom and gloom lifts and I feel a little hope. Living away from Mumbai for three years now, and living in a small town with big city aspirations and every urban mistake being made, do I miss it? On an everyday basis, I don't — I look at the mountains and tell myself that the sea is somewhere waiting for me. But, inside myself, all the time. I miss the Bombay that was and could be. The Mumbai I left, knowing I would not return. And now on the 25th anniversary of the event that tore at the heart of India as much as my city, I know that until we acknowledge the hatred that we unleashed, we will remain in this miasma of prejudice, bigotry and suspicion. Look around you.

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist. You can follow her on Twitter @ranjona Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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