A new dawn and a homecoming
Ground Zero in Ayodhya is elated but sobre; even as Muslim petitioners say they are not satisfied with verdict
Ayodhya: The announcement that the SC will pronounce its verdict in the Ayodhya case sent the country into a tizzy on Friday, more so in the communally sensitive town. Security was tightened, additional troops were deployed, and political leaders across the spectrum—irrespective of their political allegiances—urged citizens to respect the apex court's decision.
Roads in and out of Ayodhya on Saturday morning were barricaded, with heavy checking of all vehicles taking place at every stop. "Everything has been calm since the morning, but we have been checking all the vehicles before allowing them to enter Ayodhya," says PSI Ashish Kumar Pandey, manning a checkpoint on the highway just before the town.
An aura of tranquillity seemed to engulf the town—a known hotspot for communal tension since the 19th century. There were barely any people on the roads, but as news of the verdict spread and the day progressed, people began opening their shops and getting back to business. There was no extravagant celebratory display; neither were there any fireworks or dhols. It seemed like Ayodhya, in all its glory, was satisfied with the final judgment.
Speaking with mid-day outside the Hanumangarhi temple, a renowned and revered spot for many devotees visiting Ayodhya, 60-year-old Ram Chandra Dwivedi, who works as a private school teacher, dismisses the possibility of violence. "Everything has been shaant since last night," he says, adding that he also shares Lord Ram's birthday. "There is a lot of police in and around the town but there is nothing to worry about. We the people, irrespective of our religion, have accepted the judgment of the SC wholeheartedly. The mandir should have been built here a long time back, but it had been stalled due to certain political forces at work. Finally, Ram has come home."
Prayaglal Pandey (centre) a priest who inherited his family temple located a stone throw's away from the path leading to Janmabhoomi, says he is glad that the Ram Mandir will finally be built at the site
Security thickens as I make my way towards Ram Janmabhoomi from the periphery of Ayodhya. A total of four police barricades are set up on the narrow, winding lane that leads to the spot, with police officials frisking devotees at each and every barricade. The first barricade is where visitors have to submit their mobile phones, bags, and watches in lockers. Only wallets/purses and jewellery are allowed.
The path from the first barricade to the spot of Janmabhoomi becomes narrower with each step until one reaches the final checkpoint. Here on, the path is surrounded by a cage that is consistent on all three sides, flanked by the razed remains of the Babri Masjid, which is still clearly visible. At the end of what can be termed as Ayodhya's very own "yellow brick road," lies the temple at the site of Ram Janmabhoomi. Devotees are not allowed inside and have to pray from the path, while a priest sitting on the other side of the cage hands out prasad. Behind him is the temple, adorned with yellow and orange flowers, with an idol of Ram in the centre. A lone peacock can be seen wandering the ground around the temple.
Ashok Kumar Upadhyay, the priest sitting right outside the temple, handing out prasad to devotees, says, "Ram Lalla was born here and today is his homecoming. The judgment that was passed today was inevitable; this is his birthplace after all."
But the security measures meant that there weren't as many devotees as a normal day.
"The number of people that have come to visit Janmabhoomi today is negligible," says Hemant Mishra, who owns the locker area. He charges a nominal R5 per locker, which can accommodate a bag, a phone, and a wristwatch. "Usually, there are around 5,000 to 6,000 people here every day, but today, there are barely a thousand. And it's already 3 pm. When people don't come for darshan, it is obvious that business will be hurt. We are dependent on devotees." He added that the reason for a low turnout today was the fact that a lot of the roads leading in and out of Ayodhya had been barricaded.
About 2 km away from the site is an entire neighbourhood dedicated to the VHP and other saffron outfits. It is called Karsevakpuram. Throughout the day on Saturday, multiple stages hosting debates of news channels are simultaneously taking place. Most of them are fronted by sadhus and mahants.
"People across the country, along with all the Hindus in the world, have had their eyes on the judgment and have been waiting in eager anticipation," says Sharad Sharma, a well-known VHP heavyweight in Ayodhya. "The verdict is viewed by us as the wholesome truth. When it comes to the five-acre land on which the mosque has to be built, I would like to say that this is something that should be left to the courts and the government."
'I was there'
Prayaglal Pandey, 65, a priest who inherited his family temple located a stone throw's away from the path leading to Janmabhoomi, recalls what went down on December 6, 1992, when thousands of kar sevaks razed the Babri Masjid. "At around 9 am, which is the time for darshan, some people in civil clothes were apprehended by the authorities, who found after some investigation, that they had firearms on them. I was outside [Janmabhoomi] at the time. Things soon escalated and the violence erupted."
Heavy security was deployed in Ayodhya on Saturday
Pandey also shares some mythological tidbits. According to him, Prayagraj Maharaj and the black horse that he used to ride, both became white after taking a dip in the Saryu river that runs through Ayodhya. Speaking of the SC verdict, he says: "Nothing has changed here. Thousands of Ram bhakts used to flock here to see the birthplace, and this still happens. This ground is that of the Hindus. We all want Ram Mandir to be built here."
Not everyone's happy with the unanimous verdict delivered by the SC, though. Dr Asma Zehra, a member of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, tells mid-day: "This is not the decision we expected. We are not satisfied with the judgment because this dispute was a title suit and we were expecting the court to deliver the judgment based on the evidence that we had submitted. There is a discussion going on currently for a review petition, with regards to today's judgment. It is not finalised yet."
Asked what the sentiment in the Board was like, she says: "The sentiment is for the public. The Board has a legal committee, which is doing its job of exploring legal options. But since the verdict was unanimous, the possibility of a review leading to a different outcome is bleak. The community's sentiment has been hurt, but we are appealing to everyone to exercise restraint and be patient. We must not resort to anything that could disturb the communal harmony. Instead, let's explore
possibilities within the constitutional framework."
Asked what would have been the best possible outcome for all parties involved, she says: "When we go to the court, we expect it to tell us either of two things: that this (land) is either yours or it isn't. I fail to understand whether the land really belongs to the Muslims or the Hindus. Yes, it has been given to the Hindus, but whose land was it? That is the dilemma that still exists."
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