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Babri Demolition: Many Kar Sevaks Were Only There To Bring Masjid Down, Recalls Undercover Journalist

Sanjay Kaw, then a reporter with The Statesman newspaper, went on an undercover assignment to Ayodhya in 1992. Speaking to Outlook, Kaw recalls the days and moments leading up to the fateful day when Hindu mobs brought down the 16th-century Babri Masjid.

Hindus celebrating holding of darshan at site of Dec. 6 after razing down Babri Masjid
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Sanjay Kaw went to Ayodhya in 1992 disguised as a Hindu kar sevak. He broke bread with them, stayed in their tents, and witnessed minor demolitions first-hand in the days leading up to December 6, when thousands of kar sevaks brought down the Babri Masjid.  

Believed by many Hindus to be built atop the ruins of the temple marking the birthplace of Lord Rama, the Babri Masjid was already a subject of legal dispute when it was demolished. While it was claimed that the mob went out of control on December 6, Kaw says there were signs that the demolition was not spontaneous as it’s often claimed to be.  

Kaw was reporting undercover in Ayodhya for The Statesman newspaper. He disguised himself as ‘Sanjay Kaul’, a Kashmiri Pandit who had to leave his studies due to terrorism in Kashmir that also forced his family into exile. This undercover identity of Kaw was mentioned in a letter he secured from a Delhi-based Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader.

In an exclusive interview with Outlook, Kaw recalls the days he spent between kar sevaks in Ayodhya and reflects on the Babri Masjid demolition with the benefit of hindsight. 

Edited excerpts: 

There are two beliefs about Babri Masjid demolition — One, it was a spontaneous event, and, two, it was a well-planned event and the masses reached Ayodhya with the intent to demolish the mosque. How did it appear to you when you were among the kar sevaks? 

I was not present in Ayodhya when the disputed structure was demolished. I had left a few days before the demolition when staying undercover became too risky.  

During my stay in Ayodhya, however, I came across a large number of kar sevaks who were there just to bring down the structure. Even some police personnel deployed at the site told me that they would defy any order to act against kar sevaks and would rather lay down their arms. One policeman told me that some of his colleagues had already started removing bricks from the structure to weaken it.  

There was great bonhomie between the kar sevaks and the Uttar Pradesh Police personnel deployed there. They bought us tea and once invited us over for breakfast at their camp.  

When you were in Ayodhya, or when your newspaper carried your story, did you realise that the Babri Masjid demolition would become such a critical event in modern Indian history?  

No, I had never ever imagined that Babri Masjid demolition would become such a critical event in modern Indian history. I could not immediately grasp the gravity of the situation. 

Do you believe Babri Masjid demolition was inevitable or do you believe it could have been prevented with state intervention? 

No one in their wildest thoughts had ever imagined that the structure would be brought down. I personally feel that the state failed in its duty to prevent the demolition of the disputed structure. 

I was told there were up to 1 lakh people in Ayodhya at the time. One person told me that arrangements for feeding 1 lakh people had been made by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). But the arrangements did not just appear to be for lodging and feeding people. It was apparent that the tools required for the final demolition were also being put together and everyone knew that D-Day was nearing. 

How do you believe Babri Masjid demolition changed us? It's often said to be the most polarising moment of modern India. As someone who also saw the horrors of Kashmir in 1990 as a Kashmiri Pandit, how do you see the Babri Masjid demolition? Do you find any parallels of majoritarianism or extremism you saw earlier? 

After the Partition in 1947, the demolition of the Ram Janambhoomi-Babari Masjid structure further widened the divide between Hindus and Muslims in our country. I am myself a victim of terrorism. My family and I were forced to leave our homeland Kashmir in early 1990s. I strongly believe that to be a minority in any part of the world is the biggest curse. 

No one has so far been convicted for Babri Masjid demolition. How do you see it? 

The matter was pending before our courts when this structure was brought down. That means whosoever participated in the demolition had worked against the law of our land. By not punishing any one for the illegal act, we have sent across a wrong message that one can easily get away with any illegal act in our country.   

This is the 30th anniversary of Babri Masjid demolition. Ram Mandir is going to be built in a year or so. How do you see the future of this saga — is it going to be a closed chapter as people will make an uneasy peace with the reality or is it going to be a central point of a polarised country?  

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Look, December 6, 1992, is going to stay in the heart and soul of our Muslim community for a very long time. Only time will decide how the construction of Ram temple will shape the future political discourse of our country.   

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