Cameraperson: Athar Rather
Video Producer: Zijah Sherwani
Video Editor: Puneet Bhatia
Over 50 years ago, Razia Khatoon’s afternoons as a child had a recurring visitor at home – badki amma. She was a Hindu woman who was Razia’s mother’s age, and lived next door in their modest neighbourhood in Uttar Pradesh’s Ayodhya.
“My mother and badki amma were like family and that relationship has carried on for generations,” said Razia, 60. This is why, on the morning of 7 December 1992 – a day after the Babri Majid was demolished – Razia didn’t hesitate for a minute before knocking at badki amma’s house after she heard news of violence spreading in her lane.
“The Babri Masjid had been demolished a night ago. The next morning, I heard the Kar Sevaks were in our locality. There was violence, so I took my mother, who was wheelchair-bound by then, and went to our neighbour’s house to seek shelter,” said Razia, seated inside her one-room apartment in the same lane where she grew up, in Ayodhya.
Badki amma’s son, Parag Lal Yadav, and his two teenaged sons, too didn’t waste a minute before they let Razia and her mother in. For the next two days, the Yadavs saved the lives of eight Muslim neighbours.
At least 17 people were killed in Ayodhya.
“I would do it again,” says Parag, 70.
Thirty years after the Babri Masjid was demolished, Parag and Razia continue to live next door. This is their story.
What Happened on 7 December 1992?
It was a chilly morning, and Parag's family was sitting in their verandah next to a bonfire, he recalled. “We knew the Masjid had been demolished. Suddenly, Razia and her mother came home because they had heard about the violence in their lane. We quickly let them in. It was a very tense atmosphere. In our lane, there were five-seven Muslim homes,” said Parag, who was in his 40s at the time, and was employed as a guard.
By afternoon, the Kar Sevaks – aided by some locals – were outside Razia’s house, claimed Parag. “Her house was partially burnt down. Her brother was missing. No one knew where he was. Other Muslim homes were also burnt down,” recalled Parag.
Back at his home, Razia and her mother sat in a corner, terrified. The Yadavs decided that the news of their presence at home should not reach the Kar Sevaks or any neighbours. “But people still found out. They stood outside our house and asked us to let them out. ‘Why are we shielding Muslims,’ they asked,” said Parag’s elder son, Ajay.
‘Hid a Muslim Family In a Park, Picked Up a Grass Cutter To Protect Them’: Parag Lal Yadav
Razia recalled how she heard people saying that Parag should throw her and her mother out. “There was so much pressure but he didn’t succumb to it. No one dared to enter his house,” said Razia.
Parag, seated next to her in her house 30 years later, interrupted, “That’s because I had a wrestler’s physique at the time…. Now I am old.” Both Razia and Parag broke into a laugh.
At the time, Parag was employed as a guard at a park nearby. On 7 December night, he was on duty with his colleague, Ganga Giri. Inside a room in the park, the two had given shelter to another Muslim family that lived in the neighbourhood.
“This was Hasan Haider’s family. He was a BJP supporter at the time and was in favour of the demolition of the Masjid. A day later, he was killed. We locked up his family in the room in the park. When a mob came to hurt them, Ganga Giri and I picked up a grass cutter and told them that if they came any closer, we will hit them with this. Everyone left. Only when security agencies arrived did we let that family go,” recalled Parag.
‘They Were Our Family, Impossible To Suddenly Hate Them So Much That We Kill Them’: Parag Lal Yadav’s Son
Ajay was 18 years old at the time. His younger brother, Rajesh, was 12. The two had witnessed a shift in the neighbourhood in the days preceding the demolition of the Babri Majid – only a few kms away from their house.
“Many Muslim families shifted the women and children out of Ayodhya. Many friends of mine left, their mothers too. It was strange because these were children I played with, ate with. It was inconceivable that their fathers or grandfathers, who had stayed back, be hurt in anyway,” said Rajesh.
Ajay, who was older, remembered seeing mobs in the lanes. He recalled how his father was threatened with consequences if the family continued to shelter Muslims. “People kept saying ‘let them out’ but we would never do that. One was basic humanity, and the other was our relationship with them. Their mothers and sisters are our mothers and sisters, we have grown up together,” said Ajay.
He added, "Ek doosre ka khushi aur gam mein saath diya hai. Ekdum se nafrat itni kaise bhar le ki unko maar de? Yeh toh mumkin hi nahi hai. (We participated in each other’s good and bad times. How can we suddenly fill ourselves with so much hatred that we kill them? That’s not possible.)”
‘Always knew our neighbour would stand Up for us’: Razia Khatoon
On the morning of 8 December 1992 -- a day after Razia and her mother came to seek shelter at the Yadav house – a semi-clad man entered their home. It was Razia’s brother.
“He spent a whole day and night hiding in bushes. It was such a cold December and he was barely wearing anything. Parag’s family had spent many hours looking for him, calling out his name but he was so scared, he didn’t come out,” says Razia.
Parag and his sons wrapped a blanket around Razia’s brother and helped him get warm in front of a bonfire. When the security agencies reached the lane, Razia, her brother, and their mother returned home.
“You know, I never doubted him. He had to protect us, I knew that. We were family, I was so confident that he would never turn me or my mother away at a time like this,” recalled Razia.
It was risky, of course, for Parag’s family, as there were several threats.
“But my mother, who everyone called badki amma, told me on 7 December morning that no matter what happens to me, Razia and her mother should be unharmed. This is what humanity teaches us,” remembered Parag.
He said things aren’t the same anymore though. “Earlier, there was more Hindu-Muslim unity but now it’s all corroded. It’s sad,” said Parag.
Time has aged both Parag and Razia. His back is slightly bent now, betraying his height. She is partially paralysed. But what hasn’t aged is their family’s relationship.
Razia’s youngest daughter, Nazma, who was born in 1994, calls Parag her “maama (maternal uncle). She lives with her mother. She said, “If these people didn’t do what they did for my mother, I wouldn’t be alive. If good people didn’t exist, the world would stop functioning, right?”