(This article was originally published on 2 December 2015. To mark 30 years since the demolition of the Babri Masjid, we are republishing this from The Quint's archives.)
The Quint retraces the events that led to the demolition of the disputed structure in this seven-part documentary series.
On December 22-23, 1949, idols of Ram Lalla were surreptitiously placed inside the Babri Masjid. Two days later, a civil suit forced devotees out and ordered for status quo to be maintained. The mosque would stay, as would the idols, to be tended to by a designated priest who had access through a side entrance at the disputed site.
So who ended the 36-year-old status quo? There are three prime suspects – a district court Judge, the Rajiv Gandhi government, and a monkey with divine sanction.
Unlocking the Gates of Discord
On 1 February 1986, Faizabad District Judge KM Pandey ordered the Babri Masjid be unlocked. He observed, “[...] Muslims are not going to be affected by any stretch of imagination if the locks of the gates are opened and idols inside the premises are allowed to be seen and worshipped by pilgrims and devotees. Heavens will not fall if the locks of the gates are removed”.
He couldn’t have been more wrong.
On 14 February 1986, Muslim groups observed a ‘Black Day’ in protest against the opening of the locks at the Babri Masjid. There was nation-wide rioting, especially in Delhi, Meerut, Uttar Pradesh, and Anantnag, Jammu and Kashmir.
Interestingly, two officials representing the Congress government at the Centre (Rajiv Gandhi), and the state (Narayan Dutt Tiwari) testified in court, saying they anticipated no law and order situation if the locks were to be opened. They said so despite the fact that the petition wanted permission for Hindu devotees to pray at a mosque, which was desecrated by Pandit Abhiram Das more than three decades ago.
The legal argument for opening the locks was based on the fact that no prior order directing the mosque be locked, was presented before the court.
A day later, on 15 February 1986, the Babri Masjid Action Committee was formed, and a young lawyer, who had emerged at the forefront of protests and town hall meetings in Lucknow, Zafaryab Jilani became its convenor.
Within half an hour of the order being passed, the padlock on the main gate to the Babri Masjid was broken. Doordarshan happened to be on standby, and telecast the proceedings on national television.
Intervention of a Divine Monkey
But there was apparently another reason why Judge Pandey made the decision to open the gates of the Babri. In his autobiography, Pandey wrote that a monkey, which he took to be some divine power, validated his decision.
A black monkey was sitting for the whole day on the roof of the court room holding the flag post. Thousands of people of Faizabad and Ayodhya [...] offered him groundnuts and fruits. Strangely, the monkey did not touch any of the offerings [...] The district magistrate and SSP escorted me to my bungalow. The monkey was present in the verandah of my bungalow. I was surprised to see him. I just saluted him, taking him to be some divine power.
The call for a mandir at the exact same spot, “Mandir vahin banayenge” was heard for the first time after the disputed structure was unlocked on the Faizabad district court’s orders. Not only did the unlocking bring the Ayodhya dispute back into the national discourse, it also pushed the issue into the realm of organised politics.
Cameraperson: Siddharth Safaya
Video Editor: Kunal Mehra
Producer: Esha Paul