(This article was originally published on 8 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.
“Masjid par parindaa bhi par nahin maar sakega” (I won’t let even a bird enter the Masjid), said Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav, even as a determined L K Advani ploughed along on his Rath to reach Ayodhya.
The inevitable confrontation on the state border was averted when Bihar Chief Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav arrested Advani on October 23, 1990. But for the one week that Advani was cooped up in the rest house at the Massanjore Dam, UP suffered its worst communal backlash in recent times.
Security was heightened in Faizabad and adjoining districts after 80 people were killed in riots sparked by a false rumour.
In this communally charged atmosphere, UP Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav while addressing a public meeting on September 16, suggested that devotees who planned on undertaking the 14-kosi parikrama stay away. The 14-kosi parikrama entails a 45-kilometer walk around Ayodhya to mark the number of years that Ram spent in exile.
Meanwhile in Delhi, parallel meetings were taking place. Prime Minister VP Singh was in talks with VHP and RSS leaders to arrive at a plan wherein an ordinance passed by the Centre would permit the construction of a Ram Mandir. But the idea was junked after Zafaryab Jilani, convenor of the Babri Masjid Action Committee, confronted the leadership and expressed his surprise at not being made party to these talks.
This led to further distrust among those fighting to save the Babri Masjid and angered those leading the crusade for a Ram Mandir.
Between Advani’s arrest on October 23 and the scheduled date of the kar seva (volunteering for temple construction), VHP and Bajrang Dal activists continued to pour into Ayodhya. Mulayam Singh Yadav had restricted entry into Faizabad, but the ban was difficult for security agencies to enforce considering the kar seva coincided with Kartik Purnima – a religious ceremony in which an entire family takes a dip in holy rivers like the Sarayu.
October 30, 1990
On the scheduled day for VHP’s kar seva, the police had barricaded the 1.5-kilometre-long uphill climb to the disputed structure. Defying the curfew, thousands of kar sevaks thronged the Hanuman Garhi crossing, which led to the monument.
At around 11 AM, a sadhu managed to gain control of an Armed Constabulary bus in which the police were piling up detainees. The sadhu drove the bus right through the barricades, making way for the others to follow on foot. The security forces who were caught off guard, were forced to chase about 5000 kar sevaks who stormed through the heavily-guarded premises.
With clear instructions from the Mulayam Singh Yadav-government to not allow any damage to the mosque, the police, that had so far been deploying teargas shells to disperse the crowd, resorted to firing actual bullets when a few kar sevaks managed to climb the dome of the mosque and unfurl a saffron flag.
As per the official figures, five kar sevaks were killed in the firing in Ayodhya on October 30, 1990.
Angry kar sevaks claimed the death toll was being grossly understated by the state government and an uneasy silence prevailed in Ayodhya for the next 48 hours.
November 2, 1990
First-time BJP MP Uma Bharti, VHP Joint Secretary Ashok Singhal and Swami Vamdeo of the RSS led about 15000 kar sevaks through the narrow lanes that converge at the Hanuman Garhi crossing.
The police had barricaded entry into the lane that goes through the Hanuman Temple right up to the disputed structure. Several armed policemen had taken positions on the roofs of the shops lining the ill-fated chowk.
This time, the kar sevaks adopted a clever strategy. Old men and women were ordered to go right up front. The elderly kar sevaks would touch the police officials’ feet and they would instinctively step back. Indian tradition, remember prohibits an older person from touching a younger one’s feet. Every time the cops recoiled, the kar sevaks would move a foot forward.
But the drama did not last long.
Journalists who were watching from one of the roofs remember the police firing at the kar sevaks without any warning. It is only when foreign journalists tried to push through the police cordon into the battle zone, did the police stop firing.
Around 3 PM, the kar sevaks dragged the bodies of the deceased into a nearby temple, but refused to conduct their final rites. They demanded to march again at 6 AM. Swami Vamdeo tried to calm them down, but was forced to lock himself up in the strongroom of the basement of a temple after kar sevaks started heckling him.
It is here for the first time that Vinay Katiyar of the Bajrang Dal emerged as an inspirational figure for the kar sevaks. In a passionate speech, he held the police responsible for the death of the kar sevaks and issued a 24-hour ultimatum to the Mulayam Singh Yadav government to open up the road and rail routes and allow devotees to pray to Ram’s idols inside the disputed structure.
Considering the brutal police action and the sheer number of kar sevaks who had managed to get inside Faizabad, the state government relented. The road and rail routes were opened up and kar sevaks were allowed to go inside the disputed structure and pray to Ram Lalla in batches.
Overall, around 15 kar sevaks were killed, as per disputed official figures. The incident earned the Chief Minister the title of “Mullah Mulayam” and the unfaltering loyalty of the Muslim voters in Uttar Pradesh.
In a 2013 interview, Mulayam Singh Yadav, who formed the Samajwadi Party shortly after the firing, admitted it to be a “painful decision” that cost him the state assembly election that was held six months after the firing.
On November 4, the last rites of the “martyrs” were finally held. Their ashes were taken across the country to towns and villages to rouse the rage that would finally bring down the Babri Masjid two years later.
Cameraperson: Siddharth Safaya
Editor: Kunal Mehra
Producer: Esha Paul