The edifice had crumbled and with it crumbled a lot of our notions, particularly those about our country being secular.
It was December 6, 1992, and I was in Lucknow. The news came blaring through that the Babri Masjid had been demolished. Emotions in the newsroom, indeed the city, spanned the whole spectrum – from a sense of achievement to one of sheer disappointment about what our country had come to.
The unforgettable incident began a few days earlier for me. There was news of kar sevaks in their hundreds heading to Ayodhya, where the Babri Masjid stood, determined to bring down the structure that stood at what was known by a large section of the country as the Ramjanmabhoomi.
Manoj, my colleague with whom I shared a residence, was asked to go to Ayodhya to capture the scene and any other that may develop on his camera.
On reaching Faizabad, the most convenient station for going to Ayodhya from Lucknow, he told us that the police was not allowing people who had arrived to leave the station and were instead urging them to go back to where they came from. Some of us who did not wish that the situation at Ayodhya escalates, took solace in the belief that the kar sevaks would also not have managed to reach Ayodhya. How wrong we were, we came to know only December 6.
Ayodhya, as Manoj was to tell us later, was a sea of kar sevaks with chants of “Jai Shri Ram” resounding in the cold winter air.
The only others were the police personnel, who were woefully outnumbered, and the journalists from India and abroad. However, journalists, especially photojournalists, were not welcome with the kar sevaks doing their best to ensure that no photographs were taken of what was happening at the site. Despite their efforts, some photographs did manage to reach media houses. Some intrepid journalists also managed to get word out about kar sevaks allegedly hunting down people who were opposed to their actions.
This caused me and my colleagues a lot of worry as Manoj did not return from Ayodhya the next day. When the next day stretched to the next and the next, we started fearing the worst with some wondering how the news would be broken to his family.
Thankfully, that was not needed to be done as three days later a dishevelled Manoj appeared, as if risen from the dead. The lanky photographer, who many mistook for a foreigner because of his looks, had hid in the toilet all the while until he gathered the courage to slink away out of Ayodhya to catch a train back to Lucknow.
This also brought to mind an incident of a year ago when I was in Jaipur. The city was tense with communal tones filling the air.
We were on our way home when we saw a group of people, wielding sticks and shouting “Jai Sri Ram” came towards our vehicle. Most of us responded but one of us chose not to. “What is wrong if you shout Jai Sri Ram. If you don’t they will kill you and us too,” he was told but to no avail. Fortunately, the crowd could not catch up with the vehicle.
More than 30 years after the Babri Masjid was brought down, the memory of those days refuses to go away, staying as a permanent reminder of what was and what might have been.