Their fathers died running. Within two years of each other. One, a Hindu kar sevak, was felled by police bullets on November 2, 1990. And the other, a Muslim sawmill owner, was chased and killed by a mob of kar sevaks on December 6, 1992.
Subhash Pandey and Mohammed Shahid live in different parts of Ayodhya but share a common story — of life at a standstill from the time they lost their fathers, their world destroyed in the frenzy that gripped Ayodhya and the country a quarter century ago.
Subhash was 10 years old when the body of his father, Ramesh Pandey, was discovered in a bylane not far from their home in Rani Bazar. “I don’t know whether he was shot while trying to get atop the dhaancha (Babri Masjid) or cornered by the police and killed. I could never find out. All I remember was performing his last rites. There were bullet marks on his body.”
On October 30 and November 2, 1990, police opened fire on kar sevaks trying to storm the Babri Masjid. The official death toll was 16, and it included Ramesh Pandey. “My mother Gayatri was never the same after that. My grandmother took care of me, my younger brother and two sisters. My younger brother was in my mother’s lap when father was killed. I gave up studies after Intermediate (10+2) because I had to look after the family. I married young and have three children. The eldest, a daughter, is in college.”
Subhash works for a daily wage at the Vishwa Hindu Parishad karyashala, its workshop for the proposed temple. “I get by with what I am paid. The VHP helps out whenever I am in desperate need of money. It took care of my education, and met a major part of my wedding expenses. Ashok Singhal (VHP leader who died in November 2015) would always check on me as long as he was around. Now, Champat Rai does it.”
He believes his father died for the right cause. “The Ram temple is what all Hindus want. My father wanted it, and I want it. I know we have had a very tough life after he died, but he died for something he believed in. The temple has to be built. I work in this karyashala because it is here that the columns and slabs for the temple are being readied.”
His supervisor at the karyashala, Swadeshji, agrees. “Have you been to the Ram Janmabhoomi? Look how they have turned the whole place into one giant cage. Can you imagine our anger? Is this how you treat the gods? It is time all obstacles are removed, and the temple built.”
There’s not much activity at the karyashala but Swadeshji says work for the first of two storeys of the temple is over. “We are ready with what will be needed. More red sandstone from Bharatpur is coming. Most of our master craftsmen are from Gujarat, some are here, some will return soon.”
Unlike Subhash who has found work, Mohammed Shahid moves around on a cycle, trying to find work every day. He is the grandson of Haji Abdul Gaffar, the imam who led the last namaz at the Babri Masjid on December 22, 1949, before Hindus scaled the walls and placed the idol of Ramlalla beneath the central dome of the mosque. Shahid’s father Mohammed Shabir and uncle Mohammed Nazeer were killed on December 6, 1992.
“I was 22 years old. Our house became an easy target because it is on the main road. Someone alerted the mob that this was a Muslim home. My father and uncle tried to flee. They were chased and killed. The mob torched the shed where we had a saw machine, and our supplies of teak and sheesham. Wood and machine worth lakhs were destroyed, and we were left with nothing.”
Shahid says all that the family received was Rs 2 lakh in compensation for the death of his father. “We are four brothers and four sisters. Since I was the eldest son, everyone expected me to look after my mother and siblings. What was I to do? The mob burnt everything, destroyed our lives. It has been 25 years now, you can still see what’s left of the burnt shed and the saw machine. I am unemployed now. So I go around asking people for work. There are days when I get some work.”
His grief and misery have hardened him. “Never shall we give up our claim to the Babri Masjid land. Muslims who talk of an out-of-court settlement are selling out. But I can’t live without honour.” For Shahid and Subhash, the battle for Ayodhya is not quite over.