For the Muslim leadership, the demolished Babri Masjid remains a national concern.
The high priests of Indian Islam have decided to file a review petition challenging the recent decision of the apex court in the Ayodhya land dispute. In his recent column on these pages (‘Ayodhya: Seek compromise, don’t stoke fires’, Nov. 22) Saeed Naqvi indicated that a pollster is planning an opinion poll among Indian Muslims on where they stand on the mandir-masjid row. That, I think, is a splendid idea. Leaders don’t think they ever need to consult the led: the shepherd must herd his flock and that’s that. So the outcome of the opinion poll may leave the self-proclaimed custodians of faith unmoved. But it could be an eye-opener for the rest of us. While we await the results of such a poll, for a foretaste of what the opinion seekers might find, here read the responses of three Muslims from three different districts of Maharashtra.
Meet Akbar Shaikh, a small farmer, author, poet and social activist from Ujni village in Madha taluka, Solapur. Asked what he thought of the proposed review petition, pat came the response: “Woh kahte hain masjid bachao, mai kehta hoon Musalman bachao” (They say save the mosque, I say save the Muslims). He proceeded to add: “Hamare jaise naujawan Musalman apne paas ki masjid to jaate nahin; phir hajaar meel door Ayodhya ki masjid ko bachane ki kisko padi hai? Hamare asli sawaalon par koyee kyon nahin jor deta? (Young Muslims like me do not even frequent our neighbourhood mosque; why on earth should we be worrying about a mosque a thousand miles away? Why doesn’t anyone focus on what our real issues are?)”
Meet political activist Khalil Deshmukh, a native of Lasgaon village, Pachora taluka, Jalgaon. About 25 per cent of the population in this Hindu-majority village is Muslim. When the first gram panchayat was set up in Lasgaon in the 1950s, Khalil’s father, Dada Miyan Deshmukh was elected the sarpanch and he stayed in that post for 12 uninterrupted years. Years later, Khalil was sarpanch for 10 long years. Even today, the Lasgaon village credit society is run by a team that looks up to Khalil for inspiration and direction.
Does Lasgaon not have a Hindu-Muslim, mandir-masjid problem? “It’s not just my village, inter-community relations continue to be cordial in our part of the world”, says Khalil, “It’s all a question of how we deal with issues as they arise.”
By way of illustration, he cites an example from the time when he was sarpanch. In Lasangaon the gram panchayat office, an Urdu medium school and a small Maruti temple had stood cheek by jowl. In the late 1980s, Hindus demanded more space for a grander temple. “As sarpanch, I fully supported the demand. The gram panchayat office and the Urdu medium school were relocated and the whole issue was amicably resolved,” Khalil recalls.
What does he think of the proposed review petition? Khalil: “Muslims must gracefully accept the verdict of the Supreme Court. Whether we agree with the judgment or not, we should desist from doing anything to vitiate the atmosphere. We should treat this issue as a closed chapter and concentrate on issues of peace and progress, for the community and the country.”
Meet Halim Siddiqui, social activist and editor of Bedari, a monthly Urdu magazine published from Malegaon, a Muslim-majority textile town in north Maharashtra. A soft-spoken person, he normally measures his words. But ask him what he thinks about the review petition and he erupts.
“Review se kya nikle ga? Bus itna hi na ki hamare ulema aur digar Muslim leadron ki dukaan kuch aur saal chamkegi? Yeh sab hawayee jahaz se hawa mein udenge, taqreer jhadenge. Inke liye shahar shahar mein shandaar dawatein sajengee. Babri Masjid to wapas banne se rahi, kya mile ga aam Musalman ko is review se? (What will the review achieve? Except that it will keep our ulema and other leaders in the limelight for some more years? They will fly around from city to city, deliver stirring speeches, feast on lavish spreads arranged in their honour. Forget the Babri mosque ever being rebuilt, what will the common Muslim gain from this review?)”
While the Babri mosque in Ayodhya remains among the top priorities of the ulema and leaders such as Asaduddin Owaisi, what continues to agonise Halim is the status of the Muslims of that temple town. Since the mosque’s demolition in 1992, he has made three trips there, the last being two years ago. The purpose of his visit each time was the same: to talk to as many as he can, to understand their situation and to enquire if the national leadership which is so concerned with the mosque also ever thinks of the Muslims of Ayodhya. “Except for Zafaryab Jilani who has been there once or twice, no religious or political leader has ever thought it fit to visit Ayodhya and meet those they claim to lead,” laments Halim.
Here is how he began an article he wrote in Bedari, following his last trip to Ayodhya in 2017: “In Ayodhya there is no Muslim doctor, no lawyer, no engineer, no teacher. Muslims there do not have a single school or college of their own. There’s not even a madarsa, no Muslim organisation, no businessman, no organisation for the welfare of the community worth mention... Such is the fate of Ayodhya’s Muslims 25 years after the demolition.”
The article notes that survival for a large number of Muslim families depends on the flower garlands the women make daily, for the Hindu pilgrims to offer to the gods at the over one thousand temples in Ayodhya. It also talks of the many mosques in the town which are routinely short of namaazis. And several others where no namaaz is offered post sunset as the local Muslims cannot afford to pay electricity bills.
For the Muslim leadership, the demolished Babri Masjid remains a national concern. As for the Muslims of Ayodhya, who cares?