Atithi Deva Bhavo!

This photo reminded of an incident which happened to me in 2003. High Court ordered excavations were going on at the site of the Babri Masjid and Ayodhya which had been demolished by the goons going by the name of kar sevaks.

The erstwhile mosque had been totally raised to the ground and just below where there had been the central dome of the mosque, a make shift mandir of Ram Lalla had been erected.

The tempers were high and the whole nation was waiting with baited breath to know what would be discovered by the ASI diggings.

At the site the High Court had stationed two magistrates, one a Hindu, another a Muslim. The cordoned off site was heavily guarded by a heavy posse of CRPF, RAF and PAC jawans. And as generally ASI team was perceived as an “agent” of VHP / BJP and thus daily disputes over diggings were a common feature, the Court had also appointed a number of independent Observers. They were to be present on the site and keep a hawks’ eye on how the digging was being done, what were the finds and how were they being reported.

Each Observer would be sent for a few days and then replaced by another. He / she would note what being done and sometimes object to the shoddy manner of what ASI was doing. I also had the privilege of being one such Court appointed Observer and was there on the site a number of times. The Observers were usually at loggerheads with the ASI officials on the site. When in the evening each days findings were noted and photographed, the magistrates, lawyers of all sides and parties, the representatives of the Babri Masjid Action Committee, the Nirmohi Akhara, the litigants as well as the Observers would all assemble and take note of what was being reported. Observers would also dispute with ASI in case of any anomaly! Thus they were taken to be “suspects”, the “other”!

Even otherwise, some of the Observers were suspect because they were Muslims! Although most Observers were generally Hindus…RC Thakran, Supriya Varma, Banani Bhattacharya, Jaya Menon etc. They were equally suspect.But most suspicion was reserved for us who were Muslims. I remember a day when I was there along with a Muslim girl student, and the makeshift temple was visited by Togadia. The trenches were shielded by barricades and qanats from all around. But you could peer in through the holes. Soon the VHP crowd zeroed in to the nearest spot where we stood and started their hate filled blood curdling slogans. They also started naming me in their abuses and threats! It were really nerve wracking moments for us. Some CRPF jawans however surrounded us and assured us that don’t you worry! But the more they re-assured, the more uncomfortable we became!

Another incident which I remember, and this is what is related to the photo above, is that when one extremely hot June day we came out of the security area all exhausted, I saw a thela selling bhel ka sharbat. I was so thirsty and exhausted that I was almost staggering.

As I approached him and asked him for a glass of sherbet, an ASI man called from behind and taunted the seller: “Don’t you know whom you are going to serve?” Tum jāntey ho kisgo pila rahey ho?

The man humbly replied with folded hands: “Jānte haiñ jajmān! Ye Mahjid banwāney āyē haiñ! Lekin hamārey Atithi haiñ! Bhagwān samān haiñ!” Yes I know sir! He has come to rebuild the mosque but is our guest! And guests are like God!

I stood speechless at what he had uttered and was doubly surprised when after two glasses he refused to take money from me and instead apologised for what the ASI official had said!

He made me realise what real India was! In spite of all the venom, in spite of all the propaganda, a common Indian was still a secular person. In Ayodhya, remove the “imported” karsevaks, the common residents were still, well common Indians. The communal virus had not caught on to them!

India still had a bright future!

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A history buff interested to unravel the past as it was!

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