The demolition of the 16th century Babri Masjid mosque in Ayodhya on December 6, 1992 was a watershed moment in modern Indian history. Built in 1528-29 by the first Mughal ruler Babur, the mosque stood on a site that Hindus believe was the birthplace of the god Rama. The mosque’s destruction sparked nationwide religious riots between Hindus and Muslims that left over 2,000 people dead.
The History of The Babri Masjid & Ram Janmabhhomi
The roots of the Babri Masjid dispute stretch back centuries but took on a modern political dimension in the late 19th century during the British colonial era. In the 1850s, Hindu groups first staked the claim that the mosque stood on the precise birth spot of Rama. The British rulers erected fence barriers to separate Hindu and Muslim worshippers, a divide-and-rule strategy that heightened tensions.
The modern dispute arose in 1949 when idols of Rama appeared inside the mosque. The government declared the mosque a disputed area and locked its gates until the Allahabad High Court ruled in 2010 that the land should be divided into 3 parts between Hindus and Muslims.
KK Muhammad’s Surveys and the Temple Traces Below Babri Masjid
In the 1970s, professor K.K. Muhammad, an archaeologist from Aligarh Muslim University, was allowed to excavate the mosque site as part of the Archaeological Survey of India. He discovered 12 pillars of a temple buried inside the mosque structure along with other remains like idols, stones and temple carvings. He concluded that a pre-existing temple had been present on the site before the mosque was built in the 16th century.
Muhammad kept his findings secret for years as they threatened to escalate the dispute. The evidence of temple traces beneath the mosque was seen as further validation by Hindu groups that the site was Rama’s birthplace. Meanwhile, some Muslim leaders and scholars denied that a temple had existed under the mosque or questioned the archaeological evidence.
In 1990, Professor Muhammad’s survey report was published by the government as evidence before the Allahabad High Court. The uncovering of temple remains below the Babri Masjid was used by the Hindu claimants to assert that the mosque stood illegally on a site considered sacred by Hindus. This complicated the legal battle over the religious status of the disputed land.
In 1984, the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) launched a campaign to construct a Rama temple on the disputed site which included nationwide processions and rallies. In 1990, BJP leader LK Advani began a 10,000 km Rath Yatra chariot ride across India to gather support for the temple.
In 1991, the Uttar Pradesh government acquired 2.77 acres of land around the disputed site. This was seen as the first step toward building the temple. However, the mosque still stood in the way.
Tensions finally reached a boiling point in December 1992. The BJP-led state government of Uttar Pradesh wanted to move ahead with temple construction before the upcoming state elections.
On December 6th, over 200,000 Hindu activists (known as kar sevaks) gathered in Ayodhya at the call of BJP, RSS and VHP leaders. They overwhelmed the police cordon around the mosque and ascended its domes wielding axes, hammers and grappling hooks. Within a few hours, the entire structure was reduced to rubble.
The mosque demolition was meticulously planned and executed by the organizations involved. BJP leaders such as LK Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi made incendiary speeches riling up the crowd but avoided getting directly involved in the demolition.
The razing of the mosque was aided by the passive complicity of the BJP state government which pulled out the police forces and allowed the crowds to assemble in Ayodhya. Kalyan Singh, the Chief Minister of UP, gave assurances to the Supreme Court that the mosque would not be harmed.
The central Congress government headed by Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao failed to intervene and stop the demolition despite being aware of the conspiracy. When the mosque fell, Rao claimed the demolition was unexpected.
The demolition of the Babri Masjid was followed by large-scale communal violence between Hindus and Muslims across India. Riots broke out in cities like Mumbai, Surat, Ahmedabad, Kanpur and Delhi. Over 2,000 people were killed in one of the worst religious riots since the 1947 Partition.
The Mumbai riots lasted over two months into January 1993. Much of the violence was directed at the city’s Muslim minorities who make up 20% of the population. Over 900 people were killed in bomb blasts, arson attacks and street massacres.
The Justice BM Liberhan Commission report in 2009 indicted BJP leaders responsible for the demolition conspiracy. But it was too late for legal consequences or to undo the damage done to religious harmony in India. Only a handful of kar sevaks faced any punishment over the years.
The demolition and ensuing riots have had far-reaching impacts on Indian politics and society. The events catapulted the BJP from a minor party to national prominence on the back of its Hindu nationalist ideology.
The tragedy highlighted the exploited faultlines between India’s Hindu majority and Muslim minority communities. It contributed to the erosion of India’s secularism and the dangers of mixing religion with politics.
The Ram Janmabhoomi movement tapped into a desire for Hindu cultural reassertion after centuries of subjugation by Muslim and British rulers. However, the means adopted by destroying a minority’s sacred place of worship fostered a sense of injustice and persecution among Indian Muslims.
The issue became the BJP’s core campaign agenda and consolidated its vote bank. The party grew from 2 Lok Sabha seats in 1984 to over 300 seats by 2014, forming governments under Atal Vajpayee and Narendra Modi.
For over 25 years after the demolition, the disputed site in Ayodhya became the focus of litigation between Hindu and Muslim groups. The Allahabad High Court finally divided the land between the two sides in 2010.
Verdict of Supreme Court of India
In a landmark verdict in 2019, the Supreme Court awarded the entire site to a trust for constructing a Rama temple. It ordered 5 acres of land at another site in Ayodhya to be given to a Muslim trust for building a new mosque. This attempt at judicial resolution was aimed at closure but mixed reactions ensued on both sides.
The ruling BJP government under Narendra Modi performed a ground-breaking ceremony for a grand Rama temple at the once-disputed site in August 2020. Modi commented that the start of construction marked “India’s golden chapter.” The new Ram temple is going to be inaugurated on 22 January 2024.
Three decades after the shocking scenes of the Babri Masjid being razed, the long-drawn saga appears to have reached a conclusion on India’s political stage. But the memories, emotions and lessons around that fateful day in 1992 are certain to endure for generations to come. The tragic legacy of 6th December will remain etched as a controversy that left deep scars on the social fabric of the nation.
For the Hindu majority, the new temple honors their deity in his believed birthplace and rights an alleged historical wrong committed during Mughal rule. However, most agree that the ends did not justify the unlawful means adopted, damaging India’s constitutional values.
The mixed reactions to the temple construction and lingering feelings over the mosque demolition reflect these dichotomies. After over 30 years, Indians are still grappling with the ghosts of Ayodhya and what it means for the future of communal relations and secularism in the country.
The Babri Masjid demolition controversy is thus one of the most complex legal, religious and sociopolitical disputes in independent India’s history. Its origins are steeped in centuries of contestation over sacred space among two major religions – Islam and Hinduism.
This long saga has strained the commitments to pluralism and tolerance enshrined in India’s Constitution. The divisions persist but with determined effort on all sides, Ayodhya could yet present an opportunity for reconciliation and building an inclusive, peaceful society.