Reporter who told world about demolition of Babri Masjid


Former BBC producer Qurban Ali was the first to relay the news of demolition of the 450-year old historic Babri Masjid to the world on the evening of Dec. 6, 1992. The event is described as a turning point in the Indian history.

Talking to Anadolu Agency, Ali who witnessed the history, recalls that on the fateful day, mob had locked him and other colleagues in a temple.

With great difficulty he escaped from the city of Ayodhya, which was full of Kar Sevaks, (Hindu volunteers), baying for the blood of journalists.

“At around 6 p.m Indian time [1230 GMT], demolition was over. With great difficulty I along with BBC South Asia Chief Mark Tully managed to slip out. We reached the nearby city of Faizabad and checked in a hotel at 9 p.m [1530 GMT]. Soon the BBC Urdu service rang up, who had stopped their live transmission, after learning that I was available on phone,” said the senior journalist, who was then working with the Hindi edition of weekly Sunday Observer.

Many in India and outside, still remember, the shrill voice of Ali, telling the world that Babri Masjid was no more. The anchor was persistent that other media outlets were reporting that mosque has suffered minor damage. Ali mentioned that he had seen the historic Mughal structure, turning into a rubble, before leaving the city of Ayodhya.

“Hindu volunteers were collecting bricks and taking them along with as souvenirs. Since, the age of private TV channels, mobiles and internet was still a decade away, official media was telling the world, that mosque has received some minor damages and the mob was pushed back,” he added. Other 500 journalists, who had gathered in the city on that day, were not so fortunate to reach to Faizabad.

Ali recollects that air was thick with rumors, but none was expecting that the mosque will be razed. Hundreds of thousands of volunteers had gathered in the temple city of Ayodhya on the call of Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

They were leading the movement of construction of a grand Ram Temple at the site of Babri Masjid. They claimed that Hindu pantheon Lord Rama was born at the site of the mosque, some millions of years ago. They had given a commitment to the government and the courts that they would symbolically have a religious ceremony and no damage would be done to the mosque. Among those present were top BJP leaders LK Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi. Both later held positions of central ministers.

Mob attacked journalists

“By 11:30 a.m. [530 GMT], Kar Sevaks had started storming the mosque. There was chaos. Crowd started beating journalists, smashing their cameras and tramping on tape recorders. We rushed to Faizabad central telegraph office to file the report that mosque has been attacked. Upon our return, we were following the paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force column to return to Ayodhya. But we noticed that the central forces were not allowed entry into the city. We took another route and reached Ayodhya,” said the journalist, who witnessed demolition of Babri Masjid.

“Soon people found us out. They recognized Mark Tully. We were threatened and then locked in a room. They would have killed us. But someone suggested, let us first complete demolition and then decide their fate. We were herded in a room and locked. Late evening, with great difficulty, the captors agreed to take us to a senior leader, who ordered our release. We were free, but it was not so easy to get out of the city. Somehow, we managed to reach Faizabad, which is just 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) away. But that day, it looked like hundreds of miles away,” he added.

Ali said, ”we managed to dodge the death on that day. But the event immensely damaged the idea of India and its thousands of years of civilization that symbolized pluralism.” Senior journalist, who had covered the Ram temple movement, said it was never a political issue. “The BJP made it a political movement and their electoral plank in 1989. Before that, it was not such a big issue,” he said.

Twenty-seven years after the demolition of the mosque, Ali said Muslims of India at present, especially the youths, are passing through very difficult times.

Their loyalty, nationality is being questioned, not only by the state but by the society as well.

The city of Ayodhya, which has a mention in Hindu scripture of Ramayana had been the symbol of India’s cultural heritage and unity in diversity over past many centuries.

But it has now become a symbol of division, between Hindus and Muslims. “Things have changed. The basic idea of India is at stake,” the journalist lamented.

*Writing by Syed Iftikhar Gilani
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