Hashim Ansari, the oldest litigant in Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi case, died early on Wednesday at the age of 95. This wasn't his first encounter with death. He had a brush with it 24 years ago, on December 5, 1992, the day before the Babri Masjid was demolished by kar sevaks who had descended on Ayodhya from various parts of India.
Mobilised by the Bharatiya Janata Party, thousands of volunteers or kar sevaks stormed the 460-year-old mosque, which they claimed had been built on the spot on which the god Ram had been born. But Ansari was one of the last persons with personal knowledge of how the Babri Masjid had been forcibly turned into a temple on that December night in 1949, when a group of men broke the lock to the shrine and placed an idol of Ram inside.
In 1961, Ansari, along with six others, became the main plaintiff in the Ayodhya title suit filed by the Sunni Central Waqf Board in the court of Faizabad civil judge.
This made him hugely unpopular with the kar sevaks. “A day before Babri Masjid was demolished, I happened to sit on a charpoy outside my house when a group of kar sevaks came to me," Ansari told this reporter in 2010. "They did not recognise me and asked: ‘Where does that bastard Hashim Ansari live?’ When I asked as to why they were looking for him, one of them said: ‘He is the root of all the problems and he must pay for that.'"
Ansari said it was was clear what they had in mind. "Without losing any moment, I told them, ‘That bastard lives on the other side of the basti,'" he said. "They rushed in the direction I had shown to them, and I went into hiding. For next few days I did not come out.” There was a reason for the kar sevaks’ confusion. Ansari name was known but his appearance, in that era before television, was not.
An observant man
Short, thin, wearing his usual long kurta and a lungi, Ansari – known to locals in Ayodhya as Hashim Chacha – was like any other poor resident of Ayodhya. He was a sharp, observant man, and an introvert. He never had a formal education, but he was well-versed in the issues related to the dispute.
Long before the legal battle started in 1961, Ansari had long been protesting the capture of the mosque. In 1952, he was sentenced to two years in jail by a Faizabad court for singing the azaan, the call to prayers, in the Babri Masjid.
After becoming the main plaintiff in the case, he came to be known as the main voice of the Muslim side – a responsibility that he fulfilled with utmost honesty and sincerity despite all the odds and financial difficulties he faced in his personal life.
Born in a poor Muslim family of Ayodhya, Ansari grew up in extreme penury. His father, Karim Baksha, died when he was merely four or five. The responsibility for raising the family then fell to his mother, Sakuran Bano, who became daily-wage worker until Ansari’s elder brother, Qasim Ansari, started to repair cycles.
As Hashim Ansari grew up, he started working in a tailoring shop. “Once they occupied Babri Masjid, I got a purpose in my life,” he told this reporter later.
He never let his financial constraints hamper his battle. Even after formally becoming the main voice of Muslim side in 1961, he continued his tailoring job. He left this job only around mid-1990s when his son, Iqbal Ansari, bought an auto-rickshaw and started to support the family.
“After the demolition of Babri Masjid, two men, who claimed to be representatives of Narasimha Rao [the then Prime Minister], came to him and offered him a huge sum of money and two petrol pumps if he agreed to give his consent for an out-of-court settlement,” according to Khaliq Ahmad Khan, a close aide of Hashim Ansari and a witness to the incident. “He felt so outraged that he got up from his chair and, before I could stop him, he chased them out of his house.”
Apart from his honesty and integrity, the incident also reflected Ansari's unflinching faith in the courts. “Till the case is there in the court, I will never accept any out-of-court settlement,” Ansari had once told me.