When the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya was demolished by Hindutva karsevaks in December 1992, Insiya Noorani was a six-month-old baby being raised in a middle-class Muslim family in Vapi, Gujarat. She first heard of the Ayodhya dispute in school, 12 or 13 years later, when her teacher shared general information about the Hindu-Muslim riots that followed the incident.
At home, when she asked her parents about the riots, they told her about how the Babri Masjid-Ram Mandir conflict was also the cause of the 2002 Godhra train burning and communal violence in Gujarat. But her parents, she said, were always neutral in their assessment of the issue. “They said it was all done by some people from both communities who had nothing better to do,” said Noorani. “I did not understand the seriousness of the issue at the time.”
Now, as a 26-year-old corporate lawyer in Mumbai, Noorani is acutely aware of the magnitude of the communal conflict triggered by the mosque demolition. It is something she occasionally thinks about while reading news about the Ram temple, but does not believe it affects her life in any way.
“I realised how serious this whole issue was when I was around 20, when I had developed a curiosity about it and would read a lot online,” said Noorani. She chose to analyse the 1992 dispute from a historical perspective: certain people from the Hindu and Muslim communities had been instigating communal conflict right from the time of India’s Independence, so the events of Ayodhya could have happened just about anywhere. “But living in Vapi as Muslim, this issue has never affected my family’s day to day life,” she said.
The only context in which Noorani thinks about her Muslim identity is housing. Growing up, she was struck by the communal segregation of houses in cities like Godhra in Gujarat. Today, she is concerned that her hometown, Vapi, is headed in the same direction. “I’d say that in about 70% of Vapi, builders don’t sell flats to Muslims,” she said. “They say that Muslims eat non-veg and have different ways of praying, and that if one Muslim family comes to live in a building, they miss out on ten Marwadi families who could have come there.”
Noorani added: “I know that there are some Muslims who don’t dispose of their non-veg food properly, and even we would not want to stay with them. But because of those few people, all Muslims suffer.”
In Mumbai, Noorani and her friends – who are drawn from various communities – feel unaffected by the renewed debate about whether a Ram temple should be built in Ayodhya in place of the Babri Masjid. “Sometimes, I do feel irritated by the thought that if the masjid was already there, why did they have to break it?” she said. “But then I also feel, now that it’s broken, you can make the masjid somewhere else too. I feel the same about the mandir. Why insist that it has to be built there only? I would rather they build some sort of peace monument there instead.”
But Noorani does not believe that a peace monument can actually resolve the Ayodhya conflict. She explained: “Because fools are always going to be fools.”
This is the third part in a series of articles interviewing Indians born in 1992 about the Bharatiya Janata Party’s efforts to bring its plan to build a Ram temple in Ayodhya back to the political centrestage. The first part can be read here and the second here.