What if, like with Ayodhya’s now-demolished Babri Masjid, a group of people decided that there was an ancient temple that was vital to their faith under your building?
As the Supreme Court prepares to finally decide the legal case about ownership of the 2.77-acre complex in the Uttar Pradesh town that once held the 16th-century shrine that was demolished by Hindutva activists in 1992, a small group of social media users came together to parody the events of the past three decades.
The events they were highlighting date back to the late 1980s and early 1990s, when the Ramjanmabhoomi movement swept through North India. The movement drew large crowds, who vociferously – and sometimes violently – demanded that a Ram temple be built on the site on which Babri Masjid stood. They claimed that the mosque had been erected by the administration of the Mughal emperor Babur after it demolished a temple constructed on the exact birthplace of the Hindu god Ram.
So powerful was this expression of faith that Hindutva mobs brought down the Babri Masjid in a few hours on the afternoon December 6, 1992. The political party that spearheaded the movement, the Bharatiya Janata Party, went on to become India’s most powerful formation. In 2010, the courts itself recognised this article of faith by awarding a third of the Babri complex to the god Ram.
This belief has not dimmed in 2019. Most commentators predict that the Supreme Court will award the Ayodhya plot to parties that want to build a temple there rather than those that want to rebuild the mosque.
Satirising the media
On Thursday, two days after oral arguments in the Ayodhya case concluded in the Supreme Court, the popular social media satirist known as “ROFLGandhi” decided to skewer the communally charged reporting on the proceedings. A show by Hindi news channel Aaj Tak had been particularly offensive.
“If his birthplace and Ram is ours, where did these masjidwalahs come from?” the channel bluntly asked. The use of the possessive pronoun made it clear that Aaj Tak considered this broadcast only for one community.
“ROFLGandhi” jumped on this. The satirist put out a Twitter thread detailing a miraculous tale of how Ram’s lieutenant Hanuman had dropped a bead on his way to Lanka. The spot where the bead landed soon became the site of a grand Hanuman temple. ROFLGandhi’s story did not sound unfamiliar. Across India, hundreds of shrines claim a connection to the Ramayana and Mahabharata, purporting to have been built on spots at which gods and heroes are believed to have rested, battled or flown over.
As RoflGandhi’s story continued, the Ramayana merged with the politics of the 1980s: as a result of invasions, the satirist tweeted, the Hanuman temple was buried under the ground. Quite coincidently, the very spot where the temple once stood is where most Hindi and English TV national news channels now have their offices: Noida Film City.
Fully echoing the Ayodhya movement, the satirist demanded that faith must be placed above all: the TV news channels must make way for a #NoidaFilmCityExcavation in order to unearth the ancient temple.
The satire soon caught on and the hashtag #NoidaFilmCityExcavation began to trend on Twitter.
Like with the Ramjanmabhoomi agitation, satirists repeated how faith and faith alone must be considered above everything. If that means that Aaj Tak would have to give up its offices, said social media commentator Dhruv Rathee tongue in cheek, then so be it.
Hanuman had actually been seen flying above the Aaj Tak building, one user claimed.
Others recalled long-forgotten anecdotes that only strengthened the faith behind #NoidaFilmCityExcavation.
One person even went to the Aaj Tak studios and marked a Hanuman temple on the spot using Google Maps. A search on Google for Aaj Tak’s studio began to show a Hanuman temple.
Others put up a photo of BJP leader LK Advani leading a rath to demand the construction of a Hanuman temple in Noida just like he’d done for a Ram temple in Ayodhya in the early 1990s.
Unlike the Babri Masjid demolition drive, however, the satirists claimed that their’s was a secular movement. It even had international support.
An online petition was even launched to urge the authorities to excavate the “historical Hanuman ji temple”, which at the time of writing, had nearly 5,000 signatures.
Bihar’s Rashtriya Janata Dal brought in a caste angle, claiming that the Hanuman temple had not achieved the same traction since it was a Dalit issue.
Then Poe’s law kicked in. A popular Internet adage, it states that parodies of extreme views will often be taken as a sincere expression of those very same views. Rajasthan Patrika, one of India’s largest newspapers ran the satirical story as breaking news, asking if “there was a Hanuman mandir 3000 feet under Noida”.
Patrika wasn’t the only one. “The Times of India got in touch with me, asking in earnest about the details of the controversy,” the person behind the RoflGandhi handle told Scroll.in. “I replied to them explaining that it’s just satire triggered by Aaj Tak’s obnoxious reporting on the Ayodhya issue.”
That was a perfect reflection of India today: a satire about an ancient temple had become indistinguishable from real news.