Indian court’s ruling on Ayodhya case brings no closure for those scarred by deadly riots

By Kunal Purohit

Published: 1:01pm, 10 November, 2019

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  • In 1992, a 16th-century mosque was demolished by an armed Hindu mob. More than 2,000 people were killed in the aftermath

  • Hindus will now be permitted to build a temple on the disputed land at the heart of one of India’s most divisive cases

Indian security personnel stand guard outside a mosque in Bangalore on the day of the Supreme Court ruling. Photo: EPA

When Farooque Mapkar heard about Saturday’s ruling by India’s Supreme Court, allowing Hindus to build a temple on a disputed site in the northern city of Ayodhya, he felt a rush of emotions. He could not help but recall the moment almost 27 years ago when, amid a wave of sectarian violence, police entered the Hari Masjid mosque where he was praying and opened fire, wounding him in the shoulder.

“Without saying anything, they just fired at all of us,” he says of the incident that left seven people dead.

It was one bloody incident among many stemming from the events in December 1992 when a 16th-century mosque in Ayodhya was demolished by an armed Hindu mob. More than 2,000 people were killed in the ensuing violence across the country and many of the Hindus that attacked Muslims were encouraged by political leaders from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its regional ally, the Shiv Sena.

According to a government-appointed commission, during the riots “neighbour killed neighbour, houses were ransacked, looted and burned, all in the name of religion”. For many, Saturday’s ruling has stirred painful memories, particularly as the BJP and Shiv Sena retain power in New Delhi and, until recently, at a regional level.

Mapkar is now 50 and works as a peon at a bank in Mumbai. He was not surprised by Saturday’s verdict, insisting “no Muslim expected anything else”.

The government-appointed commission called the police action against the worshippers at the mosque “unjustified, excessive …[and] resulted in killing innocent citizens”. For Mapkar, though, the nightmare had just begun. He was held in police custody for 15 days with the bullet still lodged in his body.

Farooque Mapkar was injured after the police fired at him while he was praying in a mosque. Photo: Kunal Purohit

“My shoulder was hit and bleeding. But the police arrested me and accused me of rioting,” he says.

In February 2009, a local court rejected all charges against him but his legal battle was not only about fighting allegations against him – he also sought action against the police officers who fired on him. But two years after the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance government came to power, a special court in Mumbai closed the case against the officers, claiming there was not enough evidence.

“I have lost track of the number of days I spent in court rooms fighting these false allegations,” he says.

“I am not going to give up on this. The legal system has failed me. I went to different courts and they all gave me a hearing but none gave me justice.”

Mapkar’s persistence is rare, according to Moosa Qureshi, a social aid worker and trustee of Citizens for Peace (CFP), a civil society organisation that worked extensively on relief and rehabilitation of the riot victims in Mumbai.

“Most gave up, almost immediately,” Qureshi says. “How many could afford the luxury of keeping their livelihoods aside and pushing for justice, when the state itself seemed so reluctant to deliver it?”

After the riots in Mumbai, Qureshi and his team found many men, mostly Muslim, had gone “missing” and no one knew their whereabouts.

Moosa Qureshi, a social aid worker and trustee of Citizens for Peace. Photo: Kunal Purohit

"I went to different courts and they all gave me a hearing but none gave me justice."

FAROOQUE MAPKAR

 

“Families never even got a complete closure, because the government rules state that missing people can’t be declared dead for seven years at least,” Qureshi says. “By the end of seven years, most of these families had been forced to move on because they had mouths to feed.”

Rashida Kotawala’s was one such family. Her husband, Shabbir, went missing during the riots after he and his brother-in-law tried to rescue one of Kotawala’s sisters.

“Those days, we had no phones,” she says. “We heard rumours that the riots were intensifying in the area where my sister and young children lived. So my husband decided that they should go and rescue the family before they are attacked.”

Shabbir never reached his wife’s sister’s house, nor did he come back. Kotawala never learned what happened to him.

Qureshi and his team traced their routes and concluded Shabbir and his brother-in-law had been killed by a Hindu mob. Kotawala initially went to the police but they refused to investigate. She gave up.

“I did not have a choice,” she says. “Shabbir was the only breadwinner and I had two young boys who I had to feed.”

For her, the Supreme Court verdict means little. She merely hopes there will be no more violence, insisting: “They should resolve it in a way that no one is unhappy”

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