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Dec 07, 2012 at 11:57am IST

FTN: Eyewitnesses recall the destruction of Babri Masjid

Exactly twenty years back, on December 6, 1992, the Babri Masjid was demolished by a frenzied crowd of Hindu right wing forces. In the communal clashes that followed, thousands were killed across the country. The eyewitnesses recall the day with Sagaika Ghose on Face The Nation.

Below is the full transcript of the show:

Sagarika Ghose: Today, 20 years ago was a sad day for India's secular state, and a day of shame for the spirit of tolerance. Today December 6 was the day that the 400-year-old Babri Masjid was demolished by Hindu activists as part of the Ram Janmabhoomi agitation. Post demolition riots led to 900 deaths in Mumbai alone. Those who were there in Ayodhya on December 6, 1992, those eyewitnesses what are their abiding memories. We're talking tonight to those who witnessed the demolition of the Babri Masjid.

The eyewitness to that demolition, Pramod Pushkarna, photographer. Pramod was in Ayodhya; he was working with India Today then, he was forced to hide in a temple to escape from the mob which was beating up journalists. Dibang, senior journalist; Dibang, was with Illustrated Weekly, he entered the Babri Masjid, in fact, while it was being broken down. And Sir Mark Tully, former South Asia bureau chief of the BBC, has written several books on India, was in Ayodhya when the Babri Masjid was demolished, and was reporting from there. Thank you very much indeed for joining us.

Mark Tully when you think of December 6, 1992, what are your dominant memories?

Sir Mark Tully: I think, my first memory is the feeling a sense of deep sadness about that was happening; about the fact that this was so contrary to the traditions of India in my belief and also to all the assurances which were given. And also there was this palpable hatred of Muslims in the air which was being shouted, in particular, that was absolutely appalling. The slogans, the violence which was done to the television crew and indeed to my, I was surrounded by these people, there was a debate so to what should happen to me. Eventually it was decided that I should be locked up in a temple room. So I was locked in that temple room. Two Indian journalists joined me there because they refused to leave the scene. So I have that memory of comradeship as well. But basically it was a very, very sad and harrowing day.

Sagarika Ghose: A sad and harrowing day. And Dibang the first karsevak, this is the report of Indian Today, broke through the security cordon at round 11.43 am, by 5.00 pm the Masjid was fully demolished. In five hours a 400 years old structure was torn down by human hands; was it the size of that crowd, was it the fire they were feeling inside, what resulted in this kind of manic energy.

Dibang: I think it was the madness that was there. The way these people were guided. I went to Ayodhya with SP Singh who was in Navbharat Times at that time. So imagine 1992, you have the BJP with 120 seats, governments in four states, they have karseva in July 1992, they were trying to build the Singh dwar. And then in November 20 there is a report from the center to say that they have done construction and there is a speculation that the state government will be dismissed. November 28, the Allahabad court says that there has been construction and you should stop it. And then you have these absolutely wild statements by people like Vinay Katiyar that if you stop us the roads will be filled with dead bodies. And you have Ramchandra Paramhans saying that even if Ram comes from heaven we are not going to stop. And on the day it was even worse. I was shooting it for an Italian network; I was there early in the morning at 6.00 am because we wanted these morning shots. And everything was peaceful in the morning, and at around 7.30 am I saw a German cameraman, he was bleeding. He was bleeding. We surrounded Ashok Singhal, and just a few hours before that we had bites of Ashok Singhal to say that if they try to stop us we will start the karseva from Garbhagriha. Now Garbhagriha is where the main doom was.

Sagarika Ghose: So all journalists were being threatened?

Dibang: They had started beating the journalists before the karseva actually began, right from the morning.

Sagarika Ghose: Dibang was actually telling me that you were hitting them with your camera lens.

Pramod Pushkarna: That was after they climbed in.

Dibang: It was very easy to identify journalists because we had this huge pink coloured cards. I have never seen a pink huge card and you had to wear them around your neck, and that was issued by VHP.

Sagarika Ghose: Let us listen to ace photographer Raghu Rai who was there at Ayodhya with his son. And has spoken exactly about this way in which journalists were attacked at that day. Let's listen to him.

Raghu Rai: Some group whether it was Bajrang Dal or VHP, they had come prepared and they had also come prepared not t allow any press or photographer to click any pictures or do a story. It was like you were watching ants going up the hill and then bringing it down. And that is the time when we started taking pictures. Some of us were taken to another house, we were locked up there. My son Nitin, he escaped and he went on the other side. And when the Mosque was being demolished he took the pictures and some of these people saw it, and they bashed him. All of us, 99 per cent, were pushed and taken to other places, not allowed to do anything.

Sagarika Ghose: That is a very pictures image, ants going up that little hill. Mark Tully did you ever feel before that day that it was going to happen. Did you have a sense that it would actually be demolished, or did things happen very quickly?

Sir Mark Tully: I was in doubt, I thought those are possibility but I was certainly was not certain that it would happen. But as soon as the crowd rushed towards the mosque and I saw first cordon collapse, then the second cordon collapse, I knew that the situation was out of control. And what was incredible was a huge presence of paramilitary force camp in Faizabad. And they made absolutely no effort to come from there and control the situation. So I did know as soon as these cordons started to collapse.

Sagarika Ghose: And how were they actually doing the demolition because this is a 400-year-old mosque, were they attacking it with their hands, what kind of implements did these karsevak have? How were they setting about the demolition?

Sir Mark Tully: Well I didn't see too much of that because as soon as the demolition really started I had to get away quickly to file a story for the BBC because we wanted to be on air before everyone else. And I had to drive to Faizabad because the telephone lines had been torn down. When I eventually managed to get back in again, that was very difficult, that was when I was arrested by these people and locked up in a temple room. So I didn't see really a great deal of the actual destruction.

Sagarika Ghose: Dibang were you seriously fearful, were you actually scared because this was clearly a mob out of control.

Dibang: You know, initially no; when we saw Pramod hitting these karsevaks back and you knew, you were standing in a group. But then it was a large mob. You know, that is when you felt that something is going to happen here. And you have this sense of fear. And that is when I picked up my tripod and ran away. You know, what Mark is mentioning is that it was interesting that in the morning there were karsevaks everywhere, and at round 8:00 am RSS people came and they removed all the karsevaks. And they were standing with the PSC men. One of the man climbed inside, there was an announcement going which said done go inside, he went inside but was pushed pack. Then couple of other men who tried to enter the mosque were pushed back, and then people started pelting stones. And the PSC men just ran away and the RSS men took over and they were everywhere. And that is when they started hitting journalists. So Pramod and all fought and we were still there but then we realised that it was huge mob and we ran.

Sagarika Ghose: But you ran inside the mosque?

Dibang: That was later. First I went to Sita Ki Rasoi, all the journalists were there, they were guarding the gate and we were inside. We tried to go to the terrace to see if we could take some shots from there, we had a camera, but then they started pelting stone at us. And they said stay inside, come out once the work is done. At that time till we reached Sita Ki Rasoi, we didn't know where we were going because we didn't know where Sita Ki Rasoi was.

Sagarika Ghose: And what was the dominant emotion in the crowd?

Dibang: Anger, frenzy, belligerence.

Sagarika Ghose: Some tweets are coming in. Arthur Christian writes, "It wasn't just the shame of those who destroyed Babri Masjid. It was ours as well who idly stood by and watched."

Tiyasi says, "I remember as I held my 4-year-old tight; she asked a sharp question. Do we have to be afraid of Hindus or Muslims, Mom?"

Pramod when you were being hit by them did you every have the urge to drop your camera and run away, or were you intense that you have to shoot it.

Pramod Pushkarna: No, I have always been a fighter. Though I was scared inside, I tried to save Ludwig and the mob attacked me. There was a small ramp. I ran on that but they pulled me down and started kicking me. Ragu Rai, Pablo and two more photographers they came and pulled me away from the crowd. Then they asked me to run.

Sagarika Ghose: Mark Tully what were the leaders doing? There are these reports Sadhvi Rithambara saying 'ek daka aur do Babri Masjid ko toad do' (give one more push and break the Babri Masjid). There was a report Acharya Dharmendra dancing. There was reports of leaders on stage. Did you see that?

Sir Mark Tully: No, but I did hear those reports, where I was you couldn't see the leaders. I was on a roof above the mosque, where you could look down at what was happening below. And just before I left some people did come up onto that roof and started threatening us. But I was going anyhow because my top priority once I knew that the mosque was being demolished was to get the story out to the BBC.

Sagarika Ghose: Was to get that story out. And the realisation that it was really a big story for a journalist. Was it every inclining on your part Dibang to get swept up in the emotion of the crowd? To join in and say we are also going to throw stones because of that mood.

Dibang: No we were never caught by the thing, none of the journalist were. For us it was a very distant kind of thing because we come from the Northeast and we were watching it; we were quite amazed by the thing. I still remember two slogans, and one of the slogans was 'sare bolo jai shri Ram, Gandhi bolo jai shri Ram', Mullah bolo jai shri Ram'; and another slogan was Ram naam satya hai, Babri Masjid dhuvast hai. So these slogans were there and they were, somebody was shouting on a loudspeaker. And then we went to Sita Ki Rasoi and gathered ourselves.

Sagarika Ghose: So there were no attempt from the leaders to calm the crowd?

Pramod Pushkarna: Not at all, in fact they were on the dais and roof of some house, leaders like LK Advani, Uma Bharti, Sadhvi Rithambara, Acharya Dharmendra, all where there. Even Ashok Singhal ran for his life, and his dhoti opened.

Sagarika Ghose: By goodness there is a touch of black humor. In fact senior journalist Swapan Dasgupta, someone who is sympathetic to the BJP, he was also in Ayodhya. Let us hear fro him

Swapan Dasgupta: I was in Ayodhya on December 6, 1992; throughout the period of demolition I was with the leaders of the VHP and the BJP who had been there on a podium which was actually terrace of a house. So I had a clear view. I think, as various squads went out when all this was happening. There grew a creep realisation that it would be impossible to stop what had begun. It had completely gone out of control; people had taken matters into their own hands. So I think from there to the time around 4.30 pm when the second dome collapsed, I think, that moved bewilderment, turned into a celebratory moment when people like Sadhvi Rithambara took over the microphone and started to say 'ek dhaka aur do' and the entire crowd swayed. It was a site to see how around 2.5 lakh people rhythmically swinging to her chant and about 4.45 pm the third dome collapsed in a red smoke.

Sagarika Ghose: 2.5 lakh people swung to rhythmically chant of 'ek dhaka aur do Babri Masjid ko toad do' by Sadhvi Rithambara. Pramod Pushkarna you were telling me that it was a well planned exercise. And how they were demolishing.

Pramod Pushkarna: Yes, first they attacked the column from the bottom, one by one.

Sagarika Ghose: With what?

Pramod Pushkarna: With hammers. They then tied ropes with the column and pulled it down. And when they pulled the columns, because of the force the dome also came down. So one by one all the columns were broken from the base, otherwise it is very difficult to bring down the dome.

Sagarika Ghose: And you were also saying that a lady journalist was manhandled?

Pramod Pushkarna: Yeah, her clothes were torn off.

Sagarika Ghose: Then how was she saved?

Pramod Pushkarna: She was saved by the journalists. She was literally pushed under the dais and then we closed the door to save her.

Sagarika Ghose: And the mob came at the night to a hotel where the journalists were staying.

Pramod Pushkarna: To set the hotel on fire because they didn't want any witness, any proof.

Sagarika Ghose: They didn't want any witness and here you are, three of you are witnesses. Dibang they had hammers, and what else?

Dibang: That had hammers, they had crossbars, and you know, they had those little anchors of boats. They had iron rods, they had come prepared. After staying at Sita Ki Rasoi for an hour, Vijay and I said let's go there. So we tied those saffron headbands and we actually went inside the dome, there was dust all around. These people were hammering away the columns as Pramod has described. You know, there was this absolute mad energy and things were falling from the roof. Some people were running away with things that were inside.

Sagarika Ghose: So, as Pramod was saying, it was well planned?

Dibang: It was well planned. And we were inside for an hour, till the first dome started to fall and that is when we ran from there. There was loud cheer; we sat outside till the three domes came down. But it was very well planned; there was a stretcher to take away the injured. There was an ambulance to take away the injured to the hospital. It was planned to that detail.

Sagarika Ghose: Mark Tully what was the nature of the crowd? Where were these people from, these 2.5 lakh people? When you spoke to the members of the crowd, were they from UP, Maharashtra...?

Sir Mark Tully: No they came from lot of different places. There were lot of them from Maharashtra, I remember lot of them from UP and Bihar as well. And they were young men, I spoke to. And they were very, very hardline, I spoke to some of them a day before this happened. And they were very hardline Hindutva people and very hardline VHP people. Some of them were also from Shiv Sena. And it was quite clear that they wanted to pull the mosque down, but it was not clear whether they would be able to do that.

Sagarika Ghose: Let's check some of the tweets we are getting. Vikas Mahendra writes, "Babri Masjid is a non issue now for young India. Good to see that India has moved on...people are thinking rationally."

That is it on Face The Nation on these eyewitness accounts of three eyewitnesses. Pramod Pushkarna, who was there; Dibang, who was there; Sir Mark Tully, who was there, reporting on the Babri Masjid demolition. Thank you very much indeed for joining us.

Here is a point for you to ponder on. Think about it.

The demolition of the Babri Masjid is a reminder of what we must never allow again in India. No place of worship of any religion must be allowed to be attacked by a destructive mob. Let December 6 never be repeated.