A black and white photograph of the Babri Masjid dating back to the early 1900s, a poster of his late father Hashim Ansari, who was a main litigant in the Babri Masjid-Ramjanmabhoomi case, and another of a mosque frame his living room -- and a “brotherhood is intact” world view.
Iqbal Ansari, one of the main litigants in the Ayodhya case, shuffles a bunch of wedding cards and proudly says that five are invites for a “shaadi” and two for a “nikaah”, signs that a syncretic India is flourishing in times of communal unease. A black and white photograph of the Babri Masjid dating back to the early 1900s, a poster of his late father Hashim Ansari, who was a main litigant in the Babri Masjid-Ramjanmabhoomi case, and another of a mosque frame his living room — and a “brotherhood is intact” world view.
All the wedding invitations, he said, came to him after the Supreme Court settled the more than a century old Ayodhya case by backing a Ram temple in the disputed site and ruled that an alternative site for a mosque should be found for a mosque. “I am going to attend all these marriage functions. Five ‘shaadi’ and two ‘nikah’. My family has known them very well,” Ansari said.
The 53-year-old “inherited” the case from his father, who died in 2016 in his late 90s. But that has made no difference to the fabric of unity in the town, he said. Each of the cards is addressed to ‘Iqbal Ansari and family’, he said, displaying them all. “Most people will assume that after this dispute or after this verdict, Hindus and Muslims will stop interacting with each other. But this is Ayodhya. We may have legal issues, but our brotherhood is still intact,” Ansari said, waving at neighbours passing by in front of his house.
The Babri Masjid, he said, would still have been standing if an army of ‘kar sevaks’ had not flooded Ayodhya in 1992. “Hindus and Muslims here may even verbally curse each other over some issues, but they will eat and celebrate together nonetheless,” Ansari said. Stepping out of home in Muslim-dominated Kotia Panjitola, he walks to his favourite tea stall, tailed by a gunman who is part of the security provided to him by the district police.
On the way, he is greeted by many Hindus, some clad in saffron and turbans printed with ‘Jai Shri Ram’.
One of them is Gopal Pandey, 60, who stops to shake hands with Ansari. “We (Hindus and Muslims) may be having a debate here for decades over Ram temple and Babri Masjid, but love and amity among people dues not get compromised because of that,” Pandey said. “This love has been there since time immemorial, not just yesterday. It symbolises the ‘Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb’ of the Awadh region,” he added. At the tea stall, Ansari gets a cup of tea from Babu Ram, who is now 60 and also served Hashim Ansari whenever he stopped by, sometimes after attending hearings in court in the Ayodhya case.
The tradition of amity in a town that has long been the centre of communal polarisation is an old one. Many locals, both Hindus and Muslims, remember Hashim Ansari and Mahant Ramchandradas Paramhans, the chief of the Ramjanmabhoomi Nyas, share a tonga to the Faizabad court.
Paramhans also died a few years ago, but the unlikely friendship between the two is the stuff of legend.
Ayodhya has been on high alert since the evening of November 8, the day before the verdict, but no untoward incident has been reported from the district. According to Ayodhya District Magistrate Anuj Jha, people of both Ayodhya and Faizabad towns have “very peacefully and maturely reacted to the Supreme Court verdict which we had expected”. “And if people outside can take the message of Ayodhya, nothing untoward will happen anywhere else in the country in the wake of the judgement,” he told PTI.
The dispute over the site of Babri Masjid, a three-domed mosque built by or at the behest of Mughal emperor Babur in 1528, dates back centuries with Hindus contending that the invading Muslim armies had razed an existing Ram temple to erect the mosque, a claim rejected by Muslims. On December 6, 1992, the mosque was demolished after a frenzied mob of ‘kar sevaks’ gathered in Ayodhya, triggering communal violence in many parts of the country.