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Historian, alum Yaqoob Bangash discusses fallout of Babri Mosque demolition

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the partition of India, the bloody division of the Indian subcontinent upon the withdrawal of British Crown rule. Millions were displaced and hundreds of thousands died in the process of separating India and Pakistan.

Partition is not the only anniversary in South Asian history remembered this year. Yaqoob Khan Bangash, ‘04, a historian currently at Harvard University as a Fulbright fellow with the Mittal Institute, returned to Notre Dame to give a lecture titled “Completing Partition: Lahore and the aftermath of the Babri Mosque demolition.”

The Babri Mosque in the city of Ayodhya, India, a place of worship dating back to the early Mughal empire in the 16th century, was torn down by a mob of Hindu nationalists in 1992 based on their claims that the mosque was built at the birthplace of the deity Ram.

A story on the front page of the New York Times described the event the next day. 

“A screaming mob of thousands of Hindu militants stormed a 16th-century mosque here today and demolished it with sledgehammers and their bare hands, plunging India into a political and religious crisis,” reporter Edward Gargan wrote.

In 2019, India’s Supreme Court ordered that the land the mosque was on be handed over to a trust to build the Hindu temple.

In an event sponsored by the Liu Institute’s South Asia Group, Bangash discussed his ongoing research work around the fallout, not simply on the domestic stage, but in neighboring Pakistan following the mosque’s razing. 

Global affairs professor Susan Ostermann described the topic of the event as “both historical and timely.”

Bangash began his career as an undergraduate in Notre Dame’s history department, “at a time when there were no South Asia scholars on campus,” Ostermann said. 

Bangash comes originally from the city of Lahore, the Pakistani city that serves as the focus of the research project. Lahore, once a powerhouse city under the Mughal empire and the capital of the short-lived Sikh empire, was quite diverse before the partition, which was an anomaly, according to Bangash. 

Bangash spoke to the persistent religious and communal tensions that undergirded the partition and birthed the Muslim country of Pakistan.

“In some senses, the title [of the talk] isn’t accurate because it refers to a completed partition. It’s still not complete to some extent,” he said.

Bangash showed some of the newspaper records he had engaged, painting a picture in Lahore of outrage in response to the Babri Mosque’s demolition. 

One by one, he went through Hindu temples in Lahore that were razed or damaged in response to the demolition in Ayodhya. 

“The government was extremely complicit in what was happening in Lahore at that time,” Bangash said. He referred to the instance of a temple that was burned in a business district, mere yards away from a fire brigade that did not mobilize.

Bangash said in some ways the 1992 tensions were an attempt to bring resolution to the partition 45 years earlier.

“[People were saying] ‘Don’t you think this had to be done?’ What they meant was that you know, partition happened more than 40 years ago, what are Hindu temples doing in Lahore any longer? This just had to be done, we have to bring an end to partition,” Bangash said. “For a lot of them, the idea was to remove Hindu presence from Lahore to end partition, you know, to actually say that, ‘This has happened. This is now a Muslim city, Muslims have claimed it and therefore the Hindu imprint on this has to be removed.’”

Near the end of his lecture, Bangash showed the video of an 86-year-old speaking to an interviewer behind the camera. The woman had fled India due to partition and had been housed in a repurposed Hindu temple, along with many other families. 

“The temples that remain in Lahore, they remain because all of them are now housed by Muslim migrants from India from 1947,” he said. “Imagine that they were escaping Hindus but now they actually live in a Hindu temple.”

Bangash closed with a note on the reverberating traumas of partition, as well as the Babri Mosque’s demolition.

“All of this is connected in some ways with the partition. So I am saying that 30 years of of the Babri mosque destruction was just not that Babri Mosque,” he said. “There is a whole history, not just in India, that people are looking into but there’s a whole history in Pakistan, and specifically as I’ve shown in Lahore, of how that connected the past to the present.”

Contact Isa Sheikh at isheikh@nd.edu.

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