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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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Tri-campus Thursday: South Asia Group brings interdisciplinary scholars together

Students and faculty members gathered over samosas and steaming cups of chai in 2148 Jenkins and Nanovic Halls on Wednesday for the South Asia Group’s first event this semester. The South Asia Group is an interdisciplinary group of faculty, scholars and students at Notre Dame whose work relates to the region that includes Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. 

At the event, professors and students engaged in free-flowing conversations ranging from nationalistic propaganda in India to handicraft artisans in Nepal. 

Susan Ostermann, assistant professor of global affairs and political science for the Keough School of Global Affairs, founded the South Asia Group in 2017 with professors Nikhil Menon, Lakshmi Iyer and Amitava Dutt. Menon and Iyer were new to the University at the time, while Dutt has been at Notre Dame since 1988.

“There were enough of us working on South Asia but in different fields, and almost all of us had been accustomed to being at universities that had a larger community within our fields. I was hired to teach South Asian politics because nobody was doing it, so I was not expecting a community here, but in the spirit of the Keough School … we thought interdisciplinary work had a real place,” Ostermann said.  

The group’s events are funded by the Liu Institute for Asia and Asian Studies.

“Even though the Institute was envisioned as a place that focuses on East Asia, Michel Hockx who runs it is very inclusive,” Ostermann said.

The South Asia Group typically meets four times a semester.

“After the pandemic, it was a little bit challenging to get people to remember we existed, and so we started doing the chai and samosa events to draw people in. It was so enjoyable that we continued doing it just because it brings everybody together,” Ostermann said.

According to the Liu Institute’s website, the group will be hosting two guest speakers this semester, including Yaqoob Bangash, a Notre Dame alumnus and Fulbright fellow at the Mittal Institute at Harvard University. Bangash will speak about the emergence of Pakistan as a postcolonial state. The group also plans to have an event later this semester for students to present their work related to South Asia.

Students can also get involved through taking courses and research assistance through channels like the Kellogg International Scholars Program or independently, Ostermann said.

“We have a lot of relatively young faculty [working on South Asia] so all of us have a very active research agenda … just email us,” she said. 

Ostermann and Iyer are also organizing a conference related to issues of democracy rights and development in May 2023.

“In 2019 we held a conference at the Keough School’s [Washington] D.C. office that put Notre Dame academics in dialogue with policymakers and academics from elsewhere. The topic was religion, development and South Asia at the time,” Ostermann said.

The upcoming conference will be held in Washington D.C. again, but will be livestreamed so it is accessible to the broader campus community.

Mahan Mirza, executive director of the Ansari Institute for Global Engagement with Religion, participated in the 2019 conference.

“At that point I was working on advancing scientific and theological literacy among madrasa graduates in India and Pakistan with Ebrahim Moosa, and the conference was fantastic,” Mirza said. 

As an Islamic studies scholar, Mirza and members of the Ansari Institute often do projects in collaboration with the South Asia Group through the Liu Institute. Mirza is glad the group is increasing awareness about the region.

“Whenever the chai and samosa events get announced, you’ve even got people coming from the architecture school and Mendoza and it’s generated really interesting conversations,” Mirza said.

Prithvi Iyer, a member of the class of 2023 Master of Global Affairs (MGA) cohort who attended the event, got involved with the South Asia Group in March.

“Last semester the hijab row in India was pretty strong … given the amount of talk at Notre Dame about laïcité secularism and the burqa ban in France … not much was being done in the South Asian context,” Prithvi said.

Prithvi organized a panel about India’s hijab row featuring Nabeela Jamil, an attorney practicing in the Supreme Court of India, Notre Dame professor Julia Kowalski and journalist Fatima Khan to discuss the issue and its parallels with religious freedom in the West. 

Prithvi also attended the group’s chai and samosa gatherings last semester, where he was able to meet other graduate students and faculty members with similar research interests. 

Prithvi hopes the South Asia Group will make the University a place where community members critically engage with discourse about South Asia.

“[Indian Prime Minister] Narendra Modi’s rise in the context of rising autocracies in the world is a very important case study, not because he’s Indian, or because I’m Indian … but because 1.3 billion people somehow gave the largest political mandate … as a product of democracy, to a leader like him,” Prithvi said. “These are important questions that shouldn’t be thought of purely geographically as being a South Asian problem. These are questions that have enormous significance, like the way we think about the West.”

Contact Angela Mathew at amathew3@nd.edu.