The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Identity crisis plagues Ayodhya teens

Ayodhya, Dec. 6: One question has haunted 18-year-old Zeba every day for 10 years: “What should I do to prove that I am an Indian'”

Just home from school on December 6, 1992, Zeba had plonked her books and headed upstairs to watch television when her father, a senior civil servant in the Uttar Pradesh government, returned unexpectedly to announce: “They have demolished Babri Masjid… Now all hell will break loose.”

Zeba looks back at the decade after the demolition with unease. “At that time I didn’t know how it will change my entire outlook,” says the teenager.

With her eyes set on the IITs after she finishes school this year and with America “the next best thing to home”, Zeba has nothing in common with Ishrat Jameel, a school dropout who works in a roadside dhaba. Nothing, except an identity crisis that binds Muslim teenagers.

Jameel lost his family in the riots that followed the Babri demolition. Growing up in the dusty bylanes of Sambhal, a historic Mughal town, the past 10 years have been rough.

Mandir masjid to woh jaane jinka pet bhara ho. Hamen to rozi roti chahiye. (Those with a full stomach can think of the temple-mosque dispute. We want employment),” says Jameel.

But the unconcern gives way to anger when the teenager is asked to relive the post-Babri decade.

“Every day we are reminded that Muslims are second-grade citizens. We have to accept whatever the Hindus give us or leave for Pakistan,” he says, seething.

“We want to forgive and forget. But we are constantly reminded of it,” stresses Muhammad Rafi, 19 and a resident of Katra Mohalla in Ayodhya.

Rafi’s family left the town with hundreds of others after the demolition and returned two years ago to find that the ghost of the felled mosque still haunts Ayodhya.

“Things are as normal here as one can expect. But it’s not the Hindus of Ayodhya that we are afraid of. It’s the frequent invasions of the saffron brigade goons that keep us on tenterhooks,” he says. “Every time they come, they abuse us and we have to listen,” Rafi adds, eyes flashing.

Most Muslims teenagers say they want to forget the Babri demolition. “But the Sangh parivar won’t let us do that,” says Saifuddin, a student of Lucknow's famous Dar-ul Uloom Uadwatul Ulama.

What this theology student objects to is the tendency to equate Islam with terrorism and project every Indian Muslim as a Pakistani agent. Disturbed by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s bland assertion that more temples are on the militants’ hit list, he asks: “Have the terrorists not attacked mosques'”

Zuber, an engineering student, also has unanswered questions. “Why was it pulled down if it was not a mosque and did not pose a threat to the religious freedom of Hindus'” he asks.

“The only thing scarier than the questions that can’t be answered are the answers that can’t be avoided,” Zuber says, admitting that the growing alienation of the Indian Muslim youth has led to a proliferation of militant organisations.

Muslim youths are angry, confirms Shafiqur Rehman, an Aligarh Muslim University undergraduate. “When a Togadia or Singhal spews venom, it may make some of us look up to Osama bin Laden as a champion of downtrodden Muslims,” he warns.

What agitates the Indian Muslim youth most is the attempt to link them to Pakistan.

“Those who wanted Pakistan have already gone there. Others, who wished to go but could not, have died. We were born in free India and have nothing to do with Pakistan,” says 18-year-old Rehana, a student of political science in Lucknow University.

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