More than Ram temple, people of Ashapur seeking progress and jobs
People at ground zero of the Ayodhya riots want development rather than religious politics
ASHAPUR (AYODHYA): Shiv Pujan Yadav, the gram pradhan of Ashapur, was born a year after the then Mulayam Singh Yadav government ordered police firing on kar sevaks at Ayodhya in October 1990.
When the Babri mosque was demolished, paving the way for a makeshift temple to come up on the spot, Shiv Pujan was just over a year old. The demolition led to communal riots across the country, killing almost 2,000 people and deepening a communal divide that India is yet to overcome.
But despite the fact that Ashapur is almost located on ground zero, just three kilometres from the disputed site, Shiv Pujan isn’t burdened by the past. “I haven’t visited the ‘temple’ even once. I am a believer who would like a temple to come up, but let’s leave it at that. As a young educated citizen, I believe in picking vikas (progress) over aastha (faith),” he says as his 52-year-old father, Sahaj Ram, smiles.
Not surprisingly, chief minister Akhilesh Yadav’s smartphone offer is more of a talking point in the village than Mulayam Singh Yadav and his politics of the 90s. The 15 laptops in the village, dominated mostly by Dalits and OBCS, outnumber its lone temple and two mosques.
Nineteen-year-old Uma Devi, a BA final-year student who goes to study at a college 10 kilometres away, says young girls of the village are also inspired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’ scheme. “Modiji may be a politician, but he comes across as somebody really interested in changing the country’s landscape,” she adds.
Even illiterate women in the village, such as the elderly Dularmati, swear by the benefits of development. “I am an angootha chaap, someone who can’t even sign. But if you ask me to pick between rozgaar (employment) for my sons or a temple, I would readily pick the former,” she says.
But it’s not as if the Ram temple issue doesn’t concern the residents of Ashapur. In fact, they recall it with a sense of disappointment. “For years, our politicians have been promising us the Ram temple. But these talks resurface only during the elections. One feels cheated. So many lives were lost for the cause,” says Sahaj Ram.
However, the winds of change are blowing. “There was a time when popular Hindu sentiment was guided by the sole desire of seeing a temple at our lord’s birthplace. Things are not the same now. The youth have moved on,” says Ganga Ram, a 62-year-old labourer.
The temple movement of the 90s had united Hindus – especially the OBCS and the Dalits – like never before. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh is trying to effect a repeat performance ahead of the 2017 Uttar Pradesh polls, but Ashapur residents feel the caste barriers are too strong to break this time around. “I hope they eventually evaporate. They must. But right now, all this talk of Hindu unity is politically driven,” says an elderly man.
Even Shiv Pujan, who starts his day with a prayer, believes that the “temple is an issue outside the temple town”.
Villagers say Ashapur is most likely to witness a Samajwadi Party versus Bharatiya Janata Party battle in the Uttar Pradesh elections, and development – rather than divisive issues – is the plank on which it would be fought.
The temple movement of the ’90s had united Hindus — especially the OBCS and Dalits — like never before. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh is trying to effect a repeat performance ahead of the 2017 UP polls.