As the anniversary of one of Independent India’s worst communal conflagrations approaches, let’s take a stroll through Ayodhya, its epic past and it very real present.
Image Courtesy: The Week
Once Upon a Time in AyodhyaAccording to the epic Ramayana, many, many years ago… in a kingdom by a mighty river, there lived a great king named Dashrath, who had four valiant sons. Ram, the oldest son, was believed to be an avatar of the Great Vishnu himself, for he was brave, noble, just, fair and loyal. He was so devoted to his family, that he willingly spent over a decade living in the forest to please his father and step mother. He was the maryada purushottam and therefore hailed as divine.
As is customary, legend and folklore copulated to produce a powerful and inspirational hero that the masses have looked upto and prayed to for wisdom, health and wealth for centuries. So far, so good… right? Trouble began when people started shedding blood in the name of this God-King and justified it by saying others had slain his followers and demolished a temple at the spot of his birth to erect a shrine of another religion… one that was associated with ‘blood thirsty’ and ‘savage’ invaders… the ‘outsiders’… the ‘others’.
Today centuries after the invasion when people from all communities, cultures, ethnicities have seemingly assimilated under the common ‘Indian’ identity, the promised temple at Ram Janm Bhoomi and the now demolished Babri Mosque, still figure prominently in shaping the narrative at Ayodhya. Interestingly, Ayodhya, a compound word formed by joining ‘a’ meaning ‘without’ and ‘yudh’ meaning ‘war’ became a city synonymous with the genesis of one of the most chilling communal conflicts in the entire history of India!
But let’s step away from the hate, the dust and debris, the bloodlust and the scars of history. Let’s take a look at modern day Ayodhya.
Twitter Image: Kaushal Vidyarthee
DemographicsAccording to data from the 2011 Census, Ayodhya today is a city of over 55,000 people. It has an abysmal sex ratio though. There are just 763 females per 1000 males. This is well below the UP state average of 912 females per 1000 males. According to Census data, over 93 percent of the population is Hindu while 6 percent are Muslims. However, 40 percent of the population, that belongs to communities engaged in fishing, shoe-making and other blue collar jobs, identifies as Dalit or Bahujan.
EconomyThe economy of Ayodhya is largely dependent on tourism as it is home to the Hanuman Garhi Fort, Nageshwarnath Temple, Janki Mahal, Tulsi Chaura and many other places of interest associated with the Ramayan. Ayodhya also has special significance among Budddhists and Jains and is home to many sites of religious significance from these cultures as well. Ayodhya is infact said to be the birthplace of five Jain Tirthankaras including the first, Sri Rishab Dev. The city is referred to as Saket in Buddhist texts. This is why it draws tourists from across religious lines.
Many people run small businesses related to tourism, such as shops selling religious texts, idols and trinkets, or run small grocery stores and corner shops, eateries and small private firms. There is also a thriving quilt selling business where local shopkeepers purchase shreds left behind on the floors of quilt making industries in adjoining districts and then manufacture patchwork quilts that are bought and used by tourists. Many youngsters also drive auto-rickshaws to ferry tourists from one spot to another.
There are cottage industries dedicated to making khadau or wooden slippers that are fashioned along the design Lord Ram was said to have sported and then discarded when his younger brother Bharat asked him for his footwear so he could reign in his stead while Ram, Lakshman and Sita completed their vanvas. Interestingly, it is Muslim artisans who manufacture these khadaus. Many other people are engaged in horticulture and garland making as the holy city has a high daily consumption of such items. Seasonal agriculture is practiced along the river Saryu on the outskirts of the city.
EducationLiteracy rates are high in Ayodhya. While men score over 83 percent, women are not too far behind with a tally of over 71 percent. Ayodhya has five colleges and universities that are popular with students who want to pursue higher education in Sanskrit. However, due to high unemployment in Ayodhya, most graduates leave Ayodhya for greener pastures in neighbouring districts where most of them end up in teaching jobs.
As the Supreme Court deliberates on the Ram Janm Bhoomi – Babri Masjid dispute in the days to come, and political forces vie to keep the communal pot boiling, perhaps the answers to city’s future and the key to peace in the region, lies in the hands of the Millennials of Ayodhya.
1. Ayodhya Dispute: Supremacy of Constitution or Faith?