Parag Lal Yadav has lost much of his strength to age and diabetes, but the horrors of the day when his brawn was put to test are still fresh in his mind. The news of the Babri Masjid demolition was spreading quickly and by evening on December 6, 1992, a mob started attacking Muslim homes in nearby localities of Rajghat, Meerapur Bulandi and Dorahi Kuan.

In Meerapur, off the bank of River Saryu, where Yadav lives, a mob armed with sticks and kerosene attacked Muslim homes. While much of the Muslim population in the town had escaped a week prior to the Babri demolition, at least a dozen persons were killed, most of them burnt to death. Locals narrate how the mob was coercing them to identify Muslim homes. And, while many did in panic and confusion, some like Yadav risked their lives to protect their fear-stricken brethren.

“We formed a shield. One of the attackers even tore my beard, initially thinking that I was a Muslim. But we didn’t let them enter the house. It was my duty to protect my neighbours,” says the 64-year-old former pahalwan.

Among the many lives Parag Lal and his family saved on December 6 and 7, was the physically challenged young woman Razia. Even today, she has much difficulty walking with a stick. Her NGO-funded wheelchair is no longer functional. But she’s happy just to be alive.

“I am alive today only because of them. The mob was attacking us, setting people on fire and looting our homes. Our home was razed. Even the taps were not spared,” she says.

“A man living across this street was put into a bag of hay and burnt alive. He was a prosperous and amiable man. Sadly, we couldn’t save him,” adds Ajay Yadav, Parag Lal’s elder son.

“But we did manage to save the four-year-old son of Ramzaan Ali. His wife and he managed to escape into our house, but in the confusion, dropped their child. The mob came soon after and was about to throw the child into the fire. But I claimed the child as mine and saved him,” Ajay says. Locals say that during the arson and looting, some Muslim homes were marked. Subash Shajan, 44, clearly remembers that a man in police uniform accompanied the mob. “Everyone was a karsevak those couple of days,” he says. The BJP worker narrates how he convinced the mob to spare the lives of his Muslim neighbours. “I have no regrets. I would save them again.”

Marks of terror

Waliullah, 72, is grateful to the ‘Hindu doctor’ who gave him and his family shelter. As he irons clothes in his shop, he gently nods towards the cracks and marks on his wall and ceiling. “These will not let us forget the terror,” he says. While the Yadav family, Shajan and others faced some form of social rejection for saving Muslims, they say, they had anticipated worse. However, they say the curfew saved them, before the mob could return for the third day.

Among the leading Vishwa Hindu Parishad figures from Ayodhya to raise the issue of Ram Mandir was Yugal Kishore Shastri. The former Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh pracharak, who left the Sangh Parivar in 1986, describes the day as one of anomie.

“My temple-home was surrounded and attacked because I gave shelter to about 50 people, including some female journalists. The late Gandhian activist Nirmala Deshpande was also among them.”

Hashim Ansari, the oldest litigant in the Babri Masjid case, says he has finally given up hope. “I will not fight for Babri Masjid anymore. Justice, for the victims, would have come a long time ago, if it had to. By the time the Supreme Court decides anything, I may not be alive.”

Ansari now intends to raise his voice for reservation of Muslims. “We want peace now. What has fighting over a few acres of land given us?” he asks.

Four security guards keep a close watch on things around him round the clock. But Ansari does not fear any common man. “These guards were given to me by the District Magistrate in 1992. But I am not under threat by any Hindu or Muslim. I fear the administration, the political parties. Hindus and Muslims need to fight political exploitation of the issue,” he says.

Acharya Satyendra Das, the head priest of Ram Janmabhoomi, agrees that only those who expect to benefit from the dispute are keeping the issue alive.

“The order of the Supreme court will be followed. In general, the Hindus and Muslims share an amicable relationship in Ayodhya. The only positive of the dispute is that in the last two decades the flow of pilgrims has increased multiple times. It has made people curious.”