The Babri Project

    In generating ideas for this project, I struggled with attaining the primary focus of my project. I knew there was a lingering question that was buried beneath me, a question regarding conflict. Not my own conflict, but a conflict that is embedded in every Pakistani and every Indian family that lives today. After spending some time investigating the artist Saeed Akhtar, I mistakenly came across a different man, Saeed Akhtar Mirza, an Indian filmmaker. His movie Naseem which came out in 1995 won a National Film Award for Best Screenplay for very significant reasons, primarily because the movie was an epitaph of the Babri Masjid demolition. The movie is centered around a fragile relationship between a fifteen year-old girl and her grandfather and is used as a vehicle to explore the socio-political tensions between Hindus and Muslims in 1992 that culminated in the demolition of the masjid and was responsible for inciting mass violence and murder. The grandfather is a symbol of the past harmony between Hindus and Muslims, whereas Naseem (meaning morning breeze in Hindi) symbolizes a tragic dawn of age that indicatively shifts the dynamic between these two religious groups to something much darker.

What is most interesting to note regarding this issue is that the Babri Masjid’s demolition occurred 25 years ago in 1992, but has not been investigated until this year, 2017. Since this event, the social fabric of both Pakistan’s and India’s Constitutions have been significantly affected, which has contributed to changes in responses to this event. Although the event occurred in India, this event heavily portrays the hatred and bigotry between Hindus and Muslims, a very tangible hatred that coexists between Pakistan and India. Since I was originally going to focus on Saeed Akhtar as the artist, I wanted to know what most Pakistani and Indian responses are with relation to this event. For example, are there any noticeable tensions that we see reflected in their creative work as either a direct or indirect response to this monumental event that has remained under wraps? How does their representation of society through their works give us evidence of any social problems that have arisen because of this event? Are there any works of art related to this event that can provide current social attitudes toward this event and its resurfacing? Is there hope for a reconciliation between the two groups?

These are merely a few questions that I’m still working on, but in order to answer these questions I want to know how the majority of artists respond to violence in general. Artistic responses vary widely in how subtle or how bold they may be. From observing Saeed Akhtar’s work, he has tendencies to singularly portray peaceful settings and heavenly subjects. However, he can be a guide to understanding the deeper meaning of beauty that relies heavily on Indian (predominantly Hindu) culture instead of Pakistani (predominantly Muslim) culture. While there is no glory in violence, there is glory in beauty which can give an understanding of the more subtle end of artists’ yearn for peace and harmony. Other responses such as Saeed Akhtar Mirza’s film can give more obvious clues and explanations to the backstory. There was actually an exhibition in 2013 titled “Hum Sab Ayodha” that acknowledges the fact that there was a time where Hindus and Muslims lived in a congenial atmosphere which includes copious information including Mahatma Gandhi’s letters and documents, etc. I will also be keeping up on current news regarding the trial of the event; it’s incredible that an event like this is being granted a trial after 25 years. I hope that through studying art, I can gauge how closer Muslims and Hindus can be to a state of embracing one another instead of harboring fear and hatred toward each other.