When activist and documentary filmmaker Ruchira Gupta saw the first dome of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya come down just after noon on 6 December 1992, she knew she had to go inside the dispute site.
At 24, Gupta was reporting for Business India from Ayodhya. Many journalists thought the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Bajrang Dal cadre would only perform a ‘symbolic’ kar seva at the disputed site they believed was the ‘Ram Janmabhoomi’. Gupta had to go see for herself what was happening on the ground instead of relying on secondary sources.
Recalling the series of events that followed, in which she was sexually assaulted, at a talk organised by The Wire on the 25th anniversary of the demolition of the Babri Masjid, Gupta said she had to speak up.
“I decided to walk inside the middle door. I was wearing jeans and a loose shirt, and I put a wet handkerchief on my head and walked inside. The dome was very crowded. They were shouting, wearing orange bands on their heads and waists, and some even had pickaxes. They were in a frenzy,” recalls Gupta.
When I went in, I tried to squeeze between the people to reach the spot. The BJP activists had told me there was a ‘garbha gruha’ and a statue of infant Ram at the disputed site. Obviously, I did not look like the others around me. I was the only female in jeans and shirt, so anyway they were very uncomfortable when I tried to push in. One of the men said, ‘She must be Muslim.’ Suddenly everyone started saying ‘Muslim! Muslim!’ and hands began to reach out to strangle me.Ruchira Gupta, activist and documentary filmmaker
“And while I was split seconds away from death, I could not even get words out of my mouth to say who I was. Strangers’ hands were reaching out and poking my breasts, pinching my waist, trying to touch every private part of mine while I was dying. And I was thinking, ‘If I have to die, does it have to be this way?’” she recalls.
“One person said, ‘Let’s not kill her inside, let’s take her to the trench outside.’ Perhaps they wanted to do more sexually, because they pulled me out of the mosque.”
While these men were trying to attack me, my shirt had come out by then. Suddenly, a man from Bihar, who I had interviewed the day before, came to rescue me. He said, ‘No, she’s a journalist, she’s from Bihar. I know her, she’s from my neighbouring village, she’s a Hindu.’ They hit the man on the head – he was bleeding, his leg was broken – but he rescued me.Ruchira Gupta
Gupta says she went straight to Lal Krishna Advani, who, along with other BJP leaders, was present on the terrace of a house that offered a clear view of what was going on outside.
I went to him and said, ‘Advaniji, can you ask your people to announce on the mic not to attack journalists, not to attack women.’ I told him I was sexually assaulted. He said, ‘Forget whatever has happened to you. This is such a historic day, celebrate. Here, eat something sweet.’Ruchira Gupta, activist and documentary filmmaker
Gupta finally got help from a woman constable who escorted her to a car. “I drove straight to Delhi, but I was determined to testify in the Bahari Tribunal, the Liberhan Commission of Inquiry, the Press Council,” she recalls.
“I was always attacked by a battery of lawyers from the Bajrang Dal, from the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, and, of course, the BJP. And the kind of questions they would ask me was – ‘where are your scratch marks’, ‘you must’ve done it for publicity’, ‘do you act in TV serials’, ‘do you smoke?’, ‘do you believe in God?’, ‘are there any photos of God in your house?’, ‘you say your shirt had come off, in that condition, you, a girl from a good family, went to a big leader like LK Advani in that disheveled state?.’”
“So, I told them, the shame was not mine. The shame was theirs, because they were the perpetrators and he was the leader of the perpetrators,” she says.
But, the intimidation did not end even after her testimony was recorded.
When they realised they could not intimidate me, they started spreading rumours about me among my friends and people who did not know me well in Delhi. People would ask me – ‘Do you have a lot of boyfriends?’, ‘do you live with men openly’, ‘do you love publicity?’, ‘your stories are not well researched’, ‘there are mistakes in your stories’.Ruchira Gupta
“They tried to damage my credibility as a human being. When they could not do that, they actually began to stalk me, instil fear in me; they vandalised my car, they used to write, ‘F*** you’ on my article and leave it around, and I would find it. They would follow me from one office to the other in Connaught Place in Delhi; they would stand outside my home, they would call me and breathe heavily into the phone. But, I still didn’t get intimidated because once I took a stand and spoke up, actually, I got rid of the fear,” says Gupta.