The congregation of right-wing activists in Ayodhya for Vishwa Hindu Parishad's mega event for construction of Ram temple has triggered the painful memories of the 1992 tragedy among many residents, with a few Muslim families temporarily leaving the town fearing for their safety.
Some Muslim families had left the pilgrim town for good after the large-scale violence that had erupted here post the demolition of the 16th-century Babri Mosque 26 years ago on December 6, and now many others have temporarily left their homes, say local residents.
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Despite high security deployment in Ayodhya and the twin town of Faizabad, many families from minority communities have decided to move out, feeling uncomfortable amid the "din and provocative speeches" surrounding the VHP's 'Dharma Sabha' that is being touted as the largest congregation of "Ram bhakts" in Ayodhya since the 1992 'kar seva', they said.
The memories of 1992 still haunts many people from both the communities who had directly or indirectly suffered in the violence that had erupted after the Mughal-era mosque was razed by a frenzied army of 'kar sewaks' (right-wing activists).
The VHP has claimed that three lakh people, including seers, will attend its 'Dharma Sabha', to be held at Bade Bhakt Mal Ki Baghia, not far from the controversial Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas-run workshop, where work for building a temple has been underway since 1990.
An uneasy calm prevailed in Muslim-dominated areas such as Dharam Kanta, Qaziana and Katra.
"I live here and, many of my Muslim neighbours, who were here till a few days ago, have now left, either to their relatives' places nearby or temporarily shifted to elsewhere, out of Ayodhya," Nisha said, pointing to a locked house in her neighbourhood in the heart of the city.
The situation is similar in Saidwada and Begumpura, and many members of the minority community, who have not left the town, also said that they were feeling a "sense of unease" seeing so many outsiders whipping up communal frenzy in Ayodhya.
Mohammed Azim, a 46-year-old auto-driver in the city, who bore the brunt of the 1992 tragedy, said, "The communally-charged atmosphere in Ayodhya is reminding me of the painful memories of the tragedy and the violence that had ensued".
"Residents of Ayodhya have always lived in peace, and even after the unfortunate Babri demolition episode, people from both communities are still trying to have an atmosphere of peace. But, then these outsider come to our town and vitiate the atmosphere. So, many have decided to move out temporarily," he said.
Mohammed Muslim, 78, who now drives an e-rickshaw, gets perturbed talking about the 1992 incident, and wished, "Politicians and Hindu-outfits would not whip up communal frenzy. We were unsafe then, and today also we feel insecure with so much of crowd in our town."
The streets of Ayodhya Sunday were filled with right-wing activists, many bearing saffron flags, who have poured in from various parts of the county for the VHP grand event to push for construction of a Ram temple here, even as Ayodhya has virtually been turned into a fortress to ensure fool-proof security.
Chants of "Jai Shri Ram" rent the air in the streets near the Saryu river, where the Yogi Adityanath government has also planned to install a towering statue of Lord Ram.
Hotels, inns and lodges are packed in both Ayodhya and Faizabad.
"Naturally, Muslims will not feel secure in such a polarised atmosphere, and with many leaders making provocative statements, they do not want to leave things to fate, and thus moved out due to safety reasons. In Faizabad town, some families have left altogether, while in many cases, women and children have been shifted to relatives' houses in nearby districts," Manzar Mehdi, a local historian told PTI.
Mehdi, a Faizabad resident and also editor of a Faizabad-based bilingual (Hindi and Urdu) publication that promotes communal harmony, said, "Hindus and Muslims have lived and continue to live in peace in Ayodhya. Muslims do not fear for their safety from local Hindus but the outsiders who have gathered here."
Meanwhile, a senior police official said security has been stepped up in Ayodhya, in view of the VHP event and the presence of a large number of Shiv Sainiks in town.
"We are prepared to meet all challenges, all arrangements are in place in the town, the district and its border area to avoid any untoward incident. We are keeping a tight vigil and security around Ram Janmabhoomi site has also been stepped up," the senior official said.