The demolition of Babri Masjid and the deadly riots that followed remain a grim reminder in India’s history of volatile politics and the sway it has over the minds of people who are bent on the path of destruction in the name of religious resurrection. A lot of water has flowed under the bridge since December 6, 1992, when scores of Hindutva foot soldiers, purportedly egged on by some who would later be the tallest Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders, went on the rampage to demolish a medieval mosque built by India’s first Mughal emperor, allegedly after dismembering an ancient Hindu temple built in the name of Ram.
In many ways, India was at an economic cross-roads. The per-capita income of Indians was barely ~16,000 (or $245 at current exchange rates) in 1990. When the Babri mosque was pulled down, it fell even further. Added to this abysmal per-capita income was the high inflation rate. In the year the Babri mosque was demolished, the consumer inflation in India touched 14 per cent — a record high in many years. A year before the demolition, inflation was still at a debilitating 9 per cent. Unemployment levels (data for which in India are highly dubious) stood at 4 per cent. For many Indians, who were just about making ~1,300 (or $20) a month on an average, the economy wasn’t something they could look up to for redemption.
By 1991, 18-year-olds were staring at a future where their incomes and standard of life would be no better than their parents. In 1973, when these young people were born, the per-capita income in India was around ~11,000 ($169 at current rates). From the time they were born to the time they became major, the average earning prospects of Indians rose by a pittance. At the rates of inflation prevailing in the run-up to the Babri mosque demolition, this unimpressive rise in income would have been negated in just about three years. In effect, a vast majority of India’s population would have been at the same income levels of their parents, maybe even worse.
In present-day India, the young are much better off than some of the youth who were either perpetrators or victims of the events that preceded and followed the demolition of the mosque at Ayodhya. India’s per-capita income over the past two decades has grown almost five times. In the two decades preceding the Babri mosque demolition, it had grown less than 50 per cent. Consumer inflation now is less than half of what it was back then, though it has shown signs of spiking sporadically, irrespective of the blessings of bountiful monsoon. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth has been steadier than in the pre-Babri days.
But things aren’t as good as they look. Unemployment rates are almost the same as they were in 1991, even though a significantly higher number of young people are now entering the workforce. Literacy levels are much higher than in the Babri days, though serious questions have been raised on the quality of education imparted to Indians to put them in the literate bracket.
Economic improvement may not necessarily be an indication of India’s social evolution, though rising prosperity usually makes people more indifferent to religion. So, even as unemployment remains at the same levels as in the Babri days, India is increasingly becoming a male-dominated country. The ministry of labour and employment’s statistics suggest that sex ratio of in the 15-34-year age group has steadily declined since 1991. In the year the Babri mosque was demolished, there were 950 females for every 1,000 males in this age bracket. In 2011, the sex ratio stood at 934. The World Bank estimates that the proportion of females to males in this age group in India will further slide to 904 by 2021. By the look of it, and the unemployment levels at present, this would leave a vast majority of unemployed youth disgruntled with the fruit of economic development flying past them without stopping by.
What should give Hindutva proponents more ammunition to ramp up their battalions is the fac India’s demographic transition since Babri has been unfavourable to Hindus. In two decades preceding the Babri mosque demolition, the Hindu population grew by almost half, while Muslims grew by 62 per cent. But since 1991, the growth rate of Hindus in India has slowed down to 42 per cent. Meanwhile, the Muslim population growth has further accelerated to 70 per cent. Besides, Muslims have shown better progress on certain socio-economic development parameters than Hindus. National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) figures show that while the labour participation rates among Hindus have marginally declined between 2001 and 2010, more Muslims than ever before are now entering the workforce. While labour participation rates include the unemployed as well, a more accurate representation of Hindu stagnation and Muslim progression would be the worker population ratios. This includes people who were not just working for a significant part of the year but also worked for at least 30 days during the year. Worker population ratio among Hindus in 2010 was at the same level as that in 2000, despite increasing significantly in 2005. Muslims, meanwhile have shown a steady growth in the same period.
These socio-economic trends indicate the memories of Babri might have faded, but some of the underlying forces that galvanised thousands to demolish a Mughal marauder’s stamp of domination might again be bubbling beneath a veneer of uneasy calm raring to be back in play at short notice.