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Flashpoint Ayodhya Volume 57 Number 4, July/August 2004
by Kristin M. Romey

Did Hindu hard-liners recruit archaeologists to rewrite history?

In Hindi, "Ayodhya" means "a place where there is no war." But peace has been hard to come by in this northern Indian town since December 6, 1992, when a 75,000-strong mob, fueled by the belief that the town's sixteenth-century Babri Mosque was erected atop a razed temple marking the birthplace of the Hindu god Ram, tore down the three-domed stone structure. They were determined to correct a historical injustice by rebuilding the Ram temple where it supposedly once stood. More than a thousand people died in the communal rioting that rocked India in the following days.

The destruction of the Babri Mosque was the most visceral expression of an extreme nationalist ideology, Hindutva (literally, "Hinduness"), which preaches a revival of Hindu pride and honor its followers feel were violated over five centuries of Muslim rule in northern India. The event laid bare simmering tensions between the country's Hindu and minority Muslim populations, and several thousand people have lost their lives in violence associated with the dispute to rebuild the Ram temple. Nonetheless, the nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) used the issue to engineer a surprising rise to power in the late 1990s. After a period of stunning violence and endless court hearings over ownership of the property, the country had had enough. In 2003, the High Court overseeing the property dispute ordered the state-run archaeological agency to the former site of the Babri Mosque to find out what lay beneath it. What the agency claims to have uncovered, however, has led to an even uglier dispute: are archaeologists now being used to rewrite history?

Kristin M. Romey is managing editor of ARCHAEOLOGY.

© 2004 by the Archaeological Institute of America