26 September 1999
The Times of India
A Parivar the Sangh forgot about
By Siddharth Varadarajan
The Times of India News Service
AYODHYA: Shy, melancholic and miserably poor, Anusuya is proud to be the
daughter of a man who died for Ram. Nine years ago, Vasudev Gupta - a
mithaiwallah as ordinary as the thousands of others who sell sweets to
pilgrims in this holy town - was shot dead by the authorities.
Incited by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad's (VHP) campaign to liberate the
alleged site of Ram's birthplace, he had defied official orders banning
the gathering of `kar sevaks' near the Babri Masjid. The Mulayam Singh
Yadav government took a harsh line and ordered the security forces to
open fire. Gupta was one of three Ayodhya residents killed on that
fateful day in October 1990.
Today, a small black-and-white photograph of the dead sweetseller adorns
the tiny shop that is all his family has to get by with. Gupta looks
almost serene. His son, Sandeep, who is now 16 and wants to join the
Army, cradles the frame lovingly as he poses for a photograph.
The shop is threadbare and makeshift. The sweets are gone; instead a few
wretched scraps of cloth sit irreverently amongst the small piles of
Ramnamas - saffron scarves with Ram's name - that generate some Rs 600 a
month in income.
Behind the tiny shop is an equally meagre room, home to mother, daughter
and two sons. Gupta's eldest daughter died a few years ago for want of
medical care. His youngest son, Pradeep, is mentally infirm. Now 10, he
wanders around as if perpetually in a daze. When he is very disturbed,
said Anusuya, he climbs up electricity poles and refuses to come down.
``There is no money for his treatment. We have approached the VHP and
BJP leaders for help so many times but they don't pay any attention.''
She complained that the BJP's Vinay Katiyar, who was twice MP from
Faizabad, never came to see them.
In a town where many people are coming round to the view that the BJP
raised the Ram temple issue for political rather than religious reasons,
the plight of the Gupta family is being held out as proof of the Sangh
For many years, VHP and BJP leaders promoted Vasudev Gupta as an example
of a true Ram bhakt, a man willing to die for the cause of the temple.
They would summon his wife, Shakuntala, to meetings at all hours of the
day and night to burn effigies of Mulayam Singh Yadav. ``They would use
a shaheed's wife to campaign for them,'' said Anusuya, her large eyes
welling up, ``but they never bothered to see in what condition his
family was in.''
I asked what she felt about her father, about the cause he died for.
``When he left home that morning, he didn't expect to die,'' she
replied. ``We have pride in what our father did but we feel angry when
they go out and ask for votes in his name.'' And the temple? ``If Ram
wants, it will certainly be built. But we have no faith in the BJP.''
Swami Jagannath Das, mahant of the Nirmohi Akhara - the religious order
which is the only Hindu litigant in the legal dispute over the
`Janmaboomi' site - said that if the temple was really an issue of
religion for the BJP, ``why are they scared to fight the election on
that very question? Sab satta ke liye tha (It was all for power).''
He said that Ashok Singhal of the VHP had once told him how much he and
his organisation had sacrificed for the cause of the Ram temple.
``Singhal said we have been hit by lathis and bullets. I stopped him.
`Show me one scratch on your body, one bruise, one stain of blood', I
demanded. `It was the poor who gave their lives and who suffered thanks
to you, not any of the leaders'. Singhal fell silent. What else could he
Back in the Gupta family shop, there is no customer in sight. Sandeep
carefully dusts his father's portrait and hangs it on the wall. Anusuya
adjusts her dupatta and goes back to pushing away the swarms of flies that
are buzzing around.