In Ayodhya, a sister looks for closure after 30 years

Ayodhya, August 4 (IANS): Thirty years is not a small period -- to heal. But for Purnima Kothari, living in the suburbs of Kolkata, a lifetime may be too short to move on from the fact that her two brothers -- Ram and Sharad -- set off for kar seva in Ayodhya with a promise to return just before her wedding. They never did.

It was 1990. With just a day left for the Ram Mandir's 'Bhoomi Pujan', a reality now that the Kothari brothers had dreamt about, Purnima is back in Ram Janmabhoomi in pursuit of a closure.

"It gives a sense of relief that this moment has come for which my brothers paid with their lives. I feel proud that they sacrificed their lives for something whose culmination is taking place. However, I wish they were here with me today," Purnima Kothari told IANS, as she walks on the streets of Ayodhya on a humid day.

She adds that if she gets a chance to meet the Prime Minister, she will request for a museum to be constructed where the "struggle of 500 years" can be documented.

It was October 22, 1990, when Ram and Sharad -- then both in their early twenties -- decided that they will take part in the 'kar seva', an event that not only changed the political discourse of India but revealed new social fault lines followed by violent riots and acrimonious legal tangles. Purnima was about to get married on December 16.

"The two could only reach Varanasi by train after which they took a taxi and later walked till Ayodhya. The atmosphere was surcharged. I am told they were the first to hoist the saffron flag on top of the Babri dome," she says.

With former VHP leader Ashok Singhal giving a clarion call, Ayodhya was simmering. Then Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav who famously boasted about the security preparedness saying, "Wahan parinda bhi par nahi maar sakta," (Even a bird can't get in there) had ordered police firing to control the violence. Officially, 16 died (though some claim the number was higher), with the bodies scattered around Ayodhya and the surrounding areas. Years later, Yadav had said, "If more people were required to be killed for the country's unity and integrity, the security forces would have done it."

A couple of the bodies recovered were in a bylane in Hanumangarhi. They were the Kothari brothers.

This Wednesday, the top political leadership of India is expected to visit Hanumangarhi as well.

For Purnima, this August 5 is more than realising the "dream" of a Ram Temple, but getting a closure for the emotional cyclone she has weathered for the last three decades, sitting in her Bengal residence, often crying over her brothers' photo.

"I received a letter, through post, after their death where they promised to come back home in time to attend my wedding," recalls the sister.

On the ghats of the Saryu river, as security personnel dot every inch of space and the media contingent continues to throng for a "story", a sister is trying to make sense of the loss that altered the fate of a family.