Ayodhya in a time warp
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It is early evening in Ayodhya and Arun Pandey has just finished school. But instead of heading home, he and his friends make their way towards a row of inter-town auto-rickshaws. Destination: the twin city of Faizabad.
"Most of us go to Faizabad to play cricket or to eat some snacks. Sometimes we go there to buy school books and uniforms," says Pandey, a class 10 student. "There is nothing in Ayodhya, it is no fun. There are no cinema halls, no restaurants, no street food and no shops for chocolates or ice creams. We finish school, go to Faizabad for a few hours and come back late in the evening," he says.
People like Pandey usually pack themselves into auto-rickshaws called 'Vikrams' to make the 5-km ride from Ayodhya to Faizabad, the district headquarters. The journey takes more than 30 minutes during rush-hour and significantly longer by car. It is not only for recreation that the people of Ayodhya head for Faizabad but for most things we take for granted—readymade clothes, mobile phones, television sets and electronics and household appliances.
Twenty years after the Babri Masjid was pulled down in Ayodhya, the town is caught in a strange time warp. For a town whose name gets bandied about in political debates and discourses, Ayodhya has very little to offer its nearly one lakh residents who live in colonies in its northern and eastern parts. Cramped into a roughly 4-km radius around the Ayodhya Road Chowk, the town has a government hospital, a college and a few schools. What it has in abundance are temples—there are shrines and temples in every conceivable nook and cranny—but Ayodhya hasn't built on its temple-town tag. The town gets about 3,000 visitors a day on average, but has nothing to keep them back—no hotels, no dhabas and restaurants and no markets. A large part of the town, about 69 acres of it, is part of the disputed site and is cordoned off. The only economy here is the one that is centred around the disputed structure, a sad reminder of a town that never moved on.