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At Manzar Mehdi's one-room office inside the 200-year-old Hasan Raza Khan Masjid, only two chairs are intact.
At Manzar Mehdi's one-room office inside the 200-year-old Hasan Raza Khan Masjid, only two chairs are intact. Everything else is shattered, stolen or strewn across the room, from where Mehdi has been publishing Faizabad's only bilingual weekly newspaper, Aap Ki Taqat, since 2006.
The paper has the tagline, "Hindu-Muslim do bhai, Hindi-Urdu do behen". But the incidents of October 24 belied the paper's purpose, when it got caught up in it what it has always derided — communal violence. That day, Faizabad — just five km from Ayodhya — which remained peaceful even after the destruction of the Babri Masjid in 1992, witnessed its first-ever riot. The violence began during a procession of Durga idols on Dusshera. A mob torched several shops in the city's Ghanta Ghar Chowk, and ransacked Hasan Raza Khan Masjid, including Mehdi's office and a watch repair shop housed inside the mosque.
But Mehdi, 57, does not believe Aap Ki Taqat got caught in the violence. "It was not a random, but a targeted attack. This paper intends to send a positive message across a region that is always in the news for the wrong reasons. But it seems not many appreciate such an ideal," rues Mehdi, who is a regular at meetings of a peace forum led by Justice (retd) Palok Basu. The forum, which holds meetings next to the site where Babri Masjid once stood, aims to find an out-of-court settlement to the issue. To probe an inquiry into the attack on Aap Ki Taqat, Press Council of India chairman Justice (retd) Markand Katju has constituted a one-member committee.
The eight-page Aap Ki Taqat, in consonance with its Hindi-Urdu-do-behen slogan, has four pages in Hindi and four in Urdu. The content is the same in both languages. "I usually pen the front page and an editorial and contributors help with the rest," says Mehdi. Contributors include poets and writers, activists and journalists. "Ram Puniyani, Asghar Ali Engineer and several famous Hindi and Urdu poets regularly feature in the paper," he boasts. The newspaper has no reportage; only opinion pieces, centred around communal harmony. The last issue had a long opinion piece, written by Mehdi, on the plight of journalists caught in politics, pegged on the alleged involvement of journalist Syed Kazmi in an attack on Israeli diplomats in Delhi. The newspaper has few local ads.