“I don’t remember when I made my first ‘khadhao’ (wooden slippers), but the sadhu who bought it seemed so pleased with my craftsmanship that he asked me my name. When I told him it was Salim, he smiled and returned every year to buy a pair from me,” he said.
Salim is the third generation of his family who has continued making ‘khadhao’ for Hindu priests in Ayodhya, having picked up the art while his father worked at it for years on. “I have never had any problem working here in Ayodhya. Everyone knows we are Muslims and they still buy the kadhao from us irrespective of that,” said Salim, who remembers the fateful day on December 6, 1992, when he fled Ayodhya and how his home and family shop were brought down.
Many, like Salim in Ayodhya, remember the day with sadness and even fear but are happy preparing “puja samagri” (items required for puja), garlands for mandirs and the ‘khadhao’.
The few Muslim houses attached one after another have had their household dependent on ‘khadhao’ making for generations. “People buy 13 pairs from us for the ‘tehrahi’ ritual. The last few senior priests also wear them,” said Hashim, another craftsman.
Naema Khatoon, who sells various items required to perform puja in Babu Bazar around the Hanuman Garhi area, says “the day is sad and terrifying for all of us,” she said.
Sitting in the open sun strewing flowers together, Sadiqun has seen several years in Ayodhya ever since she was married in the city. “Things have changed over the years. The only good thing is the behaviour of the local Hindu, who is still much more accepting of us than the people who come here from outside,” she said.