A section of Hindu supremacist organisations are once again mobilising to demand the construction of Ramjanmabhoomi temple (RJT) in Ayodhya on the spot where Babri Masjid once stood and was demolished on 6 December 1992. Provocative speeches are being made and threats are being issued. Sentiments of Hindus are being aroused around the construction of Ramjanmabhoomi temple. Media too is playing the ball and faithfully publicising the claims of Hindu supremacists that sentiments of all Hindus are being hurt and that the temple needs to be constructed immediately. The Hindu supremacists remember RJT as elections approach.
Most of the public speeches seeking to arouse the sentiments of Hindus around RJT accuse the Supreme Court of India to be insensitive to the feelings of Hindus and even discriminating against them. They argued that a terrorist, Yakub Memon, was given hearing at 3.00 am on 30 July 2015, as he was to be hanged till death the following morning. Adjourning the matter would have required a stay on his hanging, and not hearing his final plea would have left the court open to the charge of not doing justice. Therefore, the charge that the apex court does not have time to hear the “issues of Hindus” is without any basis.
Besides comparing apples and oranges, their outbursts also amount to contempt of court as they are discourteous towards the court and seek to lower the dignity of the court. They are also interfering in the dispensation of justice by resorting to intimidation. Why is the apex court not proceeding for contempt of court suo moto against all those who make such provocative statements perhaps tells its own story.
The Hindu supremacists are deliberately twisting the facts about the issues involved in the Babri Masjid–RJT case. Basically the case pertains to title suit of 2.77 acres of land on which Babri Masjid once stood and was demolished on 6 December 1992. Who was the legal owner of the parcel of land in question and the structure on it?
Through political mobilisation, the Hindu supremacists have been successful in converting the title suit into an issue of faith according to which Hindus believe the land parcel to be the birth place of Lord Ram. Since they believe so, their faith should reign supreme, and disregarding legal issues, the parcel of land should be handed over to them for construction of RJT. They further argue that Muslims have not prayed in the Babri Masjid since 1949 and therefore the place is not a mosque any more. Further, they argue that Muslims can pray anywhere and therefore it is not essential and integral part of their religion. Some even argue that since the Babri Masjid was constructed after the demolition of a temple, it was done so in violation of tenets of Islam and therefore it was never a mosque. Be as it may, it is for the apex court to do justice on the basis of laws as applicable in the land.
The dispute is not for temple or mosque anymore
Although the dispute appears to be between the Hindu community and the Muslim community, it is not so! That is what the Hindu supremacists want to turn the dispute into. If it becomes one between the two communities, then on the basis of sheer might of numbers and levers of power controlled by the elite of the Hindu community, the Hindu supremacists stand to win hands down! Construction of RJT has become a milestone in asserting ‘faith’ and power of the Hindu supremacists. All Hindus are not Ram bhaktas and all Ram bhaktas are not in favour of the RJT on the very spot where Babri Masjid was demolished.
Although the issue—whether Hindus believe that Lord Ram was born on the very spot where Babri Masjid once stood, was answered by the Allahabad High Court in affirmative, the Hon’ble court did not have any sufficient material to reach the conclusion. There was no referendum or even a fairly representative survey carried out to ascertain beliefs of the members of Hindu community on the issue. The constant mobilisation by Hindu supremacist and the nature of media coverage may have coloured the judgement of the court. South of Vindhyas, the issue of RJT and place of birth of Lord Ram is of much less consequence than the north. The working classes and castes are much less bothered as to where Lord Ram was born, although they have firm faith in Lord Ram. Dalit leader Chandrashekhar Azad has in fact named himself “Ravan”.
Before the year 1985, the question, ‘where precisely was Lord Ram born?’ would not have been answered with certainty by most Hindus, including those in Ayodhya. Overwhelming number of Hindus would have been clueless, except saying that the Lord was born in Ayodhya. Ayodhya city has more than 14 temples located in various places claiming to be on Ramjanmabhoomi which have now been demolished to make way for another one. The faith pertaining to a precise spot where Lord Ram was born has been constructed in the late eighties using mobilisation for political outcomes aided by the mass media.
The plea of supremacy of faith over facts and law is not a religious project but a political agenda. For, to privilege faith of one section of populace sharing a particular religion over other faiths, and more importantly over demonstrable truths, requires a theocratic state, not a democratic state which gives space to all religions, faiths and beliefs subject to certain reasonable restrictions in the interest of peace, harmony, equality, liberties and dignity of all individuals. The mobilisation of gullible sections willing to subscribe to the faith being propounded by Hindu supremacists, forcing the state to hand over the parcel of land based on their faith for construction of RJT, is therefore a political mobilisation to hammer nails in the coffin of democracy. More than construction of RJT, the Hindu supremacists are keen on dismantling the democratic state which affords more or less equal space to all faiths subject to certain reasonable restrictions. That is why there were series of mobilisations and show of strength by various Hindu supremacist organisations, including Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Hindu Mahasabha, Dharmasabha and Shiv Sena. Their target was the Supreme Court which they do not seem to trust, fearing that Supreme Court’s outcome might not be based on faith but law and justice. Their demand was that the Parliament pass a legislation to hand over the entire land on which Babri Masjid once stood for the construction of RJT. Construction of RJT on ruins of Babri Masjid is simultaneously laying the foundation stone of Hindu Rashtra, a communal state that privileges the elite of Hindu community and relegates the rest who do not subscribe to Hindutva political ideology and its faith to second class citizens without any rights.
The conflict therefore is not between Hindu community and Muslim community, but between those who want India to be democratic, diverse and liberal, respecting all faiths, including that of rationalists and atheists, dignity of all individuals and equality of all citizens on the one hand, and those who want India to be one homogenous society with the state regimenting religion, where state and community elders overlook matrimonial alliances, where faith and truth are what the community elites declare them to be so. That latter notion is against Hindu religion as propounded by great saints like Kabir, Ravi Das, Mirabai, Chokha Mela, Aakho, Narsi Mehta, Sree Naryana Guru, Basavanna, Swami Vivekananda, Guru Nanak, Buddha, and many other saints.
Muslims should leave resolution of the dispute regarding Babri Masjid–RJT to the Supreme Court and to those Hindus who follow the saints mentioned above. It is more important to defend the Constitution and constitutional idea of diverse, inclusive India where all citizens enjoy equal rights, liberties of thought, expression and conscience, where dignity of all citizens is upheld and there is social justice. The difficulty is that the religious leaders and political elite of the Muslim community also do not desire the idea of India which is democratic and respects the Constitution. They too give precedence to their faith over the Constitution, law, liberties and social justice. This was evident from the affidavit they filed in the Supreme Court in support of triple talaq denying equality to women on the plea of right to follow their religious laws or Muslim Personal Law. This was also in evidence when they demanded ban on Salman Rushdie’s book Satanic Verses, and when they mobilised to oppose the Shah Bano judgement that granted maintenance to a divorced Muslim woman under section 125 of the Indian Penal Code.
In fact the demand to open the locks of RJT for darshan and worship of Lord Ram and construction of a grand RJT got a tremendous boost after they forced the Rajiv Gandhi Government to bring in a law in Parliament to reverse the Shah Bano judgement of the Supreme Court.
The Muslim community and its political leaders are doing well by maintaining silence over the Babri Masjid–Ramjanmabhoomi dispute. They are neither giving in to the pressure of mobilisation by Hindu supremacists, nor are they defiantly opposing construction of the RJT, and instead are subjecting themselves to the judgment of the Supreme Court. The Hindu supremacist have succeeded only in getting some degenerate leaders of the community to do the bidding for them.
The Muslim community needs to focus on secular education as Sir Sayyid did in the late 19th century. Education would enable members of the community to join the civil services and other important professions. Matured intellectual leadership of the community can come only from the educated class that can steer them out of their social and educational backwardness.
The political leadership of the community needs to address itself to the issues of security and communal violence along with discrimination, seeking justice and remedies through constitutional mechanisms. In order to be able to do so, the leadership will have to build alliances with other marginalised classes who face similar discrimination, oppression and violence in their daily life. The alliance with other marginalised groups should not be opportunistic and only for political power, but should seek political power to build robust democratic institutions that defend human rights of all citizens, deepen democracy and build a democratic state that is accountable to its citizens. The Muslim political leadership should apply itself to building structures of accountability and institutional mechanisms like Equal Opportunity Commission.
The political, intellectual and religious leadership of the community needs to apply itself to reforms in family laws that are within the framework of Islam as well as the Constitution. Presently, it resists any reforms even though many Muslim countries have carried out reforms. Reforms should particularly ensure equality and equal status of women in the community in accordance with the Quranic spirit.
If these steps are debated within the community and followed, it would go a long way in weakening the Hindu supreamacists. More than Babri Masjid, we need a democratic India, educated India and an India that embraces gender justice and diversity.
Meher Engineer: A Requiem for a Man of Reckonable Height Meheryar Hosang Engineer was born on December 20, 1940 in