The Supreme Court of India has finally given its verdict on the Ayodhya title dispute case. No riots have broken out, as some had anticipated, and Muslims are being asked to move on with the consolation prize of 5 acres of land for a mosque, elsewhere.
The demolition of the Babri Masjid by Hindu mobs in 1992 led to a trail of blood and communal hate that India’s Muslim community is still shuddering from. Bizarrely, the onus of maintaining peace, now that the land has been awarded to Ram Lalla, rests with the Muslims even though the Muslims bore the brunt of the rioting in 1992. Over 700 Muslims died.
So, what do Muslims move on from? The fact that in 27 years, there have been hardly any convictions in the riots that ensued after the Babri demolition, while 100 people have been convicted, mostly Muslims, for the 1993 bomb blasts in Mumbai?
No judgment will set right the fact that the Babri Masjid demolition changed how Muslims lived and felt in India.
Muslims believe that the demolition and now the verdict in the Ayodhya case has once and for all settled their status as second-class citizens in India. And that the ‘aastha’ of Hindus matters more than the sentiment and security of the Muslim community in modern India.
The aftermath of Babri
India’s rhythm changed after the Babri demolition.
I have heard stories of how Muslim people used ‘Hindu’ names while in public and how men decided to shave their beards or not wear skull caps in the months that followed. Mixed Hindu-Muslim neighbourhoods gave way to religion-specific ghettos. It became okay and even an intellectual exercise for people to throw the ‘Muslim invader’ argument at ordinary Muslims in everyday conversations.
More importantly, it brought back the ghost of Partition for many of us. It reminded us that modern India hadn’t buried it, instead it had morphed it into unabashed everyday bigotry against Muslims, shouted from the rooftops, celebrated and used as political bait. India never managed to put the genie back into the bottle again.
The big brother syndrome
Today, when Muslims talk about the Ayodhya verdict, many still insist that it is irrelevant whether the verdict was in favour of a mandir or a masjid. But the fact that the Supreme Court itself recognised that the demolition of the mosque was illegal and that placing of the idols in 1949 was a desecration of the mosque, and still gave the verdict in favour of those who believed it was originally a temple made the verdict seem contradictory. The judgment clearly states: “The destruction of the mosque and the obliteration of the Islamic structure was an egregious violation of the rule of law.”
Yet, the very act of placing the idols and destroying the mosque has been used to suggest that Muslims did not have exclusive possession of the inner courtyard of the disputed land, thus making the case stronger for Ram Lalla.
India’s secularism today is undergoing a major identity crisis. If secularism has been watered down to one community behaving like the elder brother, like Mohan Bhagwat once aptly put it, and the other behaving like the younger brother who must listen and obey to the elder one, then India is clearly not a democratic secular country. It is, at best, a feudal country based on archaic patriarchal norms.
A lot of Muslims are also of the opinion that a bitterly disputed land seeped in communal tension should not have been given a religious resolution. Making a hospital, a school or a community worship area in the disputed land would have been a better and more nuanced message for secularism and unity in a diverse country like India. But the cry of ‘Mandir wahin banayenge’ had turned this matter into a battle of egos. The whole idea of destroying a mosque to build a temple had somehow turned into an act of retribution for something apparently done in the 16th century. It tragically ended up as a weapon to humiliate an entire community that has nothing to do with Babur or the Mughals.
Will it stop with Ayodhya?
Muslims also speak about the implications of sending out a message of cooperation by supporting the idea of building a grand Ram Mandir in Ayodhya now that the verdict is out. Before the verdict, some suggested that the disputed patch of land should be ‘gifted to Hindus’ by Muslims. In an ideal world, this would be considered a goodwill gesture. But the buck doesn’t stop at the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya alone. Be it Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s Hindu Yuva Vahini that went inside Taj Mahal to read the Shiv Chalisa or former BJP MP Vinay Katiyar calling it ‘Tejo Mahal’, the Hindu Right-wing in India has claimed that several mosques, mausoleums and monuments as once-Hindu temples.
Last year, the Hindu Mahasabha’s Aligarh unit had referred to Qutab Minar as ‘Vishnu Stambh’. Many in the Hindu Right believe that Red Fort was built by a Hindu ruler. The RSS, according to a Wire article, has long followed the theories of self-styled historian Purushottam Nagesh Oak, who founded the Institute for Rewriting Indian History in 1964.
Some of Oak’s bizarre claims were – Kaaba in Saudi Arabia was a Hindu temple, and Mohammad Ghaus’ tomb in Gwalior, Salim Chisti’s mausoleum in Fatehpur Sikri and Moinuddin Chishti’s makbara in Ajmer were all Hindu structures that fell to Muslim conquests.
So, if supporting the construction of a temple in Ayodhya is a goodwill gesture, how far will one have to go to maintain it? Will the ‘gift’ stop with Ayodhya?
Ayodhya verdict also set a judicial precedent for India. Although fought as a title dispute case, it has been constantly marred by claims of faith and sentiments in court. Once a land title suit is seen in this light, there is no going back. A 116-page addendum in the Supreme Court verdict has gone into great depth about how the Hindus believe this land to be Ram Janmabhoomi.
Who knows, may be we will hear ‘Tejo Mahalaya wahin banayenge’ next?
They say a successful negotiation is one where each party walks away a little dissatisfied. However, in the Ayodhya case, only one community is walking away dissatisfied. The Muslims insist they have accepted the Ayodhya verdict. But do they respect it? Clearly not.
The verdict has wounded the Nehruvian idea of India.
The author is a political observer and writer. Views are personal.