India’s Marxist historians have told us many times that Islamic conquerors took control of Hindu temple sites for wealth. However, they have conveniently suppressed the fact that it had a lot to do with Islamic religious zeal.
So, trying to reclaim the ownership over such temples is not an act of conflict. The idea of conflict arises when you are taking what is not yours. In reclaiming the Ram Janmabhoomi site in Ayodhya, Hindus are not being greedy or fanatic.
Most secular commentators lapse into the fallacy of moral equivalence. There is no equivalence between one’s aggression and another’s self-respect – regardless of the time period in which such an act is committed.
The reason for rejecting Islamic claims over the Ayodhya temple site cannot be nationalism or religion as proffered by the Hindutva ideologues. It must be intellectual.
Revenge vs restoration
Rebuilding of the Russian churches – the Communists had destroyed them and built swimming pools at those sites when they were in power – was not an act of fanaticism. Communists demolishing the cathedrals was in line with their motto: ‘Religion is the opium of the masses’. After the collapse of Communism in 1990-91, the Russians went on to build more majestic churches on those sites over the next 10 years.
If religious sites can be rebuilt to erase political acts, why is nobody making an intellectual argument for a grand Ram Mandir in Ayodhya?
Islamic aggressors destroyed thousands of temples in India because as per their dogma ‘worshipping idols is kufr (unIslamic) and has to be eradicated’. The present-day inheritors of such dogma are the Taliban and the Islamic State. Why, then, are the victims expected to forget such acts of aggression and move on?
There is a difference between revenge and restoration. And liberal discourse that avoids questions of religious doctrine (or dogma) fails in convincing Muslims to be more Hindu-friendly in India. On the contrary, the discourse only offers new reasons for being intransigent.
Learnings from Ayodhya struggle
The Ayodhya struggle has been very educational. The Muslim side has tactically changed its stance from asking for proof of a temple underground to a court verdict to saying no court has the locus standi to undo something done by a valid sovereign in the 16th century. Overall, it has remained steadfast in refusing the place to Hindus, although the Babri Masjid had not been used as a mosque since 1949 and was of no importance to Muslims.
In contrast, the site has been one of the holiest places for Hindus for thousands of years. But appealing to Muslims’ good sense has remained futile, even if Hindus asked for only three places of highest regard, leaving out hundreds of others for good.
Now, the Hindu position should not be focused on real estate disputes anymore. The most important lesson from the Ayodhya debate over the past few decades is that the real fight is over a fundamental religious-philosophical-intellectual obligation.
Secularism-pluralism vs temple
Beyond Hindu-Muslim claims, the sustained campaign of intellectual dishonesty needs to be called out as well.
Kashi, Ayodhya and Mathura are all well-known as holy cities, so much so that every house there is said to have a temple. To be asked to provide justification for a Ram Mandir in Ram’s place of birth, a place known by his name for centuries, is bizarre. Such a situation indicates that no argument Hindus provide will be found satisfactory.
Amit Jayaram in the book A Temple in Ayodhya and Other Poems (Rupa, Delhi, 1993) takes a philosophical, seemingly advaitic, stance that in Hindu dharmic tradition, having or visiting a temple is not necessary to become a dharmic Hindu. On the face of it, the argument is correct. Swami Vivekananda had also underlined that worshipping at a temple is just the starting point to moving up the ladder of Hinduism (at an open-air meeting convened at Dhaka, 31 March, 1901). But how is this a justification for not having a temple and for overlooking the everyday faith of millions of Hindus?
Then, there are Leftists who dismiss the need for a temple in the name of secularism. But India is uber-secular and one of the most culturally diverse countries in the world, precisely because it is sustained by the Hindu ethos.
One should also note that of the thousands of temples destroyed by the Islamic invaders and rulers over centuries, the Ram Janmabhoomi in Ayodhya is the only site that Hindus never gave up on. They have been fighting and dying for it. This only shows that Ayodhya is indeed a very special place (Hindu Temples: What Happened to Them, Arun Shourie, Harsh Narain, Jay Dubashi, Ram Swarup, Sita Ram Goel, 1990).
Liberals who cite pluralism say that India doesn’t belong to Hindus alone. But concern for pluralism can be inauthentic if only one group is told to be accommodative – one that has suffered humiliation for centuries.
Which other dominant community in any other country can tolerate such obvious aggression as the one at Idgah-Krishna Janmabhoomi in Mathura or Gyanvapi mosque-Vishwanath temple in Kashi?
In fact, as Marxist historians demonstrated in their 1989 pamphlet The Political Abuse of History: Babri Masjid-Rama Janmabhumi Dispute (by Romila Thapar and others), the academia tried to fudge the memory of centuries of savage destruction. The half-destroyed temples (the back of Kashi’s Gyanvapi mosque has Hindu figurines, as does the Qutab Minar in Delhi, just to give two examples), frozen in various states of destruction, still tell the story of unimaginable devastation that India witnessed at the hands of Islamic invaders. But over time, historians and scholars have said things like Babur did not order the demolition of the temple in Ayodhya or that Tulsidas’ Ramcharitmanas did not mention destruction of a Ram Mandir in Ayodhya.
Constitutional expert and author of three volumes on the Babri-Masjid dispute A.G. Noorani even wrote that “the theory of a Hindu trauma is a motivated myth”.
Noted historians like R.S. Sharma and Irfan Habib and archaeologist Suraj Bhan repeatedly told the media that there was no Ram Mandir under the Babri mosque (Sharma and Habib in The Times of India, circa. 1989; Bhan in Asian Age on 18 June 1990).
A wound that’s still fresh
Mainstream historians have consistently and deliberately written textbooks that do not highlight the Hindu-Muslim angle of the Mughal rule or the invasion before that. The medieval period was not about the idyllic Ganga-Jamuni tradition that they want us to believe.
“Such a thesis was always going to struggle against the overwhelmingly contradictive evidence – from the ruins of Hindu liturgical buildings to the ballads of dispossession passed from generation to generation – arrayed against it,” wrote Kapil S. Komireddi in Malevolent Republic: A Short History of the New India.
“But pick up a history textbook taught at state institutions and you will find no explanation of what happened,” Komireddi added. “It was the mission of ‘secular’ historians and public intellectuals of India to locate mundane causes for carnage by religious zealots.”
One such example can be found in historian Romila Thapar’s book Somanatha: The Many Voices of a History (2004), where she writes that Islamic invading armies did not have the time or the resource to build mosques and towers of Islam on the land they conquered. And that is why they worked with the building material that was available from the temples they demolished.
Those who really want to have a lasting solution to the Ayodhya issue must recognise this civilisational wound, which is still fresh. But first, we must confront and acknowledge the problem, only then can we arrive at an intellectually honest solution.
The author is a Hindi columnist and professor of political science, NCERT. Views are personal.