Tuesday, February 7, 2023
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SC Ayodhya verdict shows Muslims can be given public space if it doesn’t adulterate Hindu one

Supreme Court's Ayodhya verdict redefines how space is to be understood in secular India by agreeing to 'Mandir wahin banayenge'.

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Mandir wahin baneyenge (We will build a temple there). On Saturday, the Supreme Court of India agreed.

Awarding the entire 2.77 acres of the disputed site where the Babri Masjid once stood to the Hindu community, which holds that the site is the birthplace of Ram Lalla, the Supreme Court granted the Muslim community 5 acres of land to build a mosque elsewhere in Ayodhya.

A centuries-old mosque, the Babri Masjid, was demolished by Hindu “activists” in December 1992 because it lay on the purported birthplace of Ram in Ayodhya. The Supreme Court agreed that the demolition of the mosque was unlawful, but it displaced the Muslim community from the land anyway. The judgment said there was insufficient evidence that the structure demolished to build the mosque was a Hindu temple, but it displaced the Muslim community anyway. Most importantly, the Supreme Court agreed that the disputed land not too long ago was a place of peaceful Hindu and Muslims co-existence, but it displaced the Muslim community anyway.

Also read: 4 reasons why SC rejected Muslims’ claim on Ram Janmabhoomi site

Challenges to syncretic India

As a secular country, one’s experience of India is that of a land in which all religions—whether churches, gurdwaras, mandirs or masjids—have the right to proud public display of religious thought, practice and ritual, often in close geographic proximity to one another. This rich historical tapestry, a melding of influences from Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, Christianity, and Jainism, has created modern Indian culture as the world knows it. Such physical, cultural and spiritual sharing of this singular geography is what leads academics to describe India’s space as “syncretic”, something that reflects the amalgamation of different religious practices and cultures.

In the Supreme Court judgment, the five justices write, “The disputed site has witnessed a medley of faiths and the co-existence of Hindu and Muslim practices, beliefs and customs…[T]he distinctive features of the site, embodying both Hindu and Islamic traditions led to the creation of a space with an identity of its own” (emphasis in the written judgment).

The court’s judgment thus affirms the syncretic nature of Ayodhya.

Beyond merely being a geographical terrain, ‘space’ is an entity produced from multiple social and political experiences, both lived and desired, of multiple entities, such as citizens or governments. How we as active contributors construct and experience the space of our nation also shapes the relations we share with each other and with our government. Because of India’s unique secularism, and guarantee of constitutional equality, one could say that there is some measure of ‘spatial equality’ that all Indian religions enjoy.

But the Ayodhya title dispute judgment, while intending to uphold constitutional equality, poses serious challenges to both syncretism and spatial equality — qualities unique to Indian secularism.

Also read: Ram mandir’s done, now Modi can’t ride more Hindu nationalism as economy is stalling

Separating mandir and masjid

A Hindu temple will now be built where the Babri Masjid once stood. The Supreme Court found the previous ruling by Allahabad High Court dividing the land between the Hindu and Muslim communities as “legally unsustainable” and “not feasible”. The sanctioning of a temple in place of a mosque signifies that spatial control, and therefore the shaping of social relationships between religions, rests in the hands of the Hindus and all else must negotiate with it.

To allow one religion to dominate a space is to diminish another’s claim over it.

As the judgment makes clear, this is not a dispute that goes back to the time of Mughal ruler Babur or Hindu god Ram. It is a dispute that can be traced to religious riots that broke out in 1856, soon after the British annexed the kingdom of Oudh. Rather than settling the dispute in line with Ayodhya’s syncretic and peaceful past, the Supreme Court has chosen to erase one side altogether. The allocation of land to Muslims at a “prominent place” elsewhere in Ayodhya redefines how space is to be understood in Indian secularism. Muslims may be granted public space as long as it does not adulterate Hindu space. Mandir and masjid, and consequently their custodians, are best separated.

Also read: With Supreme Court Ayodhya verdict, two decades of Ram bashing politics must end

Two wrongs don’t make a right

None of this is to say that Hindus and Muslims have always co-existed peacefully or that there have not been invaders that destroyed temples (even if that is not so clear in this matter). And one should expect the principles of Indian secularism to restore peaceful co-existence between religions in times of crisis — not choose a winner.

To adjudicate the case, the Supreme Court had to ascertain details on when and where each community prayed in the masjid complex over the course of history. Needless to say, history is far murkier than the exacting details required in this case. By giving into an interpretation of history in which Hindus and Muslims cannot co-exist peacefully, the Court has generated incentives for further aggressive tactics to “reclaim” Hindu spaces — perhaps this time in Mathura or Varanasi.

If we are to set off on this journey of ‘spatial reclamation’ to account for all that was stolen in the name of conquest, then where do we draw the line? For two, or even many, wrongs cannot make a right.

Khushdeep Kaur Malhotra is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Geography and Urban Studies at Temple University. Neelanjan Sircar is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Ashoka University and Visiting Senior Fellow at the Centre for Policy Research. Views are personal.

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  1. Muslims are officially second class citizens in India. Period. But even being second class citizens, they are not so poor & penniless that they need patronage from government in the form of 5 acre plot in a “suitable” place in Ayodhyay. It is not a judgment based on facts, but on the principle of might is right. The subjugation of Muslims in India is complete that even one Muslim judge in the bench, dare not write a dissenting. The so called imminent judge was told to bend and he crawled.

  2. The Indian SC proved again it is not infallible. 200 years ago, so did the US SC . They sided with majority and “Judged” Blacks are not people with rights. Fortunately, it overturned its own judgement later on. Zero chance of that happening with a bunch of retirement judges in India.

  3. This is a horrible judgment, from Judges who are clearly biased. I am a Hindu, but an Indian first. I cannot believe the Supreme Court of a secular and fair India actually allowed the perpetrators of an illegal act to get away with it.

  4. Ms. Khushdeep Kaur Malhotra is a well known India baiter. She has written a number of articles emphasizing that Muslims in Kashmir are generous and allow the minority (approx 1% of the population) Sikh community to carry on with their religious practices. They do not persecute or discriminate against Sikhs. However, the majority Hindu community of India as well as the Indian govt are anti-Sikh in their attitude and policies. They persecute and discriminate against Muslims. In fact, she even draws the conclusion that Sikhs feel safe and secure in Muslim dominated neighbourhoods/villages/towns but not in Hindu dominated ones. Also, she accuses the Indian state of being “disproportionately generous” towards Kashmiri Pandits who migrated en masse from the Valley in January 1990.
    What is surprising is that Prof. Neelanjan Sircar, an erudite and liberal scholar, should collaborate with Ms. Malhotra and thereby endorse her viewpoints. One expected much better of him.

  5. After watching Cut the Clutter and reading Shri Mihir Sharma’s column. This is what someone has called a Solomonic judgment. One would say the apex court was well intentioned, saw the national interest as being more than a small piece of disputed land. As it often does, it has pulled the country’s chestnuts out of the fire. With a clear injunction : Draw a curtain, now. That may explain why the conciliatory gestures have come so swiftly on Kashi and Mathura. The natural party of governance should now give us many other worthwhile reasons to vote for it.

  6. It would be good not to draw too many general conclusions from this judgment. It cannot become a template for the future. Sometimes one identifies a desired goal and then works out a way of getting there. As one of the members of the Bench observed before the judgment was delivered, This is one of the most important disputes in the world. 2.77 acres to one group, 5.00 acres to the other elsewhere is something the mediators could have worked out over a cup of tea. One hopes there will now be an end to this.

  7. Sirjee,The Printjee, Shree Ram Mandir is built on original Sri Ram temple, which stood centuries old, not on a mosque,,,anyway

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