• Wednesday, Dec 11, 2019
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On hallowed grounds?

  • Published at 12:04 am November 12th, 2019
Babri
The dispute of our times? REUTERS

India’s age of Hindu majoritarianism seems to be in the offing

The Indian Supreme Court,  in a historic judgment,  awarded  2.77 acres of land to the Indian government for the construction of a Ram Mandir where the 16th century Babri Mosque stood until the Hindu zealots took it down in 1992. 

To bring some balanced in the much measured verdict, the apex court has also ordered the Indian government to allot a five-acre land in another prominent place in Ayodhya ,including the required fund to Sunni Waqf Board for the construction of a mosque. 

The judgment has both positives and negatives: The court has affirmed that the placement of Ram Lalla inside the mosque in 1949 was unlawful and that the demolition of the mosque in 1992 was illegal -- the criminal case with regards to the demolition will continue irrespective of this judgment.  

While there is no doubt about Lord Rama’s links to Ayodhya, there is certainly doubt whether Rama was a real character or mythological. All reasonable assumption indicates to pure mythology with a remote possibility of the myth building around some ancient king in that area.

Most importantly, it wasn’t even conclusively proven that the exact spot where the mosque stood is the place where Rama was believed to have been born. Hindutva-bearers claim that there was a Ram Mandir beneath the Babri Mosque, successive archeological excavations found ruins, part of which resembles a sultanate period smaller mosque and part with a non Islamic structure -- but not a Ram Temple.

It’s true that in medieval time many mosques were built on the ruins of non-Islamic structures for various reasons -- one of which was to save effort and cost by the Muslim conquerors and rulers. But this wasn’t really the case for the Babri Mosque. 

Yet, the full bench of the Indian Supreme Court, which included a muslim judge, unanimously decided to award the land for Ram Mandir based on inconclusive proof behind the ancient Hindu belief that Lord Rama was born on the exact spot where the mosque was build, whereas, presently, the Sunni Waqf Board clearly is the owner of the land.

Apparently, the belief of the mosque land as Rama’s birth place is rooted in the 19th century, and it intensified more recently -- especially the late 1980s -- when Rajiv Gandhi and the BJP started provoking the issue. While Gandhi’s provocation was limited, the Sangh pariver -- BJP, RSS, Bajrang Dal and VHP -- took it to another level and got the mosque demolished in 1992 sparking communal riots in India, with communal reactions in Pakistan and Bangladesh as well.  

They incorporated it into their Hindutva socio-political ideology of majoritarian divisiveness with enhanced vigor and made an  agenda out of an otherwise non-issue. Riding the Hindutva wave, of which Ram Mandir had been a major pillar, the BJP rose to power and formed government a few times in the turn of the last century with the help of the coalition allies. 

In the legal front, the case has kept lingering. The procrastination has been useful in the sense that it gradually took the sting of hyper sensitivity out of it. It also gradually prepared Muslims for losing the court case. After Modi’s reelection and the appointment of a pro-government chief justice, the verdict was a foregone conclusion.

In the few decade-long public discourse on the matter and lingering court cases, Indian muslims realized that fighting for this matter, or putting too much communal effort in it, is futile and that it would only supply more fuel to the Saffron for its divisive politics and artificial Hindu consolidation against the Muslims, who are just one-eighth of the Hindu in size in India and hugely backward in the socio-economic barometer.

Even if one considers that the apex Indian Court has pronounced the Babri Mosque-Ram Mandir verdict as a unique, one-off case based on Hindu beliefs, the interesting thing would be to watch whether such faith-based claiming of Muslim places by the Hindus stops with this verdict or renews with new claims and fresh vigour.

If the Hindutva-bearers cook up more of such divisive issues, then it’s probably just the start of a long haul of mean political trickery in India. The Indian Supreme Court has clearly pronounced  that this unique case can’t be the precedence for anymore such claims. However, BJP and its coterie aren’t the kind of people who always accept  court verdicts in good spirit. The Sabrimala temple case has vindicated that.

However, whether Modi-Shah or their Saffron successors invent another Hindu-Muslim bone of contention to perpetuate their divisive politics and hide their governance failures, will be a thing to watch out for. 

The age of Hindu majoritarianism seems to have come.

Indian state institutions -- for which enlightened Indians had been taking pride for long -- like its relatively neutral criminal investigation system, secular democratic culture, independent judiciary, free media, etc have entered a phase of decay due to the Hindutva sway.

It’s difficult to guess whether there will be any turnaround in the foreseeable future. 

Sarwar Jahan Chowdhury is an opinion contributor to Dhaka Tribune.