The Ayodhya Verdict
Like many others who have made comment on the verdict of the Allahabad High Court on the several suits pertaining to title over the disputed site in Ayodhya, I also have available to me only the excerpts of the operative parts of the Judgement (s) that have seen print thus far.
Having read these with care, and repeatedly, alongwith most commentaries that have appeared, and listened with despair to the many debates on the electronic channels, after some excruciating hours of befuddlement and reflection, I had better get my word in for what it is worth. Not a great deal, I suspect.
I agree with most that the honourable court seems to have with deliberation chosen to operate rather more like a problem-solver than a legal/juridical entity. Attempting thereby to resolve issues that the other branches of the State have thus far failed to resolve. “We decided to take the risk despite some saner elements advising us against it,” Justice S.U.Khan has reportedly said in his Preamble, adding that the “landmines” needed to be finally removed, even if it meant to venture “where angels fear to tread.”
Now, for long years I have expressed chagrin at those homo sapiens who mope and mull—indeed secretly live off the problems they eternally grumble about—and admiration for those others who trouble themselves to find solutions.
The tricky part, though, can be that sometimes the answers that are found compound the problems rather than solve them. And it is now my view that something of this nature may have been accomplished by the honourable judges, even if against their best intentions. Not that intentions can ever be demonstrable facts. Like the gods, they must be taken on faith.
That a “mosque” stood at the site in Ayodhya for some centuries wherein regular worship took place is agreed to by the two judges who form the “majority” verdict, although one of the two discounts the theory that a temple was demolished to build the mosque and the other holds to the view that such indeed was the case (Justices Aggarwal and Khan). Justice Aggarwal who thinks a temple was demolished does not allude to any evidence that the supposedly demolished temple below the surely demolished Babri mosque could be provenly denominated the birthplace of Ram.
The dissenting Justice Sharma, whose live interview I heard on the Aaj Tak channel, convinced by archaeological evidence supplied by the Achaeological Survey of India in 2003 that not only did a “massive Hindu religious structure” lie beneath the Babri mosque but that in a layer below that structure had stood the Dashrath Mahal—palace of the King Dashrath, sire of Lord Ram—and precisely the place where the Lord was born. Citing the Quran and the Hadith, Justice Sharma concludes that since the mosque, so-called in his view, was built after demolishing another religious structure, it could not have been considered a “mosque” per Islamic tenets.
Justice Sharma, who retired from service one day after the Judgement was delivered, remains untroubled by the many knowledgeable critiques of the Survey Report on which he bases himself, or by such crucial findings that animal bones, glazed potteries, and graves were found beneath the demolished Babri mosque—artifacts that do not point to a Hindu site but a non-Hindu one.
It is also agreed that an idol of Ramlala—the infant Ram—and a few others were clandestinely placed inside and below the central dome of the demolished Babri mosque during the night of Dec.,22-23, 1949, and Justice Khan underscores the fact that it was only some years before that event that Hindu organizations had begun to propagate the belief that the birthplace of Ram lay precisely at the centre of the central dome, whereas through all the preceding times the Ayodhya site was generally thought to contain such a birthplace somewhere or the other. He leaves it to us to speculate why such certitude should have surfaced in the years close to India’s independence from colonial rule—decades that were to see fierce ideological contestation about what the new nation should comprise, a secular democracy or a “Hindu Rashtra”.
That politically reformulated belief about the location of the birthplace, of course, was to fuel the right-wing Hindu putsch that culminated in the wanton decimation of the Babri mosque on Dec.,6,1992, an event that does not find mention atleast in the excerpts of the Judgement thus far available.
And yet, both Justice Aggarwal and Justice Khan are able to certify that the birthplace of Ram indeed stood below the central dome of the demolished mosque. Whereas Justice Khan simply orders that “the portion beneath the Central dome where at present make shift temple stands will be allotted to the share of the Hindus,” Justice Aggarwal opines: “It is declared that the area covered by the central dome of the three domed structure, i.e., the disputed structure being the deity of Bhagwan Ram Janamsthan and place of birth of Lord Rama “as per faith and belief of Hindus,” belong to plaintiffs (Suit-5; the Hindu organization pleading the case) and shall not be obstructed or interfered in any manner by the defendants.”
Clearly then, the birthplace is so designated by one deciding Judge in deference to the “faith and belief of Hindus” and the other simply as an act of acquiescence, no legally tenable evidence being cited by either.
Is that a problem larger than the one the honourable judges were conscious of attacking at great risk? It clearly is.
As The Hindu editorial of October 1 justly comments, “at one point, from the standpoint of political morality, the verdict could be viewed as partially rewarding those who placed the idol overnight under the central dome of the mosque and those who in 1992 razed it to the ground.”
But when the same editorial also goes on to counsel that “Secular India needs to move on and not be held hostage to grievances, real or imaginary, from the distant past,” it begs more than a question.
And here is why: just how is ‘secular India” to be squared with juridical determinations based not in legally tenable laws and facts of evidence but on any systems of communal “faith and belief”? Is it not the case that the contract of Constitutionalism and rule of law that was broken between the State and its citizens at the times the idols were inserted and the mosque finally brought down by voluntary and extra-constitutional initiatives on the one hand and the State’s complicity on the other seems now to be replicated by once again denying to the aggrieved party its due in judicial redress authorized by proof and evidence? And once again to the favour of those who were the culprits in those depredations?
How is the Sunni Waqf Board, fighting the constitutional battle for secularism, to swallow the sleight-of-hand that “faith and belief” of a community should be deemed to constitute evidence for such a potentially game-changing verdict and the tangible and proven existence of the mosque, of the fact of worship within it till 1949, and of its brazen decimation not be seen to constitute evidence of possession?
How is secular and law-abiding India generally to consider the circumstance that where in 1993, the Supreme Court of India to which a Presidential reference had been made on behalf of the government of the day to make a determination whether a temple had stood beneath the mosque and, if so, whether it could be identified as the birthplace of Lord Ram had thought it prudent to return the said reference on the grounds that it had no wherewithal to make such determinations, the honourable Justices of the Allahabad High Court should have seen no difficulty in the matter whatsoever, feeling no need of proof that could stand the test of law?
And how is secular India to quell its apprehension that the honourable judges, in holding as they have, may have laid a precedent of enormous consequence—one to which many more suits may likewise rise for redress of real or imaginary wrongs by parties long dead and gone?
If I permit myself a reference to what I wrote on the subject of Indian secularism just the day before the verdict was due:
“At the heart of the (problem) has been the peculiar version of secularism adopted by the State from its inception, namely not a separation of Church and State, but an ‘equal’ regard of all religious faiths.
Clearly, where some 85% of all Indians are Hindus of one kind or another, that mandate of ‘equal’ regard finds its own disequilibrium in the politics of ‘mainstream’ India. Just as dependable citizenship remains coloured by denominational proclivities and preferences.”
( “Ayodhya and What it Implies,” www.gtobpost.com; www.liquida.com; www.butterfliesandwheels.org; www.kritikulture.blogspot.com; www.skeptic.ca.za; etc., Sept.,29, 2010)
I fear me much that those innocent speculations have been borne out in the determination that the Allahabad Lordships have made with respect to the claims about the birthplace on the one hand and the defendants of the demolished mosque on the other.
I had concluded that post with the sentence “A distinct watershed moment then in the post-Independent history of ‘modernising’ India which will tell us whether the Constitutional clock moves ahead or suffers a circumambulatory regression in time.” The Judgement seems to have answered that one as well but to the trepidation of that vast majority of Indians of all denomination who wish to strengthen pluralism and secular democracy.
And yet it is a tribute to the seductive substance of the Verdict apportioning a third of the site to the three contending litigants that voices are heard even among Muslims that the Judgement offers opportunity for a compromise Distinguished Muslims such as the poet, Javed Akhtar, and the other celebrity, Anu Agha, alongwith the Khadims at the Ajmer sufi shrine can be heard to welcome the verdict and see in it the opportunity to bury inter-communal tensions and animosities. After all, a third of the site has been allotted to the Sunni Waqf board where it may now build a new mosque. That speculation, the fear of further bloodshed, and the desire to lunge into the “development” agenda of a new young India lie behind such an impulse and counsel. Indeed, one distinguished Muslim intellectual, Jalees Ahmed Khan Tareen, Vice Chancellor of Pondicherry University goes as far as to advise that Muslims “form a public opinion saying we do not support the Board’s decision to continue this fight. The one-third land should be gracefully gifted to Hindus to build the temple” (Letter to The Hindu, Oct.,1.) On the face of it a sort of Gandhian gesture; yet why do I feel that had Gandhi indeed been with us today on his 140th birth anniversary as I write this, he would have rather called upon ordinary Hindus to come forward and build the mosque that the Muslims lost in 1992 to an act of historic hate and criminal vendetta.
But those that earn their bread by logic and law ask the question: it the suit of the Waqf Board has been dismissed by the honourable court, on the grounds presumably that it was time-barred in law, and that the Board could not prove possession, then why have they been allotted any part of the site? And if they have been, then why has their suit been dismissed? Other than raising the main interrogation that has formed the substance of this piece so far: can “faith and belief” be construed fit legal grounds for any judicial verdict about title to properties? And would the same criterion apply also to the “faith and belief” of communities other than the majority Hindu community?
How much the urge to put the issue behind has weighed in these matters is movingly explicit in what Justice Khan says in parts of his 285 page Judgement. He writes: “I remind both the warring factions of the following. The one quality which epitomized the character of Ram is tyag (sacrifice). When Prophet Mohammed entered into a treaty with the rival group at Hudayliyah, it appeared to be an abject surrender even to his staunch supporters. However the Koran described that as clear victory and it did prove so. Within a short span therefrom Muslims entered the Mecca as victors, and not a drop of blood was shed.”
And again: “Muslims must also ponder that at present the entire world wants to know the exact teaching of Islam in respect of relationship of Muslims with others. Hostility, peace, friendship, tolerance, opportunity to impress others with the Message, opportunity to strike wherever and whenever possible, or what?” Noting that Indian Muslims occupy the unique position of once having been rulers, and now being a vast minority as opposed to countries where they are either a vast majority or a miniscule minority, “they are therefore in the best position to tell the world the correct position. Let them start their role in the resolution of the conflict at hand.”
I have cited the text in extenso because it comprises a conglomerate of the most far-reaching consequence and deliberation.
The impulse seems clear enough, namely, to learn how to forge a new and better life and future for the community, and presumably for all Indians, from an act of tyag (sacrifice) or surrender.
Curiously, where Ram is cited for his selfless ability to sacrifice, what is overlooked is that those that speak in his name seem to have imbibed none of those qualities. Note that not one spokesman of the BJP has so far publicly committed that, arising from the tripartite division of the property, the Muslims may now build a mosque on the portion allotted to them, let alone make the gesture that such a task will draw cooperation from their Hindu brethren. Over the last two days we have only heard the chief of the RSS and other spokesmen of the Hindu right to say how everybody must now set their shoulder to building that “grand” temple.
Simultaneously the event at Hudayliyah seems cleary invoked to inspire Muslims whose solid legal claims have been set aside to emulate the example of the Prophet and help put this festering sore of a problem behind them.
Yet, all that notwithstanding, it must be emphasized that nothing would be more erroneous than to view the Babri site suit as one exclusively between Hindus and Muslims. At its heart reside issues that necessarily bear on the determinations of all Indians who take the Indian Constitution and secular democracy to be founding informants of their lives as citizens.
It is for that reason that, regardless of the possibilities of any out-of-court compromise in the matter, the issues flagged by those that know the law and those that wish to live by it must be carried to the highest Court in the land. What affirmations or revisions of the Allahabad High Court Judgement may there emerge can then atleast be regarded as the law of the land in such matters, however it turns out. It may be said of course that every secular and law-abiding citizen of India will harbour the hope that the Supreme Court of India which had many years ago refused to make any determination on the question of birthplace etc., will no doubt recognize the enormity of what has transpired in the High Court and order due corrections.
Which brings us to the politics of the question. Put in one word, the Hindu rightwing, and the BJP will find it impossible to resist the opportunity (as they see it) to plough their “victory” in terms of a judicially secular endorsement of their religious sentiment and ratchet up the ante in familiar style, and the Muslim organizations not to be downcast at a denial of their legal rights by an Institution of the State that they have trusted the most in favour of that majoritarian sentiment.
How much that euphoria on one side and gloom on the other may or may not tell upon the life of the nation in the years upto a final determination of the Babri case will crucially depend on how intelligently vox populi allows or does not allow the politics of aggrandizement or resentment to influence electoral democracy and cultural pluralism. Not to speak of how the liberal classes, influential sections of the media, and agencies of the State behave themselves in thwarting a dreaded return to the abrasively repulsive Ninetees which saw thousands of lives lost in the aftermath of the Babri mosque demolition.
India may indeed again be on test as it was then. Hopefully, it will not repeat the failure that cost the nation grievously.