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Between the line

Future hangs in balance
October 13, 2010


NO doubt, there has been peace and tranquility in India after the judgment on the Babri masjid-Ram Janambhoomi dispute. No untoward incident has taken place in the country. But the credit for this must go to the Muslims who, although generally sullen, have abided by their earlier declaration that they would accept the court’s decision and go to the Supreme Court if they felt aggrieved. And they have declared that they would go in for an appeal.

Imagine if the verdict had gone against the Hindutva elements. Would they have kept quiet? Even when the verdict is not wholly in their favour, their posture is that of being the victor. There is nothing to suggest that they have taken the judgment in humility and in the spirit that may lessen fears of the Muslims. The difference between the approaches of the two is markedly clear.

All the Muslims organizations have said that they would accept the Supreme Court judgment as final. But none of the Hindu contestants has made such a commitment, not even a vague assurance that if they lose in the Supreme Court, they would accept the verdict as it comes. This is, in fact, the nub of the matter. One community, the minority, says that it would abide by the rule of law and the other, the majority, holds no such promise.

It was the violation of rule of law when the Babri masjid was destroyed in 1992. Even the Supreme Court’s directive to maintain status quo was mocked at. The UP state government, then headed by the BJP, had no hesitation in conspiring to pull down the mosque, to the glee of top BJP leaders who watched it till the last stone of the masjid was removed. The then Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao did little to stop the destruction, even if the charge that he connived at the vandalism is brushed aside.

Understandably, the Allahabad High Court judgment was only deciding only a title suit and was not concerned about the demolition. Yet the fact remains that those responsible for the demolition are nowhere near punishment even after the court wrangling for the last eight years. The CBI has been going slow as if there are orders from above. Had the government pursued the demolition case vigorously, the cynicism among those who believe that the present judgment is “a balancing act” would have looked out of place.

The judgment does not in any way lessen the crime of masjid’s demolition. I am glad to find that L.K. Advani repeating that it was “a shame.” But he is responsible for another shame: politicizing a religious dispute. He is the one who led a rath from Somnath temple to Ayodhya where the mosque stood. How many innocent died in the wake of his yatra should be on his conscience. But he still says that his stand on Ayodhya has been vindicated.

Advani and the entire Sangh parivar should offer apologies to the Muslims for the rath yatra on the one hand, and the masjid’s demolition, on the other. This may help restore part of the community’s confidence because the Muslims increasingly believe that they do not get an equal treatment in a country which established a democratic, secular polity after winning independence 63 years ago.

The judgment has accepted the plea that a matter of belief can develop into a legal proof if it persists for a long time. The place where the idols were stealthily placed in 1949 has been declared as the birth place of Lord Rama. The makeshift temple after the masjid’s demolition has also been recognized and allotted to the Hindutva forces. True, the judges have their own arguments.

Still, the verdict has legitimized a new thesis whereby faith or belief becomes a fact without evidence. The mere antiquity is enough. In a way, theology has taken precedence over legal jurisprudence. It could have opened a Pandora’s Box of claims and counter-claims. But Parliament probably foresaw the danger. It did well to enact a law in 1993 to forebid the reopening of any dispute or claim over religious places that existed in India as on August 15, 1947, the Independence Day.

In spite of this law, some Hindu extremists want to re-open the arrangements at Mathura and Varanasi. At both places, the mandir and the masjid stand side by side with even the aarti and azan taking place at the same time. In a way, the judges have provided for a similar type of opportunity at Ayodhya. Settling the title suite, they have given them one third of the 2.7-acre site, to the Sunni Waqf Board, Nirmohi Akhara and the Ram Janambhoomi supporters. The division is to take place in the next three months unless the Supreme Court decides on a stay if and when any party approaches it.

It would have been ideal if the masjid were built on one third of the site on one side, extending the premises to the opposite side of the Ram Janambhooomi, where the makeshift temple stands. Similarly, the temple could be built on the on one third of the site, as allowed by the court, but spreading to the opposite side of the proposed masjid. Between the two, the akhara (wrestling ground) also given one third of the site would have been located.

But unfortunately, this is not acceptable to the Sangh parivar. The BJP, their political wing, has led the demand for the rest of the two-thirds of the site. But this is not possible if the and its supporters continue to ride the high horse. They would have to persuade the Muslims for such a proposition.

I personally think that the entire site should be cleared and left as a vacant ground. At Hiroshima, the place where the atom bomb fell during the World War II, one patch of land has been kept vacant. People go there as pilgrims and weep over the killing of thousands. The vacant site of Ayodhya would become a hallowed site where people should go and cry over the demise of secularism put to death on December 6, 1992.

The judgment gives a pause to the ever raging differences between the Hindus and the Muslims. It gives them time to introspect. Do they take the same road which they traversed since independence? How do they face the future which is that of science, technology and economic development?

They cannot remain prisoners of bias and prejudice just because they follow different religions. This is another opportunity to strengthen our secular ethos and face the question squarely. Why have we, as a nation, failed to establish secularism to which we swore after winning freedom?

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