Ram, and not temple, is the issue
by Virendra Parekh on 09 Oct 2010 17 Comments

It took just a day for secularist sewer rats to crawl out of their holes after the Ayodhya judgment. Mulayam Singh Yadav discovered that Muslims felt ‘cheated and disappointed’ by the verdict, even before any Muslim said so. Most likely, it was Mr. Yadav, like others of his ilk, who felt cheated and disappointed, both by the content of the judgment and even more so by the quiet dignity and equanimity with which it was received by the people. Whatever their inner feelings, leaders and laity of the Hindu and Muslim communities accepted it peacefully and respectfully. There were no triumphal processions celebrating ‘victory’ or any manifestation of manufactured rage and mourning.


This was just too much for the tribe of politicians and pen pushers who have made careers (and fortunes) by fanning communal strife. Dileep Padgaonkar (Times of India, 2 Oct.) wondered ‘whether anything straight can ever emerge from the crooked timber of majoritarianism.’ The biggest infirmity of the verdict, according to him, is that the court treated Lord Ram as a ‘juristic person’, to be placed on par with flesh-and-blood litigants. On the issue of whether or not a mosque was built after demolishing a temple, he informs us that “from all accounts, the findings of the Archaeological Survey of India were incomplete at best and, at worst, misleading. At any rate, experts are divided on the subject.”  


He is wrong on both the counts. Secularists want Lord Ram dismissed as a mythological figure. Since Ram is a myth, he cannot have a place of birth; Ram Janmabhoomi is thus just a figment of imagination of fanatics.


Unfortunately for them, the legal recognition of a deity or a murti as a juridical person with property rights is a settled practice in Indian law; it was not invented or fabricated by the judges for this particular case. Hindu beliefs, religious customs and practices are governed by a body of law called Hindu Law, just as Muslim beliefs and customs are governed by Mohammedan Law. All matters pertaining to Hindu deities, temples, endowments, etc are determined from the days of the British Raj to the present in accordance with that law.


Belief and faith, say secularists, have to be kept outside the ambit of the court. Here, judges weigh evidence rooted in incontrovertible facts, examine the pertinence of reasoned arguments, and proceed to deliver a judgment that conforms in letter and spirit with the laws of the land.


Well, that is what the judges have done in dismissing suits filed by Sunni Waqf Board and Nirmohi Akhara. The Sunni Waqf Board could not prove a history of ownership and transfer of the land to it by private munificence or royal/state decree. Similarly, the Nirmohi Akhara, a sect that sees itself as the custodian of the Hindu shrine that it says has existed at the site, had a claim based on tradition more than on property documents.


These suits were time barred, ruled the judges, applying another secular criterion. The Hindu community lost the site in at least 1528. The Akharas were created in the reign of Aurangzeb to reclaim holy sites in northern India. In 1949, the images of Ram Lalla appeared under the central dome. The Sunni Waqf Board filed a petition claiming ownership of the site and demanding restoration in 1961, when the statute of limitations prevailing at the time the images were placed was to six years. Hence the judges ruled the Waqf Board suit both time-barred and title not proven. There is further confusion regarding the denomination of the mosque itself – while Babur was a Sunni Muslim, his general Mir Baqi was a Shia, as was the later dynasty of Awadh. It was not been clarified if Ayodhya had/has a Shia Mutawali, and if the latter has legal deeds to the mosque.


In any case, when suits filed by two out of three claimants are dismissed on wholly secular grounds (documentary evidence of ownership, statute of limitation), the logical conclusion is that the site goes to the third claimant, Ram Lalla, who is associated with the place since time immemorial. This is the logic (not faith or belief) that was followed by Justice D.V. Sharma.


If anything, the court has erred in favour of socio-political reality over legality in dividing the disputed site into three and awarding one piece to each claimant. This action of the court is legally unsound and practically problematic, with potential to escalate the dispute rather than resolve it.


An important issue considered by the court was whether a Hindu temple existed below the disputed structure in Ayodhya. All three judges answered this question in the affirmative. Actually, until 1989, there had been no question about the site's history. All the written sources, whether Hindu, Muslim or European, were in agreement about the pre-existence of a Rama temple at the site. “Rama's birthplace is marked by a mosque, erected by the Moghul emperor Babar in 1528 on the site of an earlier temple,” according to the 1989 edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, entry ‘Ayodhya.’ Muslim sources routinely referred to the disputed structure as Masjid-e-Janamsthan.  


The court’s conclusion, however, is based on the report of the meticulous investigation by the Archaeological Survey of India at its orders in 2003. The judgment refers to the report of the ASI.


Padgaonkar alleges “the findings of the Archaeological Survey of India were incomplete at best and, at worst, misleading. At any rate, experts are divided on the subject.”


Well, here is what the ASI report said: “Now, viewing in totality and taking into account the archaeological evidence of a massive structure just below the disputed structure and evidence of continuity in structural phases from the 10th century onwards up to the construction of the disputed structure along with the yield of stone and decorated bricks as well as mutilated sculpture of divine couple and carved architectural members, including foliage patterns, amalaka, kapotapali doorjamb with semi-circular pilaster, broken octagonal shaft of black schist pillar, lotus motif, circular shrine, having pranala (water chute) in the north, 50 pillar bases in association of the huge structure, are indicative of the remains which are distinctive features found associated with the temples of north India.”


Incomplete? Misleading? Only for “experts” whose testimony Padgaonkar likes to rely on - Romila Thapar, Irfan Habib, “Eminent Historians” whose bias, prejudice, intellectual dishonesty, moral bankruptcy and poor scholarship has been documented chapter and verse by Arun Shourie in his seminal work of the same title. More than a decade has passed since the publication of that book and not a single fact has been controverted. All that these worthies could muster in self-defence was a shower of abuse on the writer and studied ignorance of what he actually said.


Romila Thapar and R.S. Sharma (another ‘eminent’ historian) are quoted as representatives of Indian Marxism in Tom Bottomore’s History of Marxist Thought, Oxford 1988, entry “Hinduism”. Irfan Habib has subtitled his book Essays in Indian History (Tulika, Delhi 1995) as Towards a Marxist Perception.


If these Stalinist activists want to champion a bankrupt ideology discarded and discredited all over the world, it is their privilege. But then they cannot expect to be treated as objective and impartial scholars of history. Elsewhere, they would have been laughed out of academic court. Here they have the gumption to claim to be the sole spokesmen of India’s past which they have done everything to subvert, distort and misrepresent.


The secularist counterattack on the judgment vindicates the perceptive observation made by the late Girilal Jain: the central issue in the Ayodhya dispute is Ram, not the temple. Not the location of the temple, but the place of Hindu dharma in India’s public life is the issue.


Unlike the Hindus, the secularists were quick to realise that Ayodhya was much more than a property dispute. At a deeper level, it raised issues like the cultural content of Indian nationalism, nature of Indian society, interpretation of Indian history and, above all, the role and direction of the Indian State.      


Thus, is India the repository of a great ancient civilization or is it a ‘nation in the making’? Are Vedas, Upanishads, Ramayana and Mahabharata treasures of the spiritual heritage of the Indian nation, or old texts highly regarded by a section of the population? Are Ram and Krishna symbols of India’s nationhood, or are they mythological figures revered by sections of a community? Was Babur a fanatic foreign invader who inflicted a deep wound on the Indian nation by destroying the Ram Janmabhoomi Temple at Ayodhya, or just one among the many kings who ruled India in the medieval era? Were Rana Pratap and Shivaji national heroes fighting alien rule, or rebels against a central authority? Finally, do Hindus constitute the national community, or are they just one of several communities inhabiting India?


In the Orwellian language of secular-speak, this is ‘crime-think’: it is communalism to ask these questions. That is because secularism as a political philosophy is intellectually dependent upon the secularist version of history. Conversely, once secularism as the official state ideology is fully discredited, secularist history-writing cannot survive for long.  


The Ayodhya movement was an attempt by Hindu society to raise these questions. The judgment takes the country one step (but just a step) closer to correct answers and their acceptance by the ruling establishment. Whether the Hindu leadership stays the course or squanders the opportunity is an open bet.


The author is Executive Editor, Corporate India, and lives in Mumbai

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