Ayodhya: 25 years of shame


IT has been 25 long years since the destruction of Babri Masjid in Ayodhya. And it still feels like only yesterday that the tragedy that changed India forever struck. Most of us remember where we were or what we were doing that fateful day. It’s as if time has stood still all these years.

It indeed has in many ways. Meanwhile a whole new generation of Indians has grown up. Indeed, the majority of Indians today were not around when the mosque was torn down by a frenzied mob, in full view of the world and in the presence of thousands of defenders of law.

Prime Minister Narasimha Rao reportedly slept through that portentous day, literally. With him slept the Indian state and its powerful institutions.

The ghosts of Ayodhya just refuse to go away. They have been kept engaged, with great effort and ingenuity. The tragedy has remained as fresh as ever like a deep, festering wound that just wouldn’t heal. Especially for the 200 million Muslims. Even if some of them wanted to forgive and forget what happened in Ayodhya 25 years ago and move on, they have been prevented from doing so, thanks to the efforts of Hindutva groups to keep the issue alive.

The rag-tag army of bigots once dismissed as “the fringe” has gone mainstream with its governments in Delhi and Lucknow. The Parivar truly rules now, controlling all levers of power and has never been more powerful in its eventful history.

Not surprisingly, it believes it can use its unprecedented power and clout to have its way, including a ‘favorable verdict’ from the Supreme Court on the ownership of the land where the 16th century mosque stood for four centuries before being razed on Dec. 6, 1992.

Hindutva groups have long claimed that the Babri Masjid had been built on the ruins of a temple and at the birthplace of Ram, the reigning deity of Hindu pantheon. Not only are they certain about the birthplace of a mythical figure, who is said to have lived thousands of years ago. They insist he had been born at the exact spot where the central dome of the now deceased mosque stood.

The fact that there is no historical or physical evidence to back any of these claims seems to matter little. Even Tulsidas, the 16th century bard who penned epic Ramcharitmanas —something like a Shah Nama for Lord Ram in Awadhi — 30 years after Babri Masjid had been built by Mogul satrap Mir Baqi, makes no mention of the existence or demolition of any Ram temple in the temple town although the classic includes every tiny little detail about Ram.

But then facts have been of little consequence in this bitter battle for power and assertion of Hindutva supremacy. All these antics over Ayodhya are but a ploy, just a means to acquiring and perpetuating power.

And 25 years after the destruction of the mosque, a catastrophe that shamed India before the world and caused widespread rioting, bloodshed and thousands of killings, the BJP and its clan still believe that Ramji can once be approached to help them, in the assembly polls in Gujarat this month and in the 2019 parliamentary elections.

If communal peace and security are destroyed in the process, so be it. It is a small price to pay for power and glory.

Given all this madness and mayhem, I have often wondered if it would have helped if the Muslims had voluntarily given up their claim on the Babri Masjid in the interest of peace and communal amity.

After all, the mosque has already been destroyed and there’s little hope of it being rebuilt in the foreseeable future, given the unprecedented communal polarization and the total dominance of the Right.

Indeed, many well-wishers of the community and secular liberals who would want the two communities to bury the hatchet and start afresh have called for turning the Ayodhya site into a museum or park of some sort for greater common good.

Under the circumstances, wouldn’t it have been better if the Muslims had surrendered their claims over the mosque and the land on which it once stood? The answer is in negative. First, it is the Muslim belief that mosques belong to Allah and we have no right or liberty to give them away, even if we were willing to.

Second, even if Muslims were willing to demonstrate magnanimity and give up their claim over the mosque and its land in the interest of peace and amicable relations with the Hindu brethren, there’s no guarantee that the Parivar would mend its ways overnight.

If the Ayodhya issue were resolved tomorrow, you can bet your life that the RSS would come up with another equally emotive issue to keep stirring the pot. It already has deployed many such weapons from its deadly arsenal, from ‘love jihad’ to cow slaughter to other imagined wrongs. Besides, there are hundreds of other mosques like Gyanvapi Mosque of Varanasi and Jama Masjid of Mathura on the ‘hit list’ of the VHP and company. There is no end to this historical witch-hunt.

The Muslims have therefore no option but to patiently hope and wait for justice from the SC. The top court intervened when the Allahabad high court, instead of delivering justice on the basis of facts on the ground, in an absurd 2010 judgment invoked “faith” and ordered the Ayodhya land to be divided into three parts (two parts for Hindus and one for Muslims).

Truth be told, courts have repeatedly let down India’s largest minority.

Instead of penalizing those who destroyed Babri Masjid and nearly destroyed the country were allowed to get away with murder to enjoy power and occupy highest offices in the land. Indeed, the BJP wouldn’t be ruling India today if it were not for the abject failure of courts to hold it to account for its high crimes against the nation.

Despite being the aggrieved party, Muslims have demonstrated exemplary restraint and repeatedly emphasized that they respect the rule of law and would go by the court verdict no matter which way it goes. Hindutva groups, on the other hand, have been throwing their weight around to bully Muslims into an ‘out-of-court settlement’.

Compromises and settlements are possible between equals. When one side is hopelessly weak and the other side all-powerful, with the might of state institutions behind it, only courts offer the hope of justice.

This is not a dispute between the Hindus and Muslims. The overwhelming majority of this great country believes in the rule of law. This is a battle between right and wrong, justice and injustice, and the rule of law and jungle law.

At stake in Ayodhya is the very future and wellbeing of India as a secular and pluralist democracy and a law-abiding, civilized society. One only hopes the highest court in the land is aware of its responsibility and duty to the Constitution and recognized principles of justice.

— Aijaz Zaka Syed is an independent writer and former newspaper editor. Email: Aijaz.syed@hotmail.com