Faith Privileged Over Fact
[The demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992 rocked the foundations of secular India. The Ayodhya issue, often misrepresented as a Hindu-Muslim dispute, in fact represents a contest between secular democratic values on the one hand and a communal fascist vision of India on the other. The idea of ‘Ram Janmabhoomi’ and ‘Ram Temple’ at the identical spot of the Babri Masjid, far from being articles of ‘faith’ for Hindus at large, was established as part of a sustained political campaign on part of the Sangh Parivar over a period of several decades – a campaign that the Indian State, for all its secular protestations, failed to arrest even when it blatantly violated laws of the land.
The verdict of the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court Ayodhya in the Ayodhya title suit case, instead of recognising the political nature of the ‘Ram Temple’ claim and dealing with the title suit claim on a strictly legal basis, has chosen to legitimise the ‘Ram Temple’ politics by upholding its key ideological propositions.
What are the implications of such a verdict? Can it provide any effective resolution to the Ayodhya conflict? In this feature we seek to highlight some of the secular, democratic, progressive voices from various quarters as they responded to the verdict.
Kavita Krishnan and Sudhir Suman on behalf of Liberation spoke to Supreme Court advocate Prashant Bhushan and Justice Rajinder Sachar, retired Chief Justice of High Court of Delhi who authored the Sachar Committee Report on the situation of Muslims in India about questions raised by the verdict.
In addition, we carry excerpts from some of the insightful commentaries that appeared in the wake of the verdict. Ed/-]
“Verdict Appeases Communal Fascists”
– Prashant Bhushan
Liberation: Some prominent figures of the secular movement have opined that the verdict is a measure of ‘peace and reconciliation’. What is your opinion?
PB: The verdict could have been accepted if it had been confined to the issue of joint possession. Earlier prayers by Hindus had been allowed by Muslims who were in charge of the mosque – even if that had been stretched for the purpose of a settlement to mean restoration of joint possession, or even partition between the Hindus and Muslims on the basis that they were in joint possession, I could have understood that as a basis for accepting the judgement as one way of resolving the dispute. But when the verdict goes further and says that the place under the dome should be given the Ram Lalla on the ground that Hindus have come to believe that Ram Lalla was born here, this I find most objectionable. The Court has framed the issue of whether there was a temple or not, which to my mind ought not to have been framed. Whether there was a temple prior to the mosque or not cannot be a basis for deciding title or possession today.
Liberation: Some have called for ‘secular India to move on’ after the verdict. Can we, on the basis of this verdict, really move on and leave the Ayodhya conflict behind?
PB: The verdict can’t possibly be a stable resolution of the issue. When the Sangh Parivar has been rendered victorious, talk of reconciliation will not last very long. The verdict virtually justifies a fascist movement and so it is bound to provide fresh fodder for that movement. They will now use the verdict to claim Kashi, Mathura and so on. To accept a settlement on the basis of this verdict would amount to appeasing the communal fascist forces, and whenever you appease fascists they end up being emboldened and strengthened.
Liberation: What are the implications of a judicial verdict based on belief in a title suit case?
PB: It is quite absurd. Unfortunately in many earlier cases, Indian Courts have recognised deities as legal persons. It started with the large amounts of land with temples etc, which were not being run by trusts and were being informally run by pujaris and so on. To settle the question of ownership of such property, the Courts would deem them to be owned by the deity and someone would be appointed by the Court as custodian. In this case, however, the “guardians” for Ram Lalla were self-appointed, not appointed by the Court.
Liberation: In that case the SC will not overturn the verdict on the basis that it recognises a deity as a person...
PB: No, not on that ground. But the ground that people came to believe that a particular site is the birthplace of Ram Lalla – that is judicially absurd. After all it is beyond doubt that there was a mosque for many hundreds of years. The first time the idols were installed there was Dec 1949, which the verdict accepts. The dispute begins there. We can hope that the Supreme Court will not allow this verdict to stand.
Liberation: What do you think is the UPA Govt’s attitude to the verdict?
PB: I attended a recent meeting by the Ghalib Academy where one speaker vehemently said that the Congress had a huge share in creating the grounds for the Sangh’s Mandir agitation. In 1949, Govind Vallabh Pant and Nehru locked up the place instead of removing the idols that had been smuggled into the mosque. The locks were opened again in Rajiv Gandhi’s time, the Shilanyas happened in Rajiv’s time, he said. Therefore Congress did everything for the temple – except the final act of demolition by the Sangh Parivar, in which, too, the Narasimha Rao govt at the Centre had a notorious role. So I believe the Congress is also quite likely complicit in this verdict. The Congress has always had a soft Hindutva line – and this verdict is in the same direction of appeasing communal fascists.
“How can the Court allow those who demolished the masjid to profit from their crime?”
- Rajinder Sachar
Liberation: You were one of the first to oppose the verdict – very vocally and forthrightly. What has been the basis for your criticism of the verdict?
RS: Even before the verdict I had written that the legal position on such a title suit is quite clear: if someone occupies my house by force I must go to court within 12 years and if I don’t go to court within that period I lose my right even though it may have been undoubtedly mine. That is called the law of Limitation. In this case there was undoubtedly a mosque for over 400 years, and no one challenged it for such a long period. The court doesn’t seem to have dealt with this case in the light of the law of Limitation.
Liberation: As a former Chief Justice and as a rights activist with a strong sense of justice, can this verdict be called just?
RS: As I was telling you, by the simple law of Limitation, the claim for a Ram Temple at the site where a mosque stood for hundreds of years should have been dismissed. And there is a precedent for this kind of case. In Lahore the Masjid Shahid Ganj was undoubtedly built in 1722 AD. Then the Sikhs came to rule Punjab and they converted the masjid into a gurudwara in 1762. The Muslims filed a suit in the 1930s asking that the structure that had been a masjid be restored to them. It is instructive to see how the Privy Council treated this claim. Expressing “every sympathy with a religious sentiment which would ascribe sanctity and inviolability to a place of worship,” the Privy Council rejected the waqf board’s claim on the grounds of the Limitation Act, on the practical ground that the “property now in question” had been “possessed by Sikhs adversely to the waqf and to all interests there under for more than 12 years.” Similarly the suit of those claiming on behalf of the Ram Janmabhoomi should have been dismissed on the short ground of the law of limitation.
Liberation: The response among a section of secular people there seems to be an opinion that the verdict should be accepted as a basis for peace, reconciliation and so on...
RS: On NDTV, I was forced to remonstrate with Barkha Dutt; I said, “You’re asking us to move on from 1992, whereas the verdict is not moving on from 1528!” I feel that it is a globalisation lobby that is asking us to ‘forget’. Forget what? A crime has been committed, and one is not supposed to allow anyone to profit from a crime, but here crime has paid! In common law if a son kills his father he would lose his right to inherit even if he is his father’s only heir!
The issue of demolition cannot be separated from that of this verdict. The verdict rests on the fact of the demolition. Let us ask ourselves - what if the masjid had not been demolished in 1992? What if there had been an excavation and it was found that there had indeed been some sort of temple in the area around the mosque? Do you think that the court could ever have ordered the demolition of the mosque, even on a finding of a reasonable supposition that there had been a temple under the mosque?! If the mosque had not been demolished the court could never have ordered the demolition in order to hand over the land directly under the dome to the Ram Janmabhoomi camp!
Liberation: Following the verdict, there has been an attempt in some sections of the media to claim that ordinary Muslims are quite willing to accept the verdict while only the Muslim leadership is wilfully keeping the issue alive. As the author of the Sachar Committee Report that sensitively documents the material needs of the Muslims, would you say that the Ayodhya issue is no longer relevant to Muslims?
RS: I don’t buy the argument that the common Muslim accepts the verdict. 1992 is too big a wound for anybody to forget. The Muslims may gradually give way because they are on a weaker wicket; they cannot retaliate, they have to tolerate it. But can we allow a situation where a situation has to ‘tolerate’ an injury? We have to make sure they enjoy an equal footing. Muslims would be willing for a reconciliatory resolution – but which is a respectable solution between two equals! How can it be dignified, how can it be anything but demeaning to the spirit of equal citizenship if Muslims are asked to share the site with the goons who destroyed the mosque!
I do not think the SC can uphold such a verdict. The right of the Muslims over the land that had held the mosque must be squarely upheld. It is another matter if the Muslims, once their inalienable right over the land is upheld, decide not to build a mosque as a gesture of goodwill. But building a temple would be extremely dangerous – if this succeeds, it would become a precedent for similar measures in Kashi, Mathura, etc
Once their right over the land is upheld, Muslims could choose to enlist the cooperation of secular, democratic sections to wisely allow the use of the land for any other suitable purpose: a multi-faith institution, some kind of public service like a hospital, a secular memorial. But it has to be their decision.
Liberation: What do you make of the political response to this verdict?
RS: The response of political parties like Congress and CPI(M) has been quite wishy-washy - they have been reluctant to take a stance. What’s the point of simply saying we all must wait for the SC verdict and accept it come what may? We cannot just passively wait for the Supreme Court response. Supreme Court verdicts can well be wrong – a range of constitutional amendments (for instance on crucial questions like land reform) have been brought because Court verdicts were wrong!
Force of faith trumps law and reason in Ayodhya case
(Excerpted from an article by Siddharth Varadarajan in The Hindu, October 1, 2010)
The Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court has made judicial history by deciding a long pending legal dispute over a piece of property in Ayodhya on the basis of an unverified and unsubstantiated reference to the “faith and belief of Hindus.”
The irony is that in doing so, the court has inadvertently provided a shot in the arm for a political movement that cited the very same “faith” and “belief” to justify its open defiance of the law and the Indian Constitution. That defiance reached its apogee in 1992, when a 500-year-old mosque which stood at the disputed site was destroyed. The legal and political system in India stood silent witness to that crime of trespass, vandalism and expropriation. Eighteen years later, the country has compounded that sin by legitimising the “faith” and “belief” of those who took the law into their own hands.
For every Hindu who believes the spot under the central dome of the Babri Masjid is the precise spot where Lord Ram was born there is another who believes something else. But leaving aside the question of who “the Hindus” referred to by the court really are and how their actual faith and belief was ascertained and measured, it is odd that a court of law should give such weight to theological considerations and constructs rather than legal reasoning and facts. Tulsidas wrote his Ramcharitmanas in 16th century Ayodhya but made no reference to the birthplace of Lord Rama that the court has now identified with such exacting precision five centuries later.
The “faith and belief” that the court speaks about today acquired salience only after the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bharatiya Janata Party launched a political campaign in the 1980s to “liberate” the “janmasthan.”
Collectives in India have faith in all sorts of things but “faith” cannot become the arbiter of what is right and wrong in law. Nor can the righting of supposed historical wrongs become the basis for dispensing justice today.
If left unamended by the Supreme Court, the legal, social and political repercussions of the judgment are likely to be extremely damaging.
The verdict on Ayodhya: a historian's perspective
(From the piece by eminent historian Romila Thapar, The Hindu, October 2, 2010.)
The verdict is a political judgment and reflects a decision which could as well have been taken by the state years ago.
The excavations of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) and its readings have been fully accepted even though these have been strongly disputed by other archaeologists and historians. Since this is a matter of professional expertise on which there was a sharp difference of opinion the categorical acceptance of the one point of view, and that too in a simplistic manner, does little to build confidence in the verdict.
We cannot change the past to justify the politics of the present. The verdict has annulled respect for history and seeks to replace history with religious faith. True reconciliation can only come when there is confidence that the law in this country bases itself not just on faith and belief, but on evidence.
The Second Demolition: Ayodhya Judgement September 30, 2010
(Nivedita Menon on Kafila.org)
I am shattered by what it does, by its implications for democracy, and by the statement it makes about what we can expect for the future.
My rage is growing with every statesman-like pronouncement from one pompous man after the other in the media, gravely holding forth on the maturity of the compromise that has been reached.
What on earth can Pratap Bhanu Mehta for example, mean when he says in the The leap and the faith (IE Oct 01 2010), “The acknowledgement that this site be regarded for this purpose as the birthplace of Ram is, if anything, an attempt to de-politicise religion.”
You’re going to bring in God Himself into a property dispute and this is “de-politicizing religion”?
Forget the past? Okay, I’m confused. You mean forget that Babar may or may not have destroyed a temple to build the Masjid?
Oh no, no. We meant “the past” as in the demolition of the Masjid in 1992, eighteen years ago. Forget that. The past when Babar destroyed the temple? Five hundred years ago? That past we will remember forever.
We’re the raped women married to our rapists so that the village can carry on as before.
Many of us shouted ourselves hoarse at the time – this is a political issue. It cannot be decided in a court of law. It has to be addressed politically, by sustained work at every level, all sections of India society should have a say in the debate, make this a huge public, national referendum of sorts.
But how much easier to say “let the courts decide”. As if the courts are above the politics of our times.
So now the court has decided.
And we have been married to our rapists. Silenced by the threat of violence.
At least let’s not pretend that this hideous situation is fair or just.
Ayodhya verdict contradicts our secular credentials
Antara Dev Sen (From a piece in www.dnaindia.com, October 7, 2010)
The Ayodhya case seems all set for the SC. This is the one chance India has of rectifying the outrageous chain of flaws that threatens to choke the life-breath out of our secular democracy. And hopefully, the SC will not fail us.
Unlike the Allahabad high court, which has. Its verdict ignores the palpably obvious (like a heritage mosque being illegally destroyed in front of our eyes and on international television), while focusing on intangibles (like where exactly a god was in remote antiquity).
It relies on dubious evidence to declare that a Hindu temple was demolished at the site almost 500 years ago, and attempts to rectify that imagined wrong while roundly ignoring the demolition of the Babri Masjid 18 years ago, and makes no attempt to rectify that wrong witnessed by the whole nation. It accepts that the idols of Ram Lalla had been placed inside the Masjid in 1949, triggering the present dispute, but seems to reward that and later acts of desecration by ruling in favour of the vandals.
The court had effectively taken on the task of providing a political solution to an incredibly politicised problem of faith. And allowed the muscle-flexing majority to influence legal justice disregarding the Constitutional guarantee of equality before the law.
That it treats the disputed land as occupied only by Ram Lalla legitimises the demolition of the mosque. That the verdict places faith over facts and the majority’s faith over the minority’s is disturbing. That it relies on myth and political expediency to decide a legal matter sets a worrying precedent. In effect, the verdict undermines justice and contradicts the secular, democratic credentials of India.
Thankfully, the HC is not the final word. In the Supreme Court, the case could be fast tracked and due procedure followed more diligently. The SC has been involved with the Mandir/Masjid issue earlier. Meanwhile, the government could act on the Liberhan Commission’s report, set up a specialised committee of social scientists to examine the historicity of the Ram Janmabhoomi and punish those guilty of razing the mosque.
From Political Ayodhya to Legal Ayodhya
(From an article by Vidya Subrahmaniam in The Hindu, 16 October, 2010.)
The Liberhan Commission inquiring into the December 6, 1992 demolition of the Babri Masjid was amateurish on many counts. However, it established one thing conclusively. That the Ram Mandir movement was pure political theatre. Its protagonists dragged out an issue that had been dead for decades, which had no resonance whatever with the local people, pouring so much destructive energy into it that for all outward appearances it became a throbbing, pulsating mass movement with a huge national following.
By contrast, the September 30, 2010 Allahabad High Court verdict on the Ayodhya title suits is innocently apolitical.
Of the Ayodhya dispute's many high-definition political moments, two stand out — the December 22-23, 1949 installation of idols under the central dome of the Babri mosque, and the 1992 demolition of the mosque. The judges take both these in their stride, treating them as legal milestones rather than as Machiavellian political acts. The 1949 violation was a result of premeditated collusion between bigoted sections of the Congress party and the local Faizabad bureaucracy led by a deputy commissioner whose blatant partisanship was proved by his subsequent admission to the Bharatiya Jan Sangh.
To close friend K G Mashruwala (letter dated March 5, 1950), Prime Minister Nehru confessed that the district officer in Faizabad “misbehaved,” further that while Govind Vallabh Pant “condemned the act on several occasions” he refrained from “taking definite action.” In a letter dated April 17, 1950, to the U.P. Chief Minister, Nehru admitted, “… U.P is becoming an almost foreign land to me … I find that communalism has invaded the minds and hearts of those who were the pillars of the Congress in the past. It is a creeping paralysis and the patient does not even realize it ... It seems to me that for some reason or other, or perhaps [for] mere political expediency, we have been far too lenient with this disease …”
These exchanges conclusively nail the lie that the 1949 installation of idols was an act of faith on the part of the Hindu masses. Sections of the U.P. Congress, with the parivar only too happily in attendance, drummed up the issue for “political expediency,” as Nehru lamented. Fast forward 61 years. For the Allahabad High Court, 1949 is merely a legal issue. The majority judgment accepts that the idols were installed by human hands — a fact admitted to by Deoki Nandan Agrawala, former Vice-President of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, in a suit he filed in 1989 as “next friend” of “Bhagwan Sri Ram Virajman” and “Asthan Sri Rama Janam Bhumi, Ayodhya.” Nonetheless, Justice Sudhir Agarwal rules that the installation of idols is not of material relevance because Lord Ram's “birthplace” is itself a deity with all juridical rights by virtue of it having become part of Hindu faith as a result of continuous, uninterrupted worship.
Justice Agarwal does take note of the “abominable manner” of the 1992 demolition. But he hastens to add that the Muslim defendants have never held the plaintiffs in suit 5 (a member of the VHP claiming to be the “next friend” of Ram Lalla) responsible for it. In an unbeatable irony, he also allots the space under the central dome to the plaintiffs in suit 5, presumably unaware that the VHP would see it as a vindication of a movement born and nurtured in violence.