Ayodhya- of triumphs and travesties !
We look at our teenage years with nostalgia and are mostly overcome by “ah to be young again”feeling. For the 90s kids like me,that phase was not just special but the appropriate word would be “magical”. The 90s were a tumultuous times in the history of independent India. Growing up in an urban, upper caste, upper middle class environment, I was bedazzled by the multitude of brands that were flooding the market, TV channels streaming in (that we watched season 1 when the US was watching season 5 of an soap opera didn’t bother me)and opportunities that beckoned- all on account of the liberalisation of our economy. The world was coming to India ! In such a time, for people from my background, in cosmopolitan Bangalore, the issue of religious polarisation on account of a temple-mosque dispute was at worst an irritant and at best an escape from the litany of lectures, since schools and colleges were off. I’ve come a long way from there! From being ambivalent to being majoritarian I’ve covered the entire spectrum of opinion. Blame it on age, I feel differently about this now. I’ve also learnt with sadness, that empathising with the muslim cause does not seem to be an option.
This weekend saw what most people say a closure to the chapter that was probably the hottest button that turned the country into a tinder box in the 90s, after the Mandal theatre of the 80s. While I am making an attempt to read the Ayodhya judgement the legalese is getting to me, although all my learned friends are singing paeans to the lucidity of the judgement. I’m not an expert by any stretch of imagination but after some reading of the judgement,opinions and after discussions with some erudite groups I have summarised my views below.
Firstly, general observations: There is this whole talk from the top leadership that there are no winners and losers in this case — What a pathetic lie! There definitely was a clear winner! It may warm the cockles of our hearts to read these platitudes but the true test of this will be seen in the election season. It is anybody’s guess as to how many times this comes up as an achievement in a triumphalist note and other such promises will be made.
And then there is the trope of “a chapter is over- let’s move on to more important things like jobs, economy etc”- We cannot move on until the critical criminal case of destruction of mosque is settled and the conspirators booked for it. While it maybe true that the issues of jobs and economy are more important it is also important to understand what this episode means to concept of “rule of law.”This was an opportunity to demonstrate that the rule of law operates in India, doesn’t differentiate between people and punishes violators, all of which are the founding blocks to address those more important issues of jobs and economy. However, this was not how it played out. There were hundreds of lives lost and the moral fabric of the country was permanently damaged with the mayhem that was unleashed by the Ram Janmabhoomi movement and the perpetrators are still at large. The judgement called out that the act of destruction was illegal.Yet the leader who spearheaded the movement in his comments on the verdict said “I stand vindicated”. This actually feels like a slap on the face of that hallowed principle of “rule of law.”So, if you really want a soaring economy, please insist on this rule of law.
So, we know which way this will go. But that’s not all-the case is still languishing in some appellate court. Even if we get a judgement today, it will be appealed and re appealed a few times. Yet another example of that cliched line that has come to symbolise the Indian justice system- “Justice delayed….”Let’s pray that by the grace of Ram Lalla that all the accused live to a 150 and this will see closure. That aside, wasn’t it imperative that the criminal case was settled before the judgement on this “property” dispute was announced ? Oh, but what is some heart ache before more important events such as retirement date and legacy of the CJI. On a personal level, moving on is a personal, internal thing. So,let’s keep our patronising majoritarian privilege tone under some control!
Finally, there is a well reasoned narrative that this was dealt as purely a property dispute and judged on the basis of evidence. While some people have given what seem well reasoned arguments, I cannot see how the property dispute and the religious movement of Ram Janmabhoomi can be disentangled. In the popular imagination, the two are inextricably linked. If it was purely a title dispute why would there be an addendum in the judgement in which one of the learned judges opined that the ‘faith and belief’ of Hindus is that Lord Ram was born at the precise site of the mosque, and therefore he supports the decision of his brother judges to hand over the site where the mosque was razed for the construction of a temple to Lord Ram. Harsh Mander writes — “…It is both curious and disturbing how the alleged faith and belief of a community can be relevant in any way while resolving a property dispute”(https://thewire.in/law/ayodhya-judgment-india-enveloping-darkness). Also,I’m curious to understand the methodology used to determine the exact location of the birth of a mythological figure! Some advancement this is. We could tweak that, maybe to find missing marks sheets of our leaders.
Secondly, some legalese that I can’t wrap my head around : While reading about this, I learnt about some established legal principles in Indian law (not specific to this case) which threw me out of whack! Some of them and their implications here are
- Deity rights : The Indian law distinguishes between God, deity and idol. I get the distinction between the later 2, but I am unable to see how God is not a recognised entity but a deity is a legal entity with its own rights. Doesn’t the construct of deity flow from the overarching concept of God ? The whole idea of deity having rights is absurd when the construct of God is not recognised in law. What is more absurd is that a deity is a perpetual Minor. (You wouldn’t say that if you saw those gigantic statues that our dotting our landscape, would you?They are far from Minor ;-))Since deity is a minor, a Trust becomes a “next friend”who will execute the will of the deity. I thought about it so much but I can’t seem to find a way to understand this. Apparently, the closest parallel is a Limited Company. The Co. operates through its officials. Now a charter for a co. is clear but how can we assume that the charter of the deity is the construction of a temple. If we say the charter is worship of God, that can happen in many ways (yagnas as an example) and is not restricted to worship in a temple.
In this case, the SC has ordered the creation of a Trust (which will be this “next friend”) to be set up by the government with specific instruction that the Trust must ensure the construction of the temple. Why? Whatever happened to separation of the State and religion? The Government of India was not even among the litigants in this case. Are we not conflating the government with a political party? And even so, why should the Government of India only look after the construction of a temple? Why not the mosque too? It is sending a message to the larger public that the Government will look after the Hindus, the Muslims have been given some land which they should be happy with.(how did they arrive at 5 acres?Was there a guilt complex playing and hence the need to overcompensate?)This paves the way for hierarchy of faiths. This idea in my mind, attacks at the root of the Indian Constitution. We can now safely consign the Constitution to the grand museum that is being envisaged in the capital. Also, slow clap to all those free market champions applauding this. As Naresh Fernandes tweeted - “ People who believe governments have no business running hotels and airlines are overjoyed at the thought of a government trust building a temple.”
2. Places of Worship Act 1991: The Indian State rules by sleight of hand whether it is Kashmir or Ayodhya. While the Act sought to maintain status quo for all places of worship as on Aug 15 1947, it did this by listing Ayodhya as an exception to the law with the reasoning that this was already under litigation when India obtained independence. So, what now prevents the addition of Kashi and Mathura as additions to the exceptions and in due course we can go on adding to the exception list? Remember “Ayodhya bas jhaanki hain, Kashi Mathura baaki hain!”The SC may have given its perfunctory warning not to use this as a precedent but we all know that when electoral compulsions arise all bets are off!
Lastly, the specifics of the case. These are technicalities that I’m not convinced about.
- Basis for settling the case: The SC is supposed to have treated this as a property dispute. As this video(How SC’s #AyodhyaVerdict settles a property dispute & goes …https://www.youtube.com › watch) explains, the SC has only taken into consideration the land rights and has negated the structure that has been on that land (the mosque). If that is so how can the same structure that has been negated and its associated attributes be used to settle continuity and exclusivity of use. If you have negated the existence of the structure on the land, the question of inner courtyard and outer courtyard does not exist. Isn’t it like saying the apartment which is built on the land is irrelevant but I will take the clubhouse that existed to determine usage patterns? Something doesn’t sit right there .
Exclusive and continuous use: Using what were supposed to be records from a few centuries to determine usage patterns sounds so disingenious. They seem to have been set to influence the case in one way. Obviously, hindus (and that too not as we know them now) have been on this land longer. So they will be able to prove longer use. The mosque was built in 1528. But the muslims could produce no proof of continuity of usage from then to 1856–57. Hence, they lost on the continuity front. However, I would think it’s pretty obvious that if a mosque was built it can be assumed that it was used. Does anyone build a place of worship for the fun of it? Taking into context the history of that time, we would be foolish to assume that a Mosque would NOT be used at the height of the Mughal empire lorded over by people like Akbar down to Aurangzeb ! Also, the court treated the entire 2.77 acres of land as a unitary whole. If that was so, both parties should’ve shown exclusive and continous right over the entire 2.77 acres. The part about outer and inner courtyard seems irrelevant. The court ruled that the exclusive use of the outer courtyard by the hindus and non exclusive use by the inner courtyard by the muslims put the hindu case on stronger footing, conveniently ignoring that the hindus pushed themselves into the inner courtyard. Like a friend said this is “Camel in a tent” tactic. Neither side had conclusive evidence. But the onus of proving beyond doubt that the inner courtyard was in their exclusive possession fell on the muslims while the hindus only proved that they had exclusive possession to the outer courtyard which incidentally is not germane to the supposed exact place of the birth of Ram. The Hindus got by using “preponderance of probabilities’ and “balance of probabilities” since in a civil case, you don’t have to have to prove anything “beyond doubt”. (https://www.firstpost.com/india/ayodhya-judgment-sc-using-faith-and-religion-to-settle-ramjanmabhoomi-title-claim-is-disingenuous-and-insincere-7633081.html).
In short, the law is an ass!
So, what should’ve been the solution:
Sometimes status-quo maybe a good thing. I would’ve liked the remains of a destructed structure to stand as-is and a memorial constructed in honour of all those faceless people who lost their lives in this man-made act of hatred and destruction as well as other such riots that it spawned off. This should’ve served as a reminder for anyone who would attempt to use aggression to settle disputes. But instead, we will have a temple that will showcase the current popular value of muscular majoritarianism !
So, what next ?
Can we even ask that question if we continually hark back to the past to correct historical wrongs to assuage our collective victimhood ?
Anyways,“mandir mubarak!”. Oops is Mubarak as a word allowed?.. but any other word doesn’t sound as good in this context.