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December 8, 2017



Ayodhya: the long wait for justice

It has been 25 years since the destruction of Babri Masjid in Ayodhya. And it still seems like it was only yesterday that the tragedy that changed India forever struck. Most of us remember where we were on that fateful day or what we were doing. It’s almost as if time has stood still all these years.
It indeed has in many ways, even though a whole new generation of Hindus and Muslims has grown up, replacing the lost generation before it. Indeed, a majority of Indians today had not even been around when the historical mosque was torn down by a frenzied mob, in full view of the world and in the presence of tens of thousands of defenders of the law.
PV Narasimha Rao, the Congress prime minister at the time, apparently slept through that portentous day and with him slept the mighty Indian state and all its powerful institutions.
The ghosts of Ayodhya have just refused to go away. The issue has been kept alive, consciously and deliberately, with great effort and ingenuity. The tragedy has remained as fresh as ever like a deep, festering wound that just won’t heal – especially for the country’s 200 million Muslims.
Even if some of them wanted to forget about what happened in Ayodhya 25 years ago and move on, they have been prevented from doing so, thanks to the persistence and hard work of the Hindutva groups to keep the issue alive.
The rag-tag army of fanatics, which had once been dismissed as “the fringe”, has gone mainstream, with its governments in Delhi and Lucknow. The Parivar truly rules the country, controlling all levers of power and the establishment, and it has never been more powerful in its tumultuous history.
Not surprisingly, it believes it can use its unprecedented power to have its way, including eyeing a ‘favourable verdict’ from the Supreme Court on the ownership of the land where the 16th century mosque stood for four centuries before being razed on December 6, 1992.
Right-wing groups have long claimed that

Babri Masjid had been built at they say is the the birthplace of Lord Ram – the reigning deity of the Hindu pantheon who is said to have existed eons ago. Not only are they certain about the birthplace of a somewhat mythical figure who is said to have lived at least 10,000 years ago, they also insist that he had been born at the exact spot where the central dome of the now-demolished mosque once 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 Mughal satrap Mir Baqi, makes no mention of the existence or demolition of any Ram temple in the temple town even though the classic includes every detail about Ram.
But then facts have been of little consequence or interest in this bitter battle for power and the assertion of Hindutva supremacy. Ayodhya and the Ram temple are a ploy – just a means to acquire power and perpetuate it for the right.
And 25 years after the destruction of the mosque – a catastrophe that shamed India before the entire 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, which begin in Gujarat, this month and in the 2019 general elections. If communal peace is wrecked in the process, so be it. It’s 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 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 razed to the ground. And there is little hope of it ever being built in the foreseeable future, given the unprecedented communal polarisation in the country today, not to mention the weakening of secular forces and the total dominance of the right in all walks of life.
Indeed, many sincere well-wishers of the community and secular liberals who would want both communities to bury the hatchet and start afresh have called for turning the Ayodhya site into a community space for greater common good. Under the circumstances, wouldn’t it have been better if Muslims had surrendered their claims over the mosque and the land on which it once stood?
The answer to these well-meaning propositions is in the negative. First, it is 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 had been willing to demonstrate magnanimity and give up their claim over the mosque and its land in the interest of peace and amicable relations with their Hindu brethren, there is 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 communal cauldron. It has already deployed many such weapons from its deadly arsenal, from ‘love jihad’ and cow slaughter to other imagined wrongs.
It is hardly a secret that there are hundreds of mosques like Babri Masjid – including historical ones such as the Gyanvapi Mosque of Varanasi and the Jama Masjid of Mathura – that are on the ‘hit list’ of the VHP and company. There is no end to this historical witch-hunt.
Under the circumstances, the Muslims have no option but to patiently hope and wait for justice from the Supreme Court. The top court seemingly intervened when the Allahabad High Court, instead of delivering justice on the basis of facts on the ground, invoked “faith” in an absurd 2010 judgement and ordered the Ayodhya land to be divided into three parts (two parts for Hindus and one for Muslims).
Despite being the aggrieved party, the minority community has demonstrated great restraint and repeatedly emphasised that it would respect and go by the court’s verdict no matter which way it goes. The Hindutva groups, including the BJP, have, on the other hand, been throwing their weight around to force Muslims into an ‘out-of-court settlement’.
Compromises and settlements are possible between equals. But when one side is weak and vulnerable and the other is all-powerful with the might of the state behind it, only courts offer the hope of equitable justice and fair arbitration.
This is not a dispute between Hindus and Muslims. The overwhelming majority of this great country is reasonable and believes in rule of law. This is a battle between right and wrong, justice and injustice and 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, civilised society. We can only hope that the highest court in the land is aware of its responsibility and duty towards the constitution of India and the recognised principles of justice.
The writer is an award-winning journalist.