*Another Partition: Some Questions about the Ayodhya Judgment

One of the most keenly awaited judicial decisions in independent India was handed down on September 30th by the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court when it passed judgment on the title suits regarding ownership of the disputed land on which once stood the Babri Masjid.  There is something askance, one might say, in the language that I have used, since the question of “title suits” appears to obscure the brute fact of the demolition of the mosque on 6 December 1992.  One might easily argue that the court was not called upon to comment on the demolition, but that view too easily permits one to obliterate the very fact that, in some respects, riveted the nation’s attention upon the title suits.  Who would have been paying attention to the title suits had the Babri Mosque not been brought down?  The judges may not have had any legal obligation to address the question of the demolition of the mosque and assign responsibility, though one may assume that none of them condones the mosque’s destruction, but what of the ethical burden placed upon them?

The judgment, not yet two days old, has already been replayed endlessly across television screens, and reasonable people have had to add the proviso that all interpretations of the judgment must be viewed as tentative until such time as it has been studied at length.  Running to close to 8,200 pages, the High Court’s judgment is very unlikely to be read in its entirety, and we shall have to await the assessment of assiduous aspirants for the doctorate degree to get some sense of the small print.  Yet, the bold brush strokes with which the judgment has been painted permit one to pose some striking questions.  What does it mean, for example, that questions of theology should have to be resolved by a court of law?  Courts in other democracies are not generally called upon to adjudicate such questions as were brought before the three judges.  Has it become something of a habit in India to turn to our courts for matters that cannot by a sensible person be viewed as falling under the purview of jurisprudence or legal reasoning?  What does it say about civil society in India that a court should have been asked to adjudicate whether the ‘disputed site’ was the birthplace of Rama, and what can a court tell us on this matter that might not have been told to us by historians, archaeologists, or other scholars?  Do we not have enough resources among us as a people to be able to come to some common understanding on these matters?

Justice Sharma gave it as his opinion that one could not speak of the destruction of a mosque since no mosque ever stood on the alleged Ramjanmasthan site.  He does not deny that a building was brought down on 6 December 1992, but he denies that the building was a mosque, even if it bore the name of ‘Babri Masjid’.  On Justice Sharma’s view, the structure that came to be known as the ‘Babri Masjid’ was not built according to the tenets of Islam, and therefore it cannot be construed as a mosque.  Perhaps the detailed judgment will reveal how Justice Sharma came to this conclusion, but even then some questions will persist on the politics of the knowledge that he embraces.  One would think that this matter ought to have been left to Muslim theologians and legal experts, who perhaps are best positioned to pass judgment on what standards a building must meet before it can be viewed as a mosque.  I do not recall encountering in the voluminous literature surrounding the mosque or ‘disputed site’ this particular argument.  If Justice Khan could not think of any objection to calling the Babri Masjid a mosque, why should this matter have struck Justice Sharma?  Since when did Justice Sharma become an expert on Islam and the protocols that guide the construction of mosques?  And, most tellingly, how does Justice Sharma presume to speak for Muslims, in effect telling them that they have not been scrupulous in adhering to the canons of their faith and that it behooves them to consider whether the Babri Masjid ever bore the characteristics of a mosque?

A “massive Hindu religious structure”, Justice Sharma intoned in his judgment, is proven to have existed at the same site where the ‘Babri Masjid’ once stood.  Let us suppose, for the sake of argument, that he is right.  But how can that fact, if fact it is, be construed to mean that it was the site of a temple built to mark the precise spot where Rama took birth (i.e., the Ramjanmasthan)?  Even Justice Khan does not deny that the Babri Masjid was most likely built with the remnants of a Hindu temple.  Yet, the two arguments are dramatically different both in intent and in their command over how the past can be best put to interpretation.  Many temples were built and destroyed, not always or even often at the hands of the Muslim conqueror; some fell to the elements, others were vandalized, and yet others bore the brunt of battle, sometimes between Indian rulers.  Who can deny that the architects and masons picked up pieces of temple sculpture and wove them into the architecture of the new mosque?  It would have been foolish to do otherwise; and if at all one is going to speak of facts, as Justice Sharma purports to do, then it is instructive that not only Muslims but Hindus and Jains in India, and Christians elsewhere in the world, did exactly the same, utilizing the remains of previous religious structures to build new ones.  Much of history, one might go so far as to say, is nothing but spoliation – we plunder and rob not only religious structures but the past, sometimes as the only way of making the past alive, co-terminus with the present.

Justice Sharma similarly insists, again rather erroneously, that it is a proven fact that this is the site where Rama was born.  This site, and no other?  No Hindu text bears testimony to such an assertion.  Tulsidas has nothing to say about the exact birthplace of Rama; indeed, Rama’s most righteous devotee, who was writing around the time that the temple would have been destroyed, is stunningly silent on the question of the alleged destruction of the temple.  Now, had Justice Sharma really gone with the softer version of his argument, he might have had a better case:  he could have maintained that it is a proven fact that Hindus have believed that this is the birthplace of Rama, the Ramjanmasthan.  But, even then, there are pressing questions:  since when did Hindus begin to believe so strongly in the Ramjanmasthan in Ayodhya?  Did they always believe this, or did they begin to profess this belief after the Babri Masjid was built?  And if such a belief can only be traced to relatively recent times, might it have something to do with the particular ways in which Hinduism was starting to get political in the nineteenth century?

In a further post, I hope to speak briefly on a question on which I have written extensively in the past, namely the particular role of historical discourse in the conflict over the Babri Masjid – Ramjanmasthan.  Meanwhile, readers can turn to my long 1994 paper, “The Discourse of History and the Crisis at Ayodhya”, available online at http://www.vinaylal.com, and subsequently included in a revised version in my book, The History of HistoryPolitics and Scholarship in Modern India (Oxford University Press, 2003; new rev. ed., 2005).

10 thoughts on “*Another Partition: Some Questions about the Ayodhya Judgment

  1. Nice to have you back blogging, Vinay!

    I was in Ayodhya as the sole AP reporter in 1992 and I witneseed the entire demolition of the Babri Masjid. At the time, one of the arguments being banded about about the masjid not being a masjid was that no namaaz had been said there for a long time and that the sanctitiy of the masjid had therefore been tainted. Well, guess what: no namaaz had been said there for years because the masjid was the subject of a legal dispute initiated by certain organizations opposed to the masjid.

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  2. Dr.Lal,

    Rarely did others question the judgement made by Justice Sharma especially because he argued that the “structure” was built against the tenet of Islam. May we ask him whether the act of destroying the masjid in 1992 was approved by the tenet of Hinduism?

    The reactions from the Muslim community have been subdued though some Muslims (e.g., Irfan Habib and Shabham Hashmi) were disappointed with the verdict. Ms. Hashmi went a bit further by saying she feels like a second class citizen. That statement was heavily scorned and reproached by the commentators at the Times of India. A huge chunk of them even suggested that she moves to her holy lands (i.e., Pakistan and Bangladesh).

    I started to sense Muslims of India, given the onslaughts against them (from being viewed as vote-bank, terrorists, violent people, narrow-minded, unloyal to India and constantly forced to defend their religion), have chosen slowly to evolve from being the participants of the nation-state of India to being the subjects of the nation-state.

    Muslims, throughout India, 18 years after the destruction of the Babri Masjid, reacted differently (not even protests) than they did in 1992 (I was not referring to the violence). This is the same people who marched on 6 December from Chennai to Lucknow to commemorate the destruction of the masjid.

    But, something has happened to the collective psyche of the Muslims in the last 18 years.

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  3. Random aside: that observation about the mosque being built against the tenets of Islam is striking for all the reasons Vinay Lal mentions, but I do want to underscore that it isn’t “the law” in that it hasn’t been endorsed by a majoprity of the panel. Which in turn points to another complicating factor: not only are the opinions very long, but because all three of the judges have issued separate opinions, it is going to be extremely difficult to figure out what the judgment even is (i.e. what propositions command a majority of the panel’s support).

    Whatever happens in the SC, I find it difficult to believe that the highest court won’t be amending this judgment.

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  4. Re: “I started to sense Muslims of India, given the onslaughts against them (from being viewed as vote-bank, terrorists, violent people, narrow-minded, unloyal to India and constantly forced to defend their religion), have chosen slowly to evolve from being the participants of the nation-state of India to being the subjects of the nation-state.”

    I strongly disagree with this.

    I and many others had said in the days leading up to the verdict that there would be no great reaction, in significant measure because everyone knew that one or all the litigants would be appealing. Rather than making grand claims about the mindset of x or y community (I could just as easily show that Muslim Indians today have more of a “participant” mentality than the “subject” mentality), we shouldn’t lose sight of the prosaic reality that this is a provisional verdict (because subject to appeal), and hence was always likely to matter less than one might have expected from the media channels. In fact, it is the latter who seem to be trying to jump the gun by insisting on reconciliation, screaming about hope, maturity, reconciliation, etc. — betraying its own anxieties (including that the judgment might be modified in interesting ways on appeal). As Asaduddin Owaisi said on a CNN-IBN panel, why should anyone stop short of pursuing his/her rights right up to the highest court of the land?

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  5. so you are suggesting that you will pick and choose when to revisit history? If demolition by Babar is history and we should not correct it why so much eagerness to revisit 1992? Is not it history too. By the way, you are saying that every religion looted and plundered other religion and built religious site on it, can you show one example where temple was built on ruins of mosque?

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  6. Until and unless we go back to the good old days of mutual inter-religious understanding, appreciation and support, and as long as we allow ourselves to be led by idle writers, commercially driven debaters and voluptuous, self-seeking politicians, who deote all their energies to pursue their sectional interests regardless of what the implications of their wayward writings are on this great inheritance, we will be unnecessarily diverting our psychic, intellectual and physical resources into a harmful channel, and thus significantly decelerating social and economic progress, even as our more populous neighbour China keeps marching rapidly with the single minded objective of becoming a world power, proud of their ‘5,00 year old’ culture and yet with a mindset fixed in flexible modernity.

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  7. Historically speaking the Muslims in India can be divided into two classes. One who attacked India and forced the local residents to accept Islam. They ruled and the others who were forced to be converted because they lost battles but were the original residents of India. They invaders belonging other than Hindu Mat adopted to the living style too.The majority of the muslims belongs to the second class who were helpless, poor or were extremely poor. But the neo Muslims did not change their traditions, culture , with passage of time intermingling with each other reached to a very close extent and they were dependent on each other in various ways. The Brahmins who accepted Islam liked to be Shiekh or Molvi The best example is of Allama Iqbal the common poet of Urdu for India and Pakistan, his forefathers were Brahmins and their record were maintained by their Purohit at Haridwar. Brahmin converted to Islam observe many traditions which are common to Hindus. such as the caste system Nai, Teli, Dhobi,Julehi Kharadiye, rangrez, Lohar,etc. The Khans do not marry their daughters in to the boys belonging to these castes. They are mostly illiterate and observe muslim fesitivals and feel proud to go to Haj. It is observed that they are semi religious and are merged with other Hindus or can be said that they are not very rigid in religious practices.
    Babri Mosque was built by the invader Babur by demolishing a temple known as Ramjanambhoomi. But it was the name of the building and was not used by any muslim to pay Namaj which is an essential duty of Muslim. It is only the British who broke the knot tied between the two communities in the 20th century and hired Jinnah to stick to ask for a separate home land. Jiinnah’s theory could not servive a quarter of century that Muslims and Hindus cannot live together. It is only certain political and vested interest that is the hurdle amongst the two. Otherwise the Muslims and Hindus are living in peace and they do not clash except where the leader who think isolatedly. The communists and the Indian National congress get benefit if the Muslim community is lured to vote them because of a fear psycosis. Otherwise I have seen that over 200 employees who were muslims working in a Pharmaceutical Company were peaceful,obedient and sincere to the employer. None of them ever talked of anything against the Dharma.
    It was like a family where only 5% were Hindus and all other were Muslims.
    The crux of the problem is Pakistan that created all this chaos. If the territorial difference is absolved like Bhutan and Nepal and border is opened all the problems of Indian Muslims can be solved without any delay.
    There is a tradition prevalent in India that every Hindu in old age tries to visit many a sacred places the Tirathas or at least once in a lifetime, such as Varanasi, Prayag,Mathura, Ayodhya, Rameshwaram, Gangotri, Yamnotri, Badri Nath Kedarnath, Ganga Sagar, Kamakhya ,Dwarka, Garh Mukteshwar, Amarnath, Ujjain,PushkarRajasthan,Vaishnodevi, Kurukshetra, Pehowa, Haridwar, Rishikesh, Jawali Mukhi, Chintpurni , (Lal Mandir of DeepalPur now in Pakistan)Angkorwat in Thailand and Jagannath Puri,( Hinglaj Bhawani, which is still known as Nani ka mandir amongst the converted muslims situated in Balochistan province of Pakistan) Shrinathji in Rajasthan, Meenakshi, and many more. It is only because of various traditions that were prevalent in the Hindus that kept their Dharma living by adjusting it accordingly. Some of the Dargahs, and festivals are common. The new generation belonging to both communities who want to live in peace do not give any importance to the views highlighted by Imams and Molvis or rigid Hindus. But the political people are exploiting the gullibles.
    The truth has come out what is true for Ayodhya is also true for Gyanvapi in Varanasi, and Krishna Janambhoomi at Muthura and various other mosgues to an extent that TEJOMAHALYA at Agra which was descrated and two tombs of Mumtaj and Shahjahan were built in the Garbha Griha of the
    Hindu Temple on the banks of River Yamuna. Which is today’s world famousTaj Mahal. No where in the world any Maqbara has a Garbha Griha. It is only in Taj Mahal which was a temple converted to a Maqbara to insult and was a show of strength of Aurangzeb being responsible for killing many a Hindu saints and for forcible conversion. All the Gurus now worshipped by Hindus and Sikhs both Laid all their lives to save the Hindu Dharma. Had a few Muslims in power tried to save them their would have been no Pakistan and the Hisory would have been different.
    The Judgement must be honoured and both the communities should patch up for betterment.

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  8. WHEN THERE WAS NO RAM ….SCIENCE
    HOW CAN THERE BE RAM-MANDIR ??
    Archeology survey of India / Sadguru / Waman Meshram / Ram Puniyani
    Dude there is not anything like Hindu do you know history ??
    How can there be anything like Hinduvta or Hindu Rashtray when Hindu word is given by Muslims.
    It is your illiteracy and arrogance that, you think anything like Hinduism exists.
    The day education prevails Hinduism, Christianity, Buddhism, all will vanish except pure obedience of God.

    Rather, Muslim kings created Hinduism and gave it it’s name, (which was nameless before) to ease their integration, recognition and control because Hindus were disintegrated, scattered, uncivilized people, worshiping humans, animals and animo-humans as almighty God.
    Just think, do Ram knows Hinduism or even word Hindu ?
    Not just Ram, Krishna, Arjun, Lakshman, Ravan.
    Do they even knows the word “”Hindu”” or even Sanatan Dharma ??
    Because these teaching and book never existed at that time…., why? you know more than me.
    Do Ram knows books Veds Simrities, Puranas Ithaas ??
    He don’t even know these words or even language Sanskrit.

    The literature of Hinduism was compiled on imagination and corrupted stories (Kalpanik), our sciences and consciousness teaches us this, until you kill and strangles your consciousness, you can’t accept Hinduism.
    Did Kaladias or Walt Mickey ever met Ram or a person who met Ram ??
    If you accept Hinduism you can’t be scientific and if you are Scientific you can’t be Hindu.
    Unless and until you have dual or biased or have partial nature, sometime scientific and sometime Hindu.
    Supreme Court is bound to be scientific / logic
    And science can never prove Ram, and to prove Ram, Hanuman should exist.
    Ramayana God trapped / locked in its own trap / falsehood.

    NO HANUMAN MEANS …NO RAM, SO NO RAMAYANA.
    SO NO QUESTION OF RAM MANDIR.
    IF SUPREME COURT PASS VERDICT OF RAM-MANDIR THEN IT PROVES, COURT DO PASS UNSCIENTIFIC AND SO, UNJUST SENTENCES.
    IT IS DUTY OF SUPREME COURT OR ANY COURT TO ABOLISH, ABORT SUPERSTITION AND ENCOURAGE AND ENDORSE SCIENCE LOGIC.

    If every human on earth believes (aastha / Bhavna) there are no Atom and Electron and Protons, but only one scientist proved it by his experiment, Supreme Court or any court should endorse that scientist, and should abolishing believes (aastha / bhavna) of all.

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  9. Pingback: The Ayodhya Verdict:  What Does it Mean for Hindus? | Lal Salaam: A Blog by Vinay Lal

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