The Supreme Court verdict of November 9th on the Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid title dispute case, resolved unanimously in favor of the Hindu parties, has deservedly come in for much criticism by Muslims, liberals, and many others who remain anguished over the diminishing prospects of secularism and the future of the Republic. It remains unnecessary to recapitulate everything that may be found wanting or contradictory in the court’s judgment, though some aspects of the ruling will surely continue to puzzle those who have more than a rudimentary understanding of the issues at the heart of the dispute. Just how did the Supreme Court, for example, arrive at the view that “on a balance of probabilities, the evidence in respect of the possessory claim of the Hindus to the composite whole of the disputed property stands on a better footing than the evidence adduced by the Muslims” (paragraph 800)? The reasoning here seems to be perfunctory, to say the least: since the Court admits that Muslims did offer worship from 1857 until 1949, it must have some account of what purpose the Babri Masjid served for the 300 years preceding 1857. It doesn’t.
As an immigrant with a certain political sensibility, I have always been filled with ambivalence towards Thanksgiving—and that is putting it mildly. July 4th doubtless has a more honored place on the American calendar in many respects, but Thanksgiving has long appeared to most people as the quintessential American holiday. It was a religious celebration before it became a holiday and its history predates by more than 150 years the founding of the Republic. Most holidays (of this kind) are full of good cheer, but Thanksgiving is much more than that, and not only because the Thanksgiving table is overflowing with food and that one eats to one’s fill—and more. Thanksgiving appears to endorse a more democratic conception of what it means to be American: thus, as an illustration, we may witness a 3-star General, or the Vice President, serving Thanksgiving meals to soldiers stationed in Iraq or Afghanistan. Thanksgiving, I was long inclined to believe, was that one day when the foreign student in the US was positively supposed to feel welcome and find herself invited to an American home. On this singular occasion, at least, fellowship and conviviality often seemed to triumph over race, religion, and identity politics more generally.
Norman Rockwell, “Freedom From Want” (source: Wikipedia)
Jawaharlal Nehru University, or JNU as it is known in Delhi and beyond, has once again been in the news for the last three weeks. Its students have been protesting not only against large hikes in hostel fees, but against other features of the draft hostel manual which imposes a dress code and sets a curfew for students. The university and nearby residential colonies have been swarming with police, but the students have been successful in taking their demonstrations to many parts of central Delhi and the area around Parliament. There are reliable reports, and video footage, of students, including some who are disabled, who have been beaten by the police. Students have been lathi charged, and many have been detained. The Delhi Police has, predictably, denied all charges of police brutality, and rests its case upon the fact that the imposition of Section 144 of the Indian Penal Code, which outlaws public assemblies of more than five people, means that the protestors are in violation of the law.