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Mainstream, Vol XLVIII, No 43, October 16, 2010

Ayodhya: Judiciary — the Latest Victim

Tuesday 19 October 2010, by Diptendra Raychaudhuri

On October 30, 2010, what the nation was waiting for was a verdict from the three learned judges of the Lucknow Bench of Allahabad High Court. What we heard at the end of the day was a compromise formula dished out by two of the three judges. They ordered division of the disputed part of the land between the Hindus and Muslims. The third judge, however, was bold enough to gift the whole land to the Hindus. The way the judges played it safe by bowing before faith, of course of the majority community, was shocking. But, to me what is equally disturbing is the majority verdict that displayed an attempt to settle for a compromise.

This is the general tendency of the Indian elite who have failed the masses right from 1947. More than six decades ago, they faced a problem the solution of which was beyond their capacity; so they divided a great land. What an irony, that land lies trifurcated now. One for the Hindus, one for the Muslims, the third for the Bengali Muslims: India, Pakistan, Bangladesh. Sixty years later, the learned judges (barring the one who gifted the whole of it to the Hindus on the last day of his office) have followed the same model. One part to the Hindus, one to the Muslims, one to the Nirmohi Akhara, which again is a Vaishnavite Hindu sect.

We have not taken any lesson from the past. A Hindu India was like a stone bowl made of gold. So, we still live in the essential India, whose children belong to all religions. The compromise on religious lines they made in 1947 has not worked for us, the Indians. And then, some backward-looking people found national identity in building a temple, and a major section of the elite came forward to lead and support it, and to steer the chauvinist party to power. That day their pride was symbolised by a temple, and now two decades later it is symbolised by hosting something called the Commonwealth Games. These evasive, shifty elites always search for a compromise formula. They have created an environment where those who do not seek compromise (with abundance of poverty and economic injustice, with social discrimination and with communal frenzy) are dubbed radicals! You must not look for the root cause of Naxalism; you must not talk about discrimination against the Dalits or adivasis, and you must not look back at the past of Lal Krishna Advani or Narendra Modi. Accept everything as it is and allow the profit motives of some people to fructify: that is the motto.

Surely, such an environment put a tremendous pressure on the judges. I do not doubt the honest intentions of Justices Sudhir Agarwal and S.U. Khan in trying to dish out a compromise formula. They were surely aware of the consequences their judgements could have on the lives of the common man, and on the tools of economic prosperity. The only problem is that such compromises do not solve any problem. A compromise, instead of facing a problem head- on and spelling out the truth, helps no one.

In fact, the judges had to grapple with a problem that has already been solved in a savage way. No one will ever be able to remove the idol from where it is. That is the reality. But what was expected from the judges was their verdict based purely on juristic points. The question of faith has already been decided by vandalism. Faith and its consequential brutalism has already won. No one can reverse that. What the judges could do was to put forward the legal aspects and draw a logical conclusion. That conclusion can in no way go beyond the modern period, particularly 1949, when the idol was smuggled into the mosque by some miscreants.

What can be the consequence of this judgement of faith? A mosque stood there for five hundred years. Then, one day, it vanished by the power of the name of Ram. If you feel the last few words are ambiguous, then I must add that I have typed those out intentionally. Now, keep in mind the role ‘faith’ has played in this judgement, and then give liberty to your imagination. Maybe, a hundred years down the line, some people will propagate that the mosque vanished when tens of thousands of people chanted the name of Ram, and a large unsuspecting mass will fall prey to that propaganda. (That will be just like us, who believe Ram was born exactly at that place three thousand two hundred and nine years ago… or maybe nine thousand two hundred and three years…I am confused, because I have never seen a duly attested photocopy of Lord Ram’s birth certificate.) And then, if another dispute arises centring Ram, maybe the learned judges of that time will base their judgement on the vanishing power by chanting Ram’s name. The reader may feel that the possibility is absurd, and I agree. But, in the same breath it must be noted that what has happened in 1992 and thereafter, till this date, is equally absurd. The latest verdict, instead of consolidating the rule of law, has opened up ominous possibilities.

Theoretically, it is time to ask how a case can be fought on behalf of Ramlalla. Who is to be hoodwinked in a democratic system by allusion to names of gods as litigants by vested interests? What is the meaning of convoluted words—like Ramlalla is a child and so he has to be represented through a friend? How is a secular nation tolerating all this? Probably these are the loopholes through which faith is creeping in, and the judiciary stands so helplessly vulnerable.

At the practical level, a society that tries to find compromise formulas instead of facing the problem head-on bequeath dangerous booby-traps for its future generations. More than six decades ago our leaders bowed before the threat of communalism and sought relief in division of the country. It took the genius of Lal Krishna Advani to resurrect the same communal frenzy four decades after independence . He brought to the fore the supremacy of faith and now that has been vindicated by a court of law. It is not known whether the Supreme Court will be able to rectify the wrong and re-establish the supremacy of reason essential for the survival of a secular democratic republic.

Now, let us see how many fault-lines this judgement has exposed and how dangerous those are.

Compromise: Not Panacea for All Diseases

The majority verdict has divided the core disputed area between Hindus and Muslims, and has thereby raised serious doubts about our Court’s ability to handle such sensitive matters. If there are proofs (I don’t know whether Lard Ram’s birth certificate was inscribed on the remnants of the Hindu or Jain temple under the mosque), the Court should have told us: ‘Look, here are the proofs that it was Ram’s birthplace.’ The learned judges could have said that Advani was bang on the point in 1987 when he made it the central issue for his party. They could have told us about the verifiable facts that they have come across. But even then, they were not entitled to give the land to the Hindus by going back five hundred years. The area where the mosque stood could in no way be given to anyone else, simply because till 1992 there stood a mosque, visible and touchable, for about five hundred years. Even if it is proved that the land on which the Taj Mahal stands belongs to the Hindus, or Jains, or Sikhs, will a court order the demolition of the Taj to give it to the original holder? In fact, while one judge, D. V. Sharma, sacrificed rationality completely before the altar of faith, the other two tried to save the day by finding a compromise formula. Can this work? Our elite, sitting on the studios of TV channels, wanted to project the verdict as more or less neutral. They welcomed it. Within hours an elated Advani claimed his victory. Even after days passed by, Advani or any other leader of the Sangh Parivar, who all so brazenly said that the verdict will strengthen the unity of India, did not utter a word about the reconstruction of the mosque. Narendra Modi, now feigning to be a secular person, alluded to Mahatma Gandhi while claiming the verdict provided them the strength to establish the Ram Rajya. Hey Ram! A Ram Rajya based on vandalism that destroyed a mosque along with two thousand lives all over India, a Ram Rajya on the remnants of a genocide in Gujarat!

How many times will we assassinate Gandhi? I am sure, the learned judges could not imagine of such reactions when they decided to go for a compromise formula.

The elite India is reflected most brazenly though the media. When Advani says the verdict has upheld faith, the media does not start the story with the words ‘in a setback’. But when the All India Muslim Personal Law Board decided to become a party to the title suit in the Supreme Court, the snippet on page 1 of a leading daily started with the words ‘In a setback, the All India Muslim Personal…’ (The Times of India, October 4). Setback for whom? For the Hindus? Well, the paper did not intend that, as the full display on page 10 started like this: ‘In a setback to the prospects of any reconciliation, S.Q.R. Ilyas, the convenor of the all India Muslim…” Even then, the question is: what sort of reconciliation is talked about? Is there anyone who believes that reconciliation can be anything other than the Muslims surrendering their rights to build a mosque exactly where the one that was demolished stood?

More shockingly, the mainstream media did not raise the fundamental question after the verdict: What about rebuilding the mosque? The elite, busy with their pursuit of ‘development’ that essentially means prosperity for ten to fifteen per cent of the population, do not care for the hurt sentiments of any community. They know nothing will damage their interest. They see everything from the prism of their narrow segmented existence and deliver sermons about everything. That is why we hardly come across news reports or articles on poverty, malnutrition, and other burning problems of the vast majority of the population. That is why Narendra Modi is a darling of the elite. That is why India, the emerging superpower, comes first in the world in infant mortality rate with more than 400,000 babies dying within 24 hours of birth, the highest number for any country. According to Save the Children, the figure—39 deaths per thousand births—has remained almost constant for the last 20 years (‘India’s growth fails to reverse infant mortality rate’, Bloomberg.com, October 5, 2009) But, we all know, out of those 39, hardly one occurs in our houses. So, that is not a priority. Similarly, assuaging the hurt feelings of the Muslims is not a priority. Priority is ‘reconciliation’. Asking questions—like how reconciliation can take place without applying palliatives on the wound of December 6, 1992— is not permitted.

The Muslims may not feel cheated as Mulayam Singh Yadav has said. But, surely they are hurt. They are hurt by the verdict, and by the attitude of the elite. This has the potential of dividing the country further on socio-cultural lines. Seeking a compromise formula has just worsened the situation.

Rationality versus Faith:
U-turn to Medievalism

If faith gets supremacy over reason in a court of law, how can the khap panchayats of Hariyana be blamed? What right should we have to prevent identification and killings of daains (witches)? How will we oppose sati? What about honour killings? All these are questions of faith. So, a day may come when judges will start bowing before all such faiths. Faith as an ingredient of the judicial system is certainly a journey towards medievalism.

Some people believe India is changing fast (as some people believed in the India Shining campaign a few years ago), and another twenty years later this Ram versus mosque debate will become irrelevant. I believe this sort of thinking is just elitist. Lord Ram, as the reincarnation of Bhagwan Vishnu, exists at the core of millions and millions of people of this land for thousands and thousands of years. He is a symbol of divinity, an epitome of all the best qualities of the human being. He is God, and those who have been named Hindus by Western intellectuals believe in the reincarnation of God as human beings or even as an animal. This is pure and pristine faith. This faith is beyond the realm of reason or arguments. This faith is just like similar faiths of other sets of people, like Mohammed was Allah’s Prophet, or Jesus was born to Virgin Mary. All these belong to the realm of religion. The purpose of religion is to guide human beings to lead a good life. Seen from that angle faith that does not harm anyone but plays an inspiring role has played a positive role in the history of mankind. Even thousand of years later, Hindus will have the same faith in Ram, and if someone as intelligent as Lal Krishna Advani manages to rake up a similar debate, the unsuspecting masses will react in just the same way.

In fact, whenever faith has intervened in the political life of a state (or a stateless society), it has brought disaster. Many Islamic scholars argue Islam lost its liberal, rational shade when it was used in the daily life of the state. Christianity too stood as a roadblock to the advancement of science. But, while Christian nations have to a large extent succeeded in making the state affairs secular, the Muslim nations failed to do so. The consequences are for everybody to see. But, even the liberalism of the West is failing when put to test. A proposal of having a mosque near the site of the Twin Towers in New York has brought out the essential faith-oriented mentality to the fore of a large section of the people of the US. In the age of the Al-Qaeda, Turkey is witnessing a fundamentalist resurgence a century after Kamal Ataturk eliminated the fundamentalists from the position of influence. Religion is so ingrained in the blood of the common man that it resurfaces with the slightest clash of the socio-religious cultural systems. There is no reason to think that suddenly (with introduction of economic reforms!) the Indian youth have become liberated from the shackles of blind faith. Thus, by sacrificing reason at altar of faith, the judiciary has opened up dangerous possibilities for the future. Lal Krishna Advani reversed the gear of India’s unnayan-rath to drive it towards the medieval period. A mosque was the victim to the consequential communal frenzy. At the end of it, a High Court has put its seal on the essential regressive character of the movement. It will only encourage the fundamentalists.

In fact, seeking a compromise formula by giving away the area under the central dome to the Hindus, and falling victim to faith, the judges have failed the aspirations of a modern nation. If they were bold enough not to seek a compromise, they could have given straight verdicts, acceptable or unacceptable, like the third judge. That would have complicated the matter less. It could have been all in black and white.

The Last Straw Sinking

In the last two decades, when all other institutions failed the people, the judiciary came up to play a very major role as a corrective institution. It was accused of overstepping, but the common man welcomed it. If today millions of children get a regular meal (getting which otherwise was uncertain for them), the credit goes to the judiciary. When the police, adminis-tration and politicians fail them everyday, the people look up to the judiciary. It is not so that individual judges have not surrendered their high offices to different enticements, but the judiciary as an institution has not failed the people in the last ten-twelve years. Their increasingly positive role became all the more visible as it coincided with the growing negative role of all other political institutions.

The verdict of the Allahabad High Court has come as a challenge to this new role of the judiciary.

What is the reality? The reality is that there was a mosque where Muslims prayed till 1949 when an idol was placed inside it. No corrective measure was taken. Muslims stopped praying there. Fortythree years later the mosque was demolished after taking the idol out from there. If there was the rule of law, the place could have been cordoned off when the idol was not there and the hypocrisy of the Hindutva politics could have been exposed. That was not done and thus the second chance of correcting the situation was frittered away. And so now there exists a makeshift temple of Lord Ram, and nobody—no court, no judge, no executive—has the guts to order its removal. No concerned people expect that the idol will be removed from there. The dispute has already been settled.

But, the dispute was settled in the most savage way. So what is expected from the judiciary is a post-mortem. What is expected is a condemnation of the barbaric act and a healing touch to those who believe the mosque is Allah’s property. What happened five hundred years ago, in medieval age, cannot have any bearing on today’s world. There are surely many Muslim religious places in this country which came up in that Dark Age after demolition of Hindu or Jain temples. The Babri mosque was, in all probability, one of those. But those who work for avenging those wrongs in today’s world are representatives of dark times. If the courts fail to check them, the judiciary will become as irrelevant in public life as our political institutions have become. It will inevitably lead to a great anarchy.

Dipendra Raychaudhuri is a jouranlist and author of the novel A Naxal Story. He can be contacted at dip10dra@yahoo.co.in

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