Ayodhya Verdict: Indian democracy displays commendable resilience
The High Court of Allahabad has given the verdict in the land dispute case involving a holy site which the Hindus claim is the birthplace of Ram, where a mosque – the Babri Masjid – was demolished by Hindu zealots in 1992.
This resulted in some of the worst communal rioting India has seen for a long time, some say since the partition of India in 1947, in which some 2,000 people were killed.
The High Court order, by a majority decision, divides the site into three – the Muslims getting control of a third, the Hindus another third (the main disputed section, where the Mosque built or caused to be built by Barbur was torn down) and a minority Hindu sect the Nirmohi Akhara, the other third. The sect was one of the early litigants in the case, 60 years ago.
The statutes of Ram and some other Hindu deities presently placed on the site cannot be moved, that area has been assigned to the Hindus by the Court. These statues were placed in 1949, inside what was accepted as a Masjid, surreptitiously, and the act has been described by analysts as a ‘blatant act of muscle power’ and the judicial finding labelled a legitimisation of this unlawful act.
Each of the three judges issued a separate judgment, diverging in the interpretation of certain facts placed before them, including the fact whether Ram was born precisely on the contested site. But it was a significant victory for the Hindus, who argued that Ram was born beneath the central dome of the destroyed structure.
Ravi Shankar Prasad, a lawyer for one of the Hindu parties, said; “The majority ruled that the location of the makeshift temple is the birthplace of Ram and this spot cannot be shifted.”
Analysts say, however, that what the judiciary in reality has concluded is that the Hindu ‘perception and belief’ that Ram was born on that site has been established by a balance of probabilities on the evidence presented before Court.
In any event, the fact remains that India’s secular judiciary has ruled on the birthplace of Ram and also ordered that the current status of the land should be unchanged for three months. This gives time for an appeal to the Supreme Court in Delhi; all indications are that one or other of the parties will file an appeal.
The Hindu extremist RSS, which in the past has been vocal against any Muslim claims to the site, has declared that “this is no one’s victory, no one’s defeat” and “the Mandir of Lord Ram should be built, and now everyone should work in unison to ensure that the temple is built on the site”.
There were many fears expressed on what the public reaction to the order would be. Across the political spectrum in India, there were appeals for calm and tranquillity. Prime Minister Man Mohan Singh appealed to all sections of the people “to maintain peace and tranquillity and to show respect for all religions and religious beliefs in the highest traditions of Indian culture”.
This is a very critical time for India. Indian-held Kashmir is in revolt for Azadi (freedom); the Tribal Maoists are at war with the Indian state in the BIMAROU States (Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Orissa, and Uttar Pradesh).
The Commonwealth Games are on at Delhi under a heavy security wrap, after a bus transporting a Taiwanese television crew was shot up by a pistol-wielding motorcycle pillion rider near the Jumma Masjid in Delhi’s Chandi Chowk.
Great controversy has arisen on the adequacy of preparations and arrangements for the Commonwealth Games and on corruption allegations, with the ‘White’ Commonwealth threatening a boycott.
The games were inaugurated on Sunday 3 October by the President of India and the Prince of Wales, the latter representing the Queen, the Head of the Commonwealth, and are on with no mass boycott by competing countries and with a crackerjack opening ceremony which superbly showcased over 5,000 years of the sub continent’s history, before a near capacity crowd – who, while appreciating the show, roundly booed the Chairman of the CWG Organising Committee, the hapless Suresh Kamaldi.
Bollywood’s Oscar winner A.R. Rahman’s brilliant theme song brought the house down. Spectator numbers are low, but organisers are hopeful of it increasing as the games progress.
India just could not afford another security breakdown at this time, when the world’s focus was on the CWG. Ayodhya was saturated with Police before the verdict and still is under heavy Police presence; 200,000 security personnel had been deployed across North India to quell any possible unrest. Something India could really do without at this time was communal conflict over the judgment.
The judgment seems to be a pragmatic compromise. There is no historical evidence that the epic Ramayana is a true story and that Rama ever really existed. It is myth, faith and belief, among the peoples of Asia, from time immemorial, ranging from Iran in the West to Indonesia in the East, with a humongous mythological and cultural influence.
A Sri Lankan youth volunteer, who was attached on a youth exchange programme to a migrant pastoral tribe in India’s remote Thar Desert in Rajasthan some time ago told me that the tribals were so out of touch and isolated from modernity and contemporary India that they did not even know that a woman, for the first time – Shrimati Indira Gandhi – was Prime Minister of India at that time, although they were very familiar with his home country, Sri Lanka, through the Ramayana!
But faith is powerful; it seems to have had the power to halt construction of the Sethusamudram Channel by Hindu zealots, which was meant to make the Palk Straits navigable for ships, cutting through Adams Bridge, supposed to have been built by Hanuman to assist Ram’s army to invade Lanka to rescue Seetha from Ravana’s clutches.
Should secular courts get involved in adjudicating on matters of faith? The Court also finds that the ‘mosque’ cannot be established as one, as it ‘came into existence against the tenets of Muslims’.
This could open a Pandora’s Box of disputes over so-called religious buildings built by invaders such as Barbur, after destroying edifices belonging to other beliefs, which pre-existed on the same site.
Booker prize winning authoress Arundhati Roy and some other leading Indian literati belonging to the Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust have criticised the judgment as a political statement, based on illogical reasoning in an anxiety to maintain public peace, a construction not based on evidence or legal reasoning.
Noted historian Romilla Thapar joined other recognised historians saying that the Archaeological Survey of India’s evidence of pillar bases of Hindu temples being found on the site is contestable and also that it had found animal bones on site, which would never be there if it was truly a Mandir – a Hindu holy site.
So far, India’s vibrant diversity with its secular underpinnings has held sway. It shows a maturation of a hitherto demagogic populist democracy and a commitment to religious tolerance which is to be admired.
1992 is history, 2010 is the reality. 1992 was a bad year for India. Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated in 1991. The Indian economy was in a mess, after being bailed out by the IMF, after Indian pledged its gold. GDP was 4%, the much-mocked Hindu rate of growth, inflation double digit, the last vestiges of the permit Raj was fighting back the liberalisation set in motion by Narasimha Rao at the beset of that world class economic team of Manmohan Singh, Chiddambaram and Montek Ahluwalia and the full benefit of liberalisation was not yet perceived nor achieved.
Compare 2010: India has a bouncy trillion dollar economy growing at over 8% in a liberalised global context in which Tata, Wipro, Infosys, Mittal Steel, Jet Air, Kingfisher Airlines, Maruti, Mahindra & Mahindra, Ambani, Reliance, Indian Oil and Godrej are world class players.
With all its current problems, young India has hope for a better tomorrow. The scintillating opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games establishes beyond doubt that once India gets its act together, it can and will deliver.
Economic performance in a conducive, business friendly and supportive policy environment seems to have created a sustainable, positive aspiration among even the poor and the marginalised. Kashmiri Azadi, Tribal Maoists and Al-Qaeda terrorists seem to be the exception and not the rule. The reaction of the population at large to the Ayodhya verdict seems to have proved that.
There are good lessons in how India reacted to the Ayodhya judgment, for zealots, bigots, moderates and secularists the world over in general and south Asia in particular. A Masjid and a Mandir can co-exist, in peace and tranquillity.
(The writer is a lawyer, who has over 30 years experience as a CEO in both government and private sectors. He retired from the office of Secretary, Ministry of Finance and currently is the Managing Director of the Sri Lanka Business Development Centre.)