The Second Demolition of Babri
I am shattered by what it does, by its implications for democracy, and by the statement it makes about what we can expect in the future.
My rage is growing with every statesman-like pronouncement from one pompous man after the other in the media, gravely holding forth on the maturity of the compromise that has been reached.
What on earth can Pratap Bhanu Mehta, for example, mean when he says in the piece Aman links:
The acknowledgement that this site be regarded for this purpose as the birthplace of Ram is, if anything, an attempt to de-politicise religion.
How is it depoliticizing religion to regard the site "for this purpose" as the birthplace of Ram? The purpose of deciding whom the land belongs to? You're going to bring in God Himself into a property dispute and is this "de-politicizing religion"?
Whether Ram is an artefact of faith or reason, of myth or history, eternal or contingent, real or non-existent, can be debated. But the court seems to recognise that discussion cannot simply wish away the forms of self-consciousness that have characterised Indian society…
What is this "Indian self", in Pratap's understanding and in the Court's? Does it include practising Brahmo Samajis or devout Sanatani Hindus like my mother, appalled that any Hindu can really believe that the Divine Presence is limited to the sankirnata, the limitedness, of a precise earthly spot? What about non-Hindus and Dalits? What about atheists and religious agnostics? What is the Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas after all – a trust set up with the sole purpose of building the temple, a loose coalition of mostly north Indian sadhus, sants and mahants, and VHP and BJP members. Does that represents "Indian" self-consciousness?
The court seems to accommodate [religion's] claims, without jeopardising the secular character of the state. This will not satisfy purists. But it is not plausible way of strengthening secularism.
But the Court hasn't accommodated the claims of "religion" per se, has it? The claims of Sunnis or of Muslims in general, have not been accommodated, have they? Recognizing the claims of a powerful section of Hindus is strengthening secularism? I feel like Alice, wandering bewildered in Looking Glass Land.
I am sick and tired of mealy-mouthed caution: perhaps we're missing the technical points of the judgement, this is a land title dispute, let's figure out what it means legally, do we really understand all the finer points of the law here…
Technicality? Legality? The judgement is utterly cavalier and selective about when it will emphasize legalities and technicalities, and when it will ignore them. When one argument seems a little weak, other, quite contradictory ones are added on, just to be on the safe side. Like a liar who says, sorry I couldn't do what I promised to do, because I was flat out with dengue, and also I was busy looking after my old mother who fractured her foot, and then it started raining heavily so the roads were flooded.
"Faith" is enough to ground a judgement in a modern court of law, but also, the ASI report shows that a temple was demolished to build the mosque, and also the Sunni Waqf Board is unable to prove its rights conclusively.
So which is it?
The scientificity of the ASI report? Full of flaws, highly suspect and technically unsustainable.
Legal documents? The Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas has none that can survive legal scrutiny. The terms and conditions of the lease deed of March 20, 1992,on which the RJN-VHP claim to 43 acres of land is based, reveals that the 43 acres belonged to the State of Uttar Pradesh. It was given on lease to the RJN for specific purposes only. It is state land to be used only for a public purpose. Construction of a temple is in conflict with such purposes. So the Nyas has no legal ownership of the land.
Hence the resort to Faith. But you know what? Bet the Sunni Waqf Board has plenty of that.
Pratap also says "it would be a mistake for any side to go for a maximalist position" on the property issue. "Any" side can only mean the Sunni Waqf Board, because neither the Nyas nor the Akhara can possibly stake a claim to more than they have been awarded by the Court. To assert a right to more than they have been awarded, warns Pratap, would show they are "relentless in pursuit of property". So - when the RJN claims property it is about various abstract and high-minded principles going all the way up to God. When the Waqf Board claims what is legally its, that's venal and crass.
When all the reasoning comes to a grinding halt, everyone mutters all around, but imagine if the judgement had recognized that the "Hindus" have no legal ground to stand on at all, imagine what would happen, there would be a bloodbath.
That's what this is about. But if this is it, if preventing a bloodbath is what it's about, and if what's required for that is to satisfy the slaughterers, then why bother to go to court? Why not just have a negotiated settlement in the appropriate "panchayat" of wise men from both communities in which the weaker party compromises fully, and shuts the hell up after that?
The woman has been raped, she is pregnant, she has nowhere to go, the panchayat meets, the rapist is willing to marry her, all sorted out. The baby will be born legitimate, the woman has a husband. And anyway, imagine if he was not ready to marry her, what would we do, she would have to commit suicide. Or we would have to kill her. He has another wife? No matter. He is a drunkard and serial rapist? Cool. At least she can put some sindoor in her parting.
We're done with it, we have sorted it out, can we move on now please? Let's not dwell in the past, kya phayda.
Forget the past? Okay, I'm confused. You mean forget that Babar may or may not have destroyed a temple to build the Masjid?
Oh no, no. We meant "the past" as in the demolition of the Masjid in 1992, eighteen years ago. Forget that. The past when Babar destroyed the temple? Five hundred years ago? That past we will remember forever.
We're the raped women is married to our rapists so that the village can carry on as before.
Muslims of course, and other religious minorities.
But also Hindus for whom Ram is irrelevant.
And also us poor fools – bearing our religious community identities in our names and under the Personal Laws that govern us, but imagining ourselves to be citizens in a modern democracy, believing that justice must be done to every community and group in any situation of conflict.
Many of us shouted ourselves hoarse at the time - this is a political issue. It cannot be decided in a court of law. It has to be addressed politically, by sustained work at every level, all sections of India society should have a say in the debate, make this a huge public, national referendum of sorts.
But how much easier to say "let the courts decide". As if the courts are above the politics of our times.
So now the court has decided.
And we have been married to our rapists. Silenced by the threat of violence.
At least let's not pretend that this hideous situation is fair or just.
Nivedita Menon teaches in the Department of Political Science, University of Delhi