Maswood Alam Khan
The long-awaited verdict in a majority judgment (2 to 1) from a three-judge Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh over the control of the site where Babri Masjid was constructed a few centuries ago and where Lord Ram, a Hindu deity, is believed to have been born many eons ago was declared on Thursday in about 18 minutes after waiting for about 18 years to settle a legal battle that originated about 6 decades ago.
According to lawyers in the case, the court handed down a decision to split the disputed land into three portions: one-third of the land to be given to the Sunni Central Board of Waqfs, one-third to the Nirmohi Akhara and one-third to the party for ‘Ram Lalla’. The court further ruled that the area where the idols of Ram are still present shall be given to the Hindus in the final decree, and the rest of the land shall be divided equally by metes and bounds among the three parties.
Splitting the land among the litigants may sound like something akin to the International Olympic Committee awarding two gold medals to two contestants where there is a dispute over an Olympic sports event or a company having two chairmen to pacify two disputing groups working in the same company. But taking a hard decision on an issue when there is a fear of reprisals is not easy. Many observers have hailed the judgment as fair and pragmatic.
The judgment on Babri Masjid seems to have been a mark of more a political pragmatism than a legal one—giving something to both Hindus and Muslims in a bid to maintain harmony and peace among the minority Muslims and the majority Hindus. The verdict is ostensibly in favour of Hindus and the belief of Hindus that the site was the birthplace of Lord Ram is well upheld. But the ruling at the same time did not represent a loss of hope to Muslims either. Lawyers representing both Muslim and Hindu groups said they would appeal the verdict to India’s Supreme Court.
There would be debates however over the decision and there would be appeals from both sides to the Supreme Court. But the High Court judgment is unlikely to spark off violence as neither side is made a gross loser by the verdict. What is however painful is to think in retrospect: “If the dispute had been disposed off by a court in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s or even in 1991 the illegal demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992 could have been avoided and the resultant riots would not have occurred”.
Frustrated with religious dogmas some may even ask a question” “Why doesn’t India shelve this issue for another 450 years? The Babri Masjid has been there for the last 400 years. Why now is the hurry to solve this problem?” Many may even be happy if a decision on an appeal by the Indian Supreme Court on the Thursday’s judgment may take much more time than a period of 18 years the Allahabad High Court took to decide on the case.
The Babri Masjid was there in Ajodhya for generations. Before that there was a temple at that spot as the archeological dig suggested. What was there before the temple, nobody knows?
It may sound ridiculous if, for example, there is a demand from India, Britain or Pakistan after 500 years that Bangladesh which once was a part of India first, then of Britain and lastly of Pakistan should be integrated back to India, Britain or Pakistan. On the same count, the original American Red Indians may also ridiculously claim that they had Teepees where the towers are now standing in New York and they be given back their holy lands.
From a legal perspective, there got to be some baseline period from which ownership rights have to be considered. If one says Babar destroyed the temple nearly 500 years ago, someone else may say ‘xyz’ destroyed a mosque, a church or a Gurudwara even before Babar’s rule. How far in the unrecorded history can one go to reclaim hereditary property?
But the ruling, many are afraid, may leave a lesson for some militants to preach: “Destroy something, and your ‘side’ gets at least half of the destroyed site, in the name of ‘fairness'”.
It is for sure that hundreds of temples and mosques would be found if an extensive archaeological dig is conducted in this subcontinent and it is also a fact that a few temples in India were demolished in the past during the Mogul rule and mosques were also built on sites where there were temples. Walls and pillars of ‘Gynavapi Mosque’ at Kashi in India still have images of Hindu gods. But local Hindus see this with pride as a piece of history and heritage and want to move on without wasting time over pettiness in the name of religion.
Many observers however believe many secular Indians would have been happy if the site of Babri Masjid as well as the birthplace of Lord Ram could be designated as a heritage with no religious purpose. Some may also wonder about building a community hall at the site in which both Hindus and Muslims and other Indians of other religions can get together to pray together to the Almighty of their choosing.
On Thursday night after the verdict was announced there was calm and tranquility in the city of Ajodhya where the disputed site is located and the probability of violence over the judgment seems to be thin as most Indians hate to see a repetition of what Hindu extremists in 1992 did by destroying the Babri Masjid, built in the 16th century by India’s first Mughal ruler Zahiruddin Muhammad Babar. The destruction of Babri Masjid and the ensuing violence did set off riots that had claimed lives of about 2,000 people, mostly Muslims—a violence that became a searing rebuke to modern India’s secular identity.
India professes to be secular, but at times the country seems to be secular only on the book. Indian government miserably failed to show its secularist character at the time when the Babri Masjid was demolished in 1992 under the very watchful eyes of the law enforcement agencies. Anyone with a memory of that period would recollect that there were demonstrations, incitements and a bunch of other telltale signs that something ominous would happen. The demolition and ensuing violence could be avoided if only the police forces were alert and not silent when militant elements of BJP, VHP and RSS were on the demolishing spree.
Till today there have been no reports of protests or violence over the Allahabad High Court judgment. Almost 200,000 paramilitary personnel have been deployed across Uttar Pradesh and a temporary nationwide block on bulk text messages through cell phones has been enforced as a measure to block rumors that may spark off violence. But calm and tranquility in weather does not necessarily mean that a brewing storm has taken a U-turn in its destructive pathway.
If peace prevails in the next few days it should be considered a success of a campaign launched recently by the Indian government beseeching the public to remain calm, with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the leaders of the major political parties issuing appeals for peace.
The good news however for many progressive Indians, who do not want to see a derailment of the economic and social progress the country has made, is the erosion of the political potency of the Hindu nationalist movement, which undertook the destruction of the Babri Masjid as a rallying cry back in 1992.
India has moved on and to a multitude of young Indians quarrelling over religious sentiments sounds weird and a sheer wastage of their precious time.
India calls itself India and not Hindustan, as earlier known, since it does not want to be known to the world as a Hindu nation. Indians are grateful to people of all religions for whatever has been achieved in India. And let’s not forget that the Muslims’ biggest contribution lies in nowhere other than in India—the Taj Mahal, the art that made India famous to the world much before anything else did.
Also, let’s not forget the enormous contributions of Abdul Kalam, Kaifi Azmi, Begum Akhtar, Shabana Azmi, Ustad Alauddin Khan, Poet Kazi Nazrul Islam, Zakir Hussain, Bismillah Khan, Vilayat Khan, and thousands more Muslims who could never imagine anything bad about India, their motherland. It’s time for India to rise above their destructive past and champion for peace wherever there is a communal tension.
Muslims in India are not fanatic like those Jihadists elsewhere in the world. In India Lord Ram is viewed as a spiritual force to promote tolerance towards all humanity as is evident in a hymn Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan sang in Qawali style: “Koee bolai raam raam koee khudhaae” (Some call the Lord ‘Ram, Ram’, and some ‘Khuda’); ” koee saevai guseeaa koee alaahi” (some serve Him as ‘Gusain’, others as ‘Allah’). “kaaran karan kareem” (He is the Cause of causes, and the Generous).
Lord Ram had been described as ‘Imam-e-Hind’ by the great poet of the East, Sir Muhammad Iqbal, a Persian poet, philosopher and politician who is commonly referred to as Allama Iqbal. Iqbal’s poem “Saare Jahan Se Achcha” has remained popular in India for over a century so much so that Mahatma Gandhi is said to have sung it over a hundred times when he was imprisoned at a jail in Pune in the 1930s.