9. Ayodhya and the Supreme Court
9. Ayodhya and the Supreme Court
What follows is a reworked version of my paper ‘The Ayodhya demolition: an evaluation’, contributed to the collective volume: The Ayodhya Reference. Supreme -Court Judgment and Commentaries (Voice of India, Delhi 1995), which also included papers by Swapan Dasgupta, M. Rama Jois, Arun Jaitley and S.P. Gupta. The book was occasioned by the Supreme Court’s decision not to help Narasimha Rao’s Government out of the Ayodhya dilemma by offering an opinion on the historical evidence.
9.1. The one-point reference
The North-Indian town of Ayodhya became world famous in 1989-92 when Hindus and Muslims clashed over a mosque structure used by the Hindus as a temple but claimed by the Muslims as the Babri Masjid. It made headlines worldwide on at least three occasions. The first one was when Hindus laid the foundation stone of the prospective temple on 9 November 1989, incidentally the same day when the Berlin Wall was brought down. The second time was when the Hindu activists outwitted the troops deployed by Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav and entered Ayodhya in large numbers, only to be shot down (with several dozen being killed) within sight of the Babri Masjid. The third and most sensational occasion was when vanguard irregulars of Hindu society destroyed the controversial structure on 6 December 1992 and replaced it with a small makeshift temple in expectation of a proper (scripturally designed) temple building.
Hindus believe that the site of the building is Rama’s birthplace, and maintain that a Hindu temple adorned the site until, in 1528 at the latest, Muslims forcibly replaced it with a mosque. Muslim leaders have recently taken to denying this, though their fellow Muslims of earlier generations had proudly confirmed it.
Contrary to what the international press has written, the dispute over the Rama-Janmabhoomi/Babri Masjid site in Ayodhya is not a hopeless tangle of contending fanaticisms in which the historical truth is forever unknowable. A lot of scholarly research has been done, and the Government of India has provided the contending parties with an official forum in which experts could go through the evidence produced for both sides. This scholarly debate took place around the turn of 1991, and once more in autumn 1992. Though both rounds of debate were unilaterally broken off by one of the parties, viz. the anti-temple party, it brought to light enough evidence to support an unambiguous verdict.
Apart from this semi-official debate, there was a longdrawn-out polemic in the general publishing market, in a dozen books and hundreds of newspaper articles and columns. The polemic started in earnest in 1989 and has effectively ended with the October 1994 decision of the Supreme Court to reject the Government’s ‘one-point reference’, viz. the request for a judicial verdict on the single historical question whether a temple had existed at the site until it was replaced with a mosque. Narasimha Rao’s government had made this request on the tacit understanding that a positive verdict would justify an acceptance of the Hindu claim on the disputed site, while a negative verdict would justify a ‘solution’ in accordance with the Muslims’ wishes.
The one-point reference was supported by those who wanted the dispute to end, whatever the details of the eventual solution. Otherwise, it was widely objected to. Observers of India’s ramshackle institutions feared that the judiciary might not be immune to political manipulation. Some historians argued that judges are not competent on hi story and archaeology. Modernist supporters of the Babri Masjid cause objected that medieval state of affairs, no matter how well-proven, should not be allowed to determine today’s policies. Its Islamist supporters asserted that any and every mosque deserves protection, regardless of whether it had a history of forcibly replacing a temple. Supporters of the Rama-Janmabhoomi cause objected to the idea that a firm Hindu tradition would be made the object of a,contingent judgment by fallible human judges appointed by a hostile state.
So, there was a sigh of relief in many quarters when in October 1994, after more than a year of deliberations, the Supreme Court formally rejected this one-point reference regarding the history of Ayodhya’s disputed site. With that, the historical question, which would have come into full focus if the Supreme Court had accepted to consider it, seemingly lost its political relevance and disappeared from public debate.
For at least three reasons, this was a correct decision. In fact, it was correct for more and better reasons than the judges themselves realised.
The formal reason is the matter of competence: historical questions should be decided by impartial scholars, not by judges. In practice, judges often have to base their verdicts at least partly on opinions about matters beyond their strict competence, after calling certified ‘expert witnesses’ to the court. But in this case, such an opinion would not merely be an ancillary consideration in a properly judicial verdict based on the judges’ expertise in legal matters; it would be the whole of the verdict. Though they could legally have chosen to offer the opinion, they were equally within their rights when they opted to refuse. This point is quite straightforward, has been argued sufficiently and needs no further elaboration.
The other two reasons, by contrast, have hardly been mentioned, let alone elaborated: the historical question is in its pertinent aspects sufficiently clear; and history is not the cause of the dispute anyway. We will look into them in the next sections, before attempting a more general evaluation of the Ayodhya debate.
9.2. Why an Ayodhya debate at all?
The material reason why the judges were right not to entertain the historical question regarding Ayodhya, is that in this question, apart from details, there was nothing left to decide anyway. Until 1989, there was a complete consensus in all sources (Hindu, Muslim and European) which spoke out on the matter, viz. that the Babri Masjid had been built in forcible replacement of a Hindu temple. The 1989 edition of the Encyclopedia Brittannica (entry Ayodhya) puts it squarely: ‘There are few surviving monuments of any antiquity. Rama’s birthplace is marked by a mosque, erected by the Moghul emperor Babur in 1528 on the site of an earlier temple.’
Apart from local tradition, architectural indications, supporting documents and archaeological evidence, this consensus had logic on its side: thousands of mosques inside and outside India do stand on demolished non-Muslim places of worship, while in every area of North India where Muslim power has reached during the Sultanate and Moghul periods, every prominent temple has been demolished. Therefore, all that the consensus claimed, was that the general rule, verified in thousands of places in India and thousands more in other countries, applied in this particular case (the central hill of the temple town of Ayodhya) as well. To affirm that the general rule also applies in a given particular case, is the most modest claim one can possibly make. He who makes the opposite claim, viz. that the given particular case forms an exception to the rule, must logically accept the burden of proof.
In normal scholarly practice, the debate on the object of such a consensus is only reopened when new evidence surfaces. Scholars have more promising questions to figure out, so they don’t waste time on settled affairs. The ‘eminent historians’ from Jawaharlal Nehru University JNU), Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) et al., who insisted on revising the consensus have not shown such evidence, no new fact nor credible new interpretation of known facts. Instead, they have constructed purely speculative hypotheses (like the British conspiracy to float demolition stories in order to ‘divide and rule’) which are in conflict with all available knowledge and remain in need of supporting evidence themselves.
In the entire corpus of Ayodhya arguments, including the minutes of the Govemment-sponsored debates of DecemberJanuary 1990-1991 and October-November 1992 between scholars mandated by the Babri Masjid Action Committee (BMAC) and the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP), I have not come across any piece of evidence which would warrant the reopening of the question in any normal scholarly context. On the contrary, what new evidence has surfaced, has only confirmed the old consensus: new documentary and esp. archaeological evidence confirms that a Hindu temple stood at the Babri Masjid site. The Supreme Court judges could not have added anything to this unambiguous status quaestionis.
Of course, some as yet undecided historical details may remain of interest to scholars. Thus, it is unlikely that the demolition which was followed by the construction of the Babri mosque, was the first temple demolition on the Rama Janmabhoomi site. The temple from which historians claim to have recovered an inscription in the Babri debris on 6 December 1992 was built around 1100 A.D., i.e. well after Mahmud Ghaznavi’s raids. It is most likely that during the Ghorid and Sultanate periods (1192-1526), the RamaJanmabhoomi site suffered a fate similar to the Somnath site in Prabhas Patan, Gujarat: temple demolition followed by reconstruction followed by yet another demolition, mosque built by Muslim invaders but reclaimed by the Hindus and temporarily used as a makeshift temple, etc. The RamaJanmabhoomi site had probably been desecrated a number of times before Babar and A& Baqi set foot in Ayodhya.
In various intemet discussion lists and other forums, this observation of mine has been quoted by anti-temple polemicists to counter the unreflected claim of some Hindutva publications that the original ancient temple itself is the one which Babar’s men destroyed. It is true that unlike the hardliners in both contending parties, who are so terribly sure of their theories, I readily admit that in the said period, much remains obscure about the exact chain of events between the original Hindu temple and the Babri mosque. Thus, architectural indications have been pointed out for a preMoghul construction of the mosque, implying that it was not built by Babar but more likely by the Sharqi sultans of jaunpur in the early 15th century.1
The ‘entirely disproportionate’ size of the domes in relation to the walls and the ‘patchwork’2 nature of the building indicates an eventful history, probably including partial demolition, re-employment for different purposes and reconstruction. This scenario has plenty of room for periods of Hindu use of the site, either thanks to temporary unilateral acquisition of the site, or by consent of the Muslim authorities when they needed Hindu support against Muslim rivals. This was the case in the final years of the Sultanate, and - more definitely attested - in the post-Aurangzeb period of the Moghul empire, when the Muslims acquiesced in a Hindu presence at the site, materialized in the Ram chahootra (platform) just metres outside the Babri mosque.3
I therefore concur with archaeologist R. Nath’s observation: the Hindu temple at the contentious site ‘was devastated either by the armies of Mahmud of Ghaznin or the Delhi Sultans who captured the place and established here their provincial seat. It is quite probable, and possible too, that a mosque was first raised during the Sultanate period (1001-1030; 1192-1526) on the site of the most important temple associated with the life of Rama, and Mir Baqi just restored that mosque during his occupation of Ayodhya.’4 Sushil Srivastava likewise opines: ‘Mir Baqi might have had the mosque renovated and then re-dedicated it to Babur.’5
But interesting as these vicissitudes of Islamic iconoclasm in Ayodhya may be, they are immaterial to the fundamental issue: the very fact of Islamic iconoclasm as the cause of the destruction of a Hindu temple on one of the foremost sacred sites of India’s native religion. In a Hindu city, a mosque could not have appeared where a Hindu temple stood without the forcible replacement of that temple, no matter what the exact year was in which the replacement happened. The basic and pertinent fact of history is that first there was a Hindu temple at the site (at least until the Ghorid invasion of 1192) and later a mosque was built in forcible replacement of the temple (at least from 1528 onwards).
The outline of the relevant historical events is quite wellknown, but then the controversy is not about history. This is not merely the now dominant position among India’s secularists who, knowing fully well that they can’t win the debate on history, try to shift their ground towards redefining the conflict as a strictly judicial property dispute. It is also the view of the Muslim and Hindu claimants.
According to anti-temple author Sushil Srivastava, the local Muslims ‘believe that Emperor Babur came to Ayodhya in 1528 and destroyed the famous Ram Janmabhoomi temple, to propitiate Pir Fazal Abbas Musa Aashikan’, an allegedly fanatical Muslim saint.6 Muslim claimants have only started challenging the established consensus about the iconoclastic origin of the Babri Masjid when secularist intellectuals taught them the tactical usefulness of that negationist position. Originally they accepted the true history, but differed with other people only in their theologico-juridical conclusions. To them, a mosque is not less legitimate because it was built in forcible replacement of an idol temple, rather the contrary. They claimed the Babri Masjid because at one point it was a mosque, and regardless of that mosque’s prehistory, they insist on the principle: ‘once a mosque, always a mosque’.
The Hindus who refuse to cede the Rama-Janmabhoomi site to the Muslim and secularist claimants, do so because this is a Hindu sacred site, - not because it was one in Valmiki’s, Vikramaditya’s or Babar’s day, but simply because it is one right now. And the problem, the cause of the post-1949 episode of the Ayodhya conflict, is not the fact that some mujahid denied them the right to their own sacred site sometime in the Middle Ages, but that Muslim and secularist politicians are denying them that right today.
That Muslims have destroyed thousands of temples would not be an issue today if the Muslims had taken the same conciliatory attitude which the Pope takes vis-A-vis the Native Americans (during his 1992 visit to the site where Columbus landed in 1492, the Pope expressed his heartfelt regrets for the suffering which Christendom inflicted on them), which the Japanese now take vis-A-vis the Koreans, the Germans vis-A-vis the Jews, etc. Or they may dispense with the fashionable breast-beating and televised apologies, as long as they don’t repeat their medieval behaviour in our own time. The problem is not what Muslims did in the past, but what they do today: Hindus are trying to exercise a right which religious communities everywhere obviously have, viz. to worship at their own sacred site; and Muslims are trying to deny them this self-evident right - not in the middle Ages, but today.
9.3. The role of foreign scholars
There never was a Rama-Janmabhoomi problem, only a Babri Masjid problem. That Hindus want to build a temple at their own sacred site is the most normal and natural thing in the world. By contrast, it is a most astonishing circumstance that some Muslims lay claim to this Hindu sacred site and try to occupy it. But this arrogant and self-righteous Muslim behaviour is only the effect of indoctrination in Islamic theology. The most abnormal and unnatural thing is the complete support which this Islamic communal aggression has received from world opinion.
Foreign scholars might have played the role which the Supreme Court judges rejected: that of independent arbitrators. But as it turned out, the established Western academics, to the extent that they cared to look into the Ayodhya debate at all, have only looked through the glasses which the India’s Marxist-Muslim combine has put on their noses.
Writing on the Ayodhya controversy, the American India watcher Susan Bayly describes how Hindu activists ‘claim that the ‘’scientifically’ verifiable facts of history justify their cause’. Against this tendency, she sees ‘a pressing need for more academics to join those in India who have been brave enough to contest these views’.7 The claims made here explicitly or implicitly are the following five:
1) Hindu activists claim that facts of history justify their cause, viz. the official recognition of the Hindu status (effective since December 22, 1949) of the disputed RamaJanmabhoomi Babri Masjid site at Ayodhya, and its materialization in a scripturally appropriate Rama temple at the site.
2) These facts of history are scientifically verifiable, at least according to the said Hindu activists, though Bayly’s quote marks insinuate that the Hindus use the term ‘scientific’ improperly.
3) Some Indians, academics and others, are contesting these views, viz. the view that the Hindu claim is justified by history, and the view that this reference to history is scientifically verifiable.
4) For these Indians, it requires bravery to contest the Hindu activist claims.
5) Western academics should urgently join these ‘brave’ Indians in their rejection of the Hindu activist position.
The first claim is incorrect, for the Hindu claim to the disputed site in Ayodhya was not originally based on history, but on the actual present-day status of the site as a Hindu sacred site. The need for historical justification only arose in 1989, four decades after Hindus had staked their claim, when the opponents of the temple started challenging the existing consensus regarding the history of the site, viz. that a medieval Hindu temple had been razed by Muslims to make way for a mosque.
The second claim is obviously uncontroversial: once the pro-temple party accepted the challenge of collecting historical evidence, they were confident that their corpus of evidence would stand up to scientific scrutiny. To an extent, this scrutiny has also taken place, and it has not shaken the temple party’s confidence.
The third claim is only correct in the weaker sense, viz. that Indian academics are politically contesting (opposing, protesting against) the Hindu position; not in the stronger sense, viz. that they are scientifically contesting (confronting, attempting to refute) it. With the very partial exception of the foursome of historians who represented the Babari Masjid Action Committee during the Government-sponsored scholars’ debate, Indian academics have most definitely not confronted the case made by the pro-temple scholars.
On the contrary, they have fully used their power in the media, academic and publishing sectors to muzzle the protemple voices and keep the pro-temple evidence out of public view, rather than face it and possibly refute it. When confronted with inconvenient new evidence dug up by their opponents, the knee-jerk reaction of the secularist scholars and media was to allege ‘concoctions’, ‘fabrications’ and ‘Goebbelsian lies’ at the top of their voices, and foreign scholars have sheepishly followed their lead.
The fourth claim is simply untrue: it did not require bravery to oppose the pro-temple party from academic platforms, certainly much less than to defend the pro-temple position. There is no physical risk involved in publishing a paper denouncing the Hindu claims on Ayodhya.8 To be sure, every now and then a secularist scholar claims to have received death threats from people venting their impotent anger, and the newspapers devote plenty of attention to these non-events all while downplaying the real killing of Hindus in Kashmir or the Northeast.9 But being no stranger to hate mail and death threats myself, I know that someone who cares to send you advance warning is not very serious about murdering you. So, at the time of writing, Romila Thapar, R.S. Sharma, S. Gopal and all those other would-be martyrs for free speech are alive and well (like myself, thank you).
The physical danger in writing against the temple is imaginary; by contrast, it is dangerous to uphold rather than oppose Hindu activist positions. It is a fact that throughout the 1990s, many office-bearers of the RSS, the BJP and their Tamil affiliate Hindu Munnani have been murdered; but that was more because of the demolition and other political matters than because of any statements on the historical background of the Hindu claims on Ayodhya. At one point, the publishinghouse Voice of India, which has published the Vishva Hindu Parishad’s statement and several other writings on the Ayodhya evidence, has had to seek police protection for a few days, but the threats had to do with ‘insults to the Prophet’ and not with the Ayodhya evidence. The riotous and triggerhappy types are not the ones who attach great importance to feats of scholarship.
In terms of status and career, a non-conformistic stance in favour of the temple cannot be maintained without sacrifice. By contrast, joining the anti-temple party has always been a smart career move. Far from requiring bravery, posturing as a ‘committed secularist’ up in arms against ‘obscurantist and communalist history manipulation’ will only earn you praise (as Dr. Bayly’s own appreciation of this ‘bravery’ illustrates). India’s secularist academics and journalists form a society of mutual praise, and the cheapest way of getting applause in elite India is to attack the Hindu movement.
Dr. Bayly’s fifth claim, about the urgent need for Western support, is equally untenable. There is no need at all for Western scholars to come out in support of their Indian colleagues who oppose the pro-temple position. The reason is that they are already in the same camp: not a single Western academic has come out in support of the Hindu (i.e. the pre-1989 consensus) position. Foreign academicians in overwhelming majority borrow the views of the secularist establishment in the Indian universities, so there is no need for them to ‘join’ their Indian colleagues.
Now, which is bravest: to take the position promulgated by the government, the parliamentary majority, the media and the capitalist media barons, most political parties, the academic establishment and the international Indological and India-watching community; or to stand alone against this power bloc?10
In the footsteps of the Indian academics, their Western colleagues writing on Ayodhya pretend to discuss a conflict but do not care to find out the position of one of the parties. Somehow they manage to collect a lot of data and write lengthy papers without noticing that one half of the controversy’s contents is missing, and that they are merely rewording the position of one of the two warring parties; though I am sure that they would never accept a student’s thesis on any given controversy which reported only one side’s version. Future books on the affair will include a chapter on ‘the Ayodhya scandal’: the unscrupled use of academic and media power positions by India’s secularists to suppress relevant evidence, and the gullibility of foreign scholars relying on hearsay from Indian colleagues whose bonafides is open to question.
Many outsiders still believe that the VHP case is based on ‘myth’ and ‘concoction’, as the BMAC and its Marxist supporters have kept on alleging.11 At the very best, many people, including sincere but uninformed scholars, assume a priory that ‘the truth must lie somewhere in between’, and that both sides are just equally unreliable hot-heads. Foreign press correspondents have simply parroted the views of the Marxist historians of JNU and AMU in support of the Babri Masjid cause, as well as their silence about the scholars’ debate. Thus, in his review of the eminent historians’ book Anatomy of a Confrontation, former Time correspondent Edward Desmond adopts the Marxist historians’ contentions lock, stock and barrel.12
As a writer of lengthy pieces on Kashmir in which the 1990 ethnic cleansing of the Hindus goes unmentioned, Desmond does not surprise us by concealing the government sponsored debate with its embarrassing outcome nor by deliberately denying the existence of evidence put at his disposal by Voice of India: in his lengthy article on the affair, he curtly dismisses all the pro-temple evidence as ‘bogus’ without presenting any part of it, a position he would never be able to defend in a public debate. His strength is, of course, that he does not have to fear any public debate: the other side simply cannot get its message across through the media, so the public assumes that this is a subject on which the debate is closed.
Even the French sociologist Gérard Heuzie, who has written some fresh and independent observations on the Hindutva movement, has not been able to get around the secularist monopoly on the information flow on Ayodhya. He has analysed the anti-democratic musings which were audible in the discourse of secularism ‘when several thousands of karsevaks brutally demolished the Babri Masjid, refusing to listen to RSS cadres, who were acting as the last ramparts of the paternalist perspectives. Numerous comments showed clearly that for the academic and establishment commentators, the most insupportable thing was that uneducated youngsters, without any letters of introduction or written authorisations, had intervened to change the course of things.’13 Heuze points out that ‘the way in which the RSS was overwhelmed by a thousand determined youngsters on 6 December 1992 is telling. The sect is worthless in street combat… its manifestations remind us more of the boy scouts than of mass politics.’14
And yet, watch how even a lucid man like Heuze gets trapped. For all his independence, even he proves to be the prisoner of the secularists’ control of the information flow. Mentioning the historical claims regarding Ayodhya, he declares that Hindus believe only ‘since the 19th century’ in the forcible replacement of a Rama temple by the Babri Masjid, that ‘there seems never to have been a temple underneath the mosque’, and that the Hindu pillars used in the mosque ‘were clearly brought from elsewhere’.15 These claims are not true, and have not emerged from the debate as even plausible.
There is no firm information about the pillars’ provenance, though the rule is that a mosque systematically incorporated rubble from the very temple which it was replacing. There is ample archaeological evidence that the whole Ramkot hill was covered with a temple complex, as is only to be expected at the geographical place of honour in a temple city. Apart from older but vaguer indications, there are three firm pieces of evidence from the 18th century, apart from the unnamed pre-19th century sources cited as such by the local 19th-century Muslim authors.16 Moreover, he should have been able to draw the right conclusions from the general context of Islamic iconoclasm, from the fact that the VHP scholars had discovered no less than four attempts by BMAC people to tamper with the evidence, and from the mediacentred and swearword-oriented performance of the proBabri academics as opposed to the evidence-centred performance of their rather fewer academic opponents.
The point is that, judging from his text and bibliography, Heuze does not know the official VHP argumentation presented during the Government-sponsored debate, nor has he heard of the independent studies supporting the temple thesis. The same ignorance about the solid Hindu argumentation is in evidence in the publications on India’s religious conflict by Susan Bayly (US), Peter van der Veer (Holland), Christophe Jaffrelot (France) and others.17 They have relied on India’s secularist accounts of the status quaestionis of Ayodhya research, and these have quite purposely kept the more serious and convincing formulations of the Hindu position out of the reader’s view.
Thus, Ali Asghar Engineer writes on the cover of his Babri Masjid Ram Janmabhoomi Controversy. ‘Future generations will have a right to know what the controversy was about’18, but then takes care to include only a few token statements for the Hindu side which are either on peripheral aspects of the debate or belong to the clumsier variety of Hindutva polemic; he repeats the same exercise in his sequel Politics of Confrontation.19 To comment on such manipulation, I need only repeat Engineer’s own words on the same cover: ‘It is not-only violence which has to be condemned but also distortion of history and intellectual dishonesty.’
The Dutch Indologist Peter Van der Veer profusely quotes from the contributors to S. Gopal’s and A.A. Engineer’s books. Even the bibliography (of a book published in 1994) does not mention a single book presenting any aspect of the protemple argument (all of which were available before 1993). However, in his own earlier research on the traditions concerning Ayodhya, he had endorsed the old consensus view. This earned him a lot of criticism, e.g.: ‘Disconcertingly, Van der Veer does not query Babur’s destruction of the temple.’20
Even in his book Religious Nationalism, Van der Veer does not follow the secularists all the way. He actually quotes pro-temple archaeologist Dr. S.P. Gupta, albeit only in a footnote; and not some clumsy statement but an actual piece of refutation of Babri historian Prof. R.S. Sharma’s claims: ‘Mr. Sharma has not given a single piece of archaeological or historical evidence in support of what he says. The archaeological and other evidence from art history indicate that there was a Brahminical temple at the place where the mosque stands today. The iconographical features like vanamala and karandmukut show that it was probably a Vaishnava temple.’21 Prof. A.R. Khan, who opposed the VHP plans for Ayodhya yet upheld true history by confirming the preexistence of a temple at the site, is also mentioned in footnote by Van der Veer but his arguments are not given.22
However, it is clear that after being taken to task for providing ammunition to the pro-temple argumentation, the Dutch scholar developed cold feet, hence his climb down: ‘In research carried out in the 1970s both Bakker and I relied heavily on the local tradition that Babar’s general had destroyed a temple built on Rama’s birthplace. This tradition is supposedly corroborated by the fact that in the mosque are pillars of a temple (which Bakker ascribes to the eleventh century). The same kind of pillars are also used in the grave of a Muslim pir who is in the local tradition considered to have been instrumental in the demolition of the temple.( … ) While Bakker and I could naively accept local tradition, this cannot be done any longer. For example, one could argue that the fact that there are temple pillars in the mosque does not tell you much. They could have been taken from anywhere and not from a demolished Rama temple.’23
So this is the evidence given, the whole reason for abandoning a well-researched view of history: ‘One could argue…’ It is in the nature of historical evidence (as opposed to evidence in physics) that it can always be ‘argued’, that is, explained away if inconvenient. Fossiles disprove the Biblical Creation Theory? No, for one could argue (and some Evangelical fundamentalists do argue) that God created the world with fossiles and all, if only to put the faith of palaeontologists to the test- Of even the hardest evidence one could argue that it may have been planted, doctored, misplaced, and that it should therefore be rejected by historians.
Fact is that Bakker and Van der Veer, during their original and extensive research, have not come across any fact which casts doubt on the temple demolition scenario. Fact is also that Van der Veer (and likewise Bakker) can still not cite a single finding which casts such doubt now. All he has to show as justification for his climb down is that ‘one could argue’ that the probable things did not happen, and that, though there is no evidence for it, something improbable might have happened.
His critic Antony Copley goes all the way in parroting his Indian contact persons: ‘Myth rather than history has fuelled Hindu fundamentalist protest over Ayodhya.( … ) Archaeologists question there being any urban site at Ayodhya at the alleged date of Rama’s birth, and find no evidence of any temple on the site of the Babri Masjid mosque.’24 One wonders to what archaeological finding he may be referring, for the two latest diggings, by B. B. Lal in the late 1970s and by Y.D. Sharma in 1992, have yielded remains of a temple.
To zoom in on a telling detail, Copley makes two claims which are readily refuted by Father Tieffenthaler’s 1767 evidence, which had figured prominently during the Ayodhya debate, but which has not come to Copley’s notice because the Indian historians on whom he relies have done their utmost to keep this evidence out of view. He claims that in the last decades of Nawabi rule (in Oudh), Muslims claimed that Hanuman Garhi was built on a mosque, and “to appease Muslim feeling [the Nawahl gave permission for a new mosque to be built near the Hanuman temple. This inspired the Hindu counter-claim that the Babri Masjid mosque was built on the site of a former temple, the Ram Janmabhoomi.’ Further, Copley alleges that the chabootra had been ‘illegally constructed near the mosque in 1857’.25 Both claims are explicitly refuted by Tieffenthaler’s testimony: he saw the chabootra in 1767, and he reports the Hindu claim that the Masjid had forcibly replaced a Rama temple.
Of course, Copley supports the secularist thesis that it was all a British concoction: ‘But the British, convinced that the Muslims lay behind the rebellion of 1857, (… ) saw fit to feed this mythology. Much is made by secular-minded historians of both this official literature and Miss Beveridge’s introduction to her translation of Babar’s memoirs, where she accused Babar of just this act of vandalism. That there was a temple to mark Rama’s birthplace and that the entire Ayodhya complex could be seen as commemorative of his birth suggests the irrationality of this claim.’26
But there is plenty of pre-British testimony, which is why even after his climbdown, Peter van der Veer maintains: ‘The suggestion that the local tradition is entirely invented by the British thus seems disingenuous.’27 The facile claim of a British concoction also flies in the face of the known fact that the British, while fostering disunity among the Indians at the political level, made great efforts to prevent communal clashes in the streets. Further, if the British had wanted to use temple demolition stories for fomenting communal friction, they could have pointed to numerous indubitable instances rather than having to invent one.
A scrutiny of the available historical material clearly shows that the truth does not lie halfway between the recent politicized hypothesis and the centuries-old consensus, and that the former is not half right, nor the latter half wrong. By all standards of historical method, the case for the thesis that the Babri Masjid has replaced a pre-existent Hindu temple is strong, if not overwhelming. It should be accepted unless and until evidence to the contrary is produced - and that is precisely what the BMAC experts have failed to do when the Government of India provided them with an official forum for doing so.
That the international media without exception and even most academics have chosen the side of the Muslim aggressor and condemned the Hindus who were merely minding their own business at their own sacred site, is the eighth wonder of the world; but it becomes perfectly understandable when we realise that they merely act upon the ‘information’ given them by India’s secularists. Like their source, they have blacked out the Hindu version on Ayodhya and completely identified with the Muslim version. Future scholars of political and communications science will study the reporting on the Ayodhya affair as an absolute classic of successful disinformation.
9.4. Misrepresenting the Ayodhya issue
Neither the real probability that Rama was effectively born right there, nor the solid evidence that a temple was destroyed to make way for a mosque, are what should decide this controversy. After all, the call for historical proof was only launched by India’s secularists spoiling for a fight, as a dispersionary tactic. To be sure, I don’t want to follow the Babri Masjid Action Committee historians in replacing factual argument with rhetoric consisting of the attributing of ulterior motives to opponents. The weakness of their argumentative position has to be demonstrated in its own right, as has already been done.28 They themselves have not contributed any evidence to the search for the historical true story, they were actually demanding from the Hindu side what they themselves never provided, - indeed, never intended to provide. In the process, their ulterior motives have come to light in sufficient measure to warrant some comment.
The aim of the pro-Babri Masjid historians was never to settle any historical questions. If it had been, then they would not have opposed the VHP’s request to organize systematic excavations at the site; nor would they have concealed the pro-temple evidence in their publications. Their aim was merely to distract public attention from the obvious and extremely simple solution of this controversy. The fact that this solution would be in favour of the Hindu claims was apparently unbearable to them because of their seething hatred of their ancestral religion.
The solution to the Ayodhya tangle lies in the universal ethical principle known as the Golden Rule: do unto others as you would be done to by them. Since Muslims would not like their own sacred sites to be occupied by members of another religion, they should not claim anyone else’s sacred site for themselves.
This means in practice that they should give up every attempt to wrest the site from its rightful owner, Hindu society. This includes street agitation, political lobbying inside and outside Parliament, and also the judicial proceedings. The attempt to occupy another religion’s sacred site is morally wrong, and it is not made one per cent less wrong by circumstances which seem to bring the achievement of the reprehensible goal within reach. It is not made less reprehensible by political equations which have allowed Islamic activists to score some points (e.g. the Places of Worship Act which freezes the status of places of worship as on 15 August 1947). Nor by the media bias which confers guilt on the Hindus for the riots which Muslims have started in pursuance of their political goals (such as the Muslim attacks on Hindu lives and property all over India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Great Britain after 6 December 1992), and thereby gives Muslim rioters ample reward for their aggression.
The incredibly arrogant Muslim attempt to take over a Hindu sacred site is not even justified by the legal sanction to the injustices of history which has been created by the British and Nehruvian juridical statusquo-ism regarding the accomplished facts of Islamic iconoclasm, and which may have given the Muslims a judicial leg to stand upon. Pressing the Islamic claim on a Hindu sacred site is morally outrageous, whether in the streets, in parliament or in court; whether using Molotov cocktails, petrodollar bribes, or juridical residues of jihadic accomplished facts. The only just, honourable and workable solution is that Muslims simply withdraw their outrageous claim, preferably with apologies for the damage in lives and political stability which their Babri Masjid agitation has already caused.
Some Muslims have understood the unreasonableness of the Islamic claim to Rama-Janmabhoomi. When Chandra Shekhar was Prime Minister, in December 1990, even his friend Syed Shahabuddin wrote that for once, Muslims would be ready to ‘gift away’ the Babri Masjid site: ‘The law protects the Babri Masjid even if it was constructed on the site of a temple after demolishing it, but in the interest of communal amity, as a one-time exception, the Muslim community is willing to make the offer, as a moral gesture, in accordance with the Shariat.’29 The Dutch scholar Paul Teunissen, in a review of my own book Ram Janmabhoomi vs. Babri Masjid, takes me to task for putting Islamic fanatics and secularists in the same bag, and declares that Syed Shahabuddin cannot possibly be a fanatic, considering that ‘he has promised to demolish the Babri Masjid with his own hands if proof is furnished that it was built on a temple’.30
After the demolition, several more Muslim leaders have come forward with proposals to abandon the claim to Ayodhya, notably Maulana Wahiduddin Khan and Asghar Ali Engineer. This raises the issue of a possible settlement with the Muslims, and the terms in which such a settlement should be formulated. But note that no secularist opinion leader in India nor any Western observer has highlighted these offers, let alone given them his explicit support. Their preference is with the most obscurantist and militant tendency in the Muslim community.
The basis for a settlement must be a correct appreciation of the Ayodhya situation. The site belongs to the Hindus, and the fact of its historical Muslim occupation, now already a distant memory, has not altered that. The ancient Hindu status of the site, strengthened moreover by its restored Hindu status since 1949, implies that Muslims are in no position to ‘gift away’ what isn’t theirs in the first place. Muslim postures of ‘generosity’ and ‘sacrifice for the common good’ still carry an implied claim that for now at least, the site is theirs; it isn’t. Similarly, the assertion that by exercising their right to their own sacred site, Hindus are ‘exacting revenge’ or ‘demanding compensation’ for Islamic misdeeds of the past, still implies that the site is now the Muslims’ property, and that Hindus want to take it back or receive it back.
‘Revenge’ would mean that Hindus kill as many Muslims as the number of Hindus killed by Muslims (in absolute figures, or perhaps in relative proportion, taking into account today’s higher population levels?), which would require a good number of Hiroshima-size nuclear bombs; also, thousands of functioning mosques, including those at the sacred sites of Islam in Central Asia, would have to be destroyed. It is no Hindu’s case that Muslims should be subjected to this kind of treatment, and Ayodhya simply has nothing to do with it.31
‘Restoration’ is out of the question too: the contemporary Indian Muslims do not have the power to restore the millions of Hindu victims back to life, nor to bring back the millions deported as slaves, nor to resurrect the numerous treasures of civilisation which their ancestors destroyed. They may of course try to win back for Hinduism the lost territories now known as Afghanistan, the Maldives, Pakistan, Bangladesh and parts of Southeast Asia; and they are welcome to form a special regiment and take Pak-Occupied Kashmir back into India, - that would be a very incomplete but nonetheless meritorious ‘restoration’.
‘Compensation’ is what the Hindu upper castes are asked to do towards the Hindu lower castes, in the form of job reservations. In their supreme arrogance, some Muslim leaders are now demanding that Muslims be included in the category of ‘backwards’ to whom the ‘forward’ castes are expected to give favourable treatment in compensation of past injustices; at the same time, they angrily reject any suggestion that they (like upper-caste Hindus) could be held accountable for the ‘so-called misdeeds’ of their ancestors. If compensation is needed in Hindu-Muslim relations, a start should be made with job reservations for the oppressed and dwindling Hindu minorities in Pakistan and Bangladesh: let the bullies make amends to their victims. In the case of the destroyed temples, compensation would mean that the estimated contemporary value of all the buildings and art treasures victimised by Islamic iconoclasm is paid back to Hindu trusts, in the form of a mega-billion sum of petrodollars earmarked for public works in the sphere of Hindu civilisation. The signs are that such ‘compensation’ is not on the cards. No Hindu organisation connected with the Rama-Janmabhoomi controversy has formulated its wishes in those terms.
Let us not get sidetracked by the numerous semantic manipulations with which India’s secularists are trying to blur this issue. Muslims are not the objects of ‘revenge’, they are not asked to ‘compensate’ anything, not even to ‘restore’ anything. All they should do, is to abandon their claim to what is not theirs: a Hindu sacred site. To put it even more briefly, all they should do is nothing, except to get on with their lives. To Wahiduddin Khan and others who attach strings to their offer of leaving the disputed site to the Hindus, it should be clear that Muslims are not in a position to expect any kind of reward for this long-overdue step. There is, however, one reward which they would certainly be getting: a positive feeling among Hindus, who have never overlooked the fact that Muslims are human beings like the rest of us.
Meanwhile, the prospect of Muslims ‘gifting away’ the Rama-Janmabhoomi site remains academical. The Government of India could of course have chosen to promote these conciliatory Muslim leaders (who are still militant enough)32 as acknowledged representatives of their community. But it preferred to cultivate fanatics like the recently deceded Ali Mian, director of a theological academy which doubles as a sanctuary for Pakistani spies, on the assumption that they have more of a following among the mass of Muslim voters. At the time of writing, the focus of the ongoing war of Islam against India has shifted to other arenas (Kashmir, reservations for Muslims, Urdu), but there is as yet no reason to believe that the Ayodhya normalisation process will be completed in a peaceful manner anytime soon.33 Let it be clear that that is not the Hindus’ fault: they should not bear any cross on their chests for minding their own business at their own sacred site.
9.5. Rama’s birthplace: a matter of faith?
The terms of the Ayodhya debate have often been blurred, sometimes deliberately and mischievously, sometimes out of intellectual incompetence or sloppiness. Both types converge in the affirmation that the Hindu claim to Ayodhya is a matter of ‘faith’. Anti-temple polemicists have blurred the matter further by pretending that the pro-temple spokesmen who clumsily described the question of Rama’s birthplace as a matter of faith, had also tried to reduce the plainly historical and archaeological question of medieval temple demolition to a matter of faith, which they have not. Let us now at any rate focus on the belief concerning Rama’s birth.
Some RSS leaders have repeatedly claimed that the Rama-Janmabhoomi site should be left to the Hindus out of respect for the ‘faith’ of the Hindu masses in the tradition that Rama was born at that very site. Even the noted historian Prof. K.S. Lal has gleefully been quoted by JNU historian Prof. K.N. Panikkar as declaring: ‘In religion, it is a matter of faith and not of proof… So by faith alone Christians embrace Jesus Christ to be the Son of God, by faith and faith alone Muslims believe Muhammad to be the Prophet of Allah, and by faith and faith alone Hindus believe Ram-Janmabhoomi in Ayodhya to be the birthplace of Lord Rama.’34 This presentation of the Hindu claim to Ayodhya as being a matter of ‘faith’ is inaccurate and unnecessarily weakens the Hindu position.
For one thing, the status of the enumerated items of faith is different. Christianity stands or falls with the belief that Jesus was God’s Only-Begotten Son. Islam stands or falls with the belief that Mohammed is Allah’s Prophet. But Hinduism (and within Hinduism even the particular tradition of Rama worship) does not in any way depend on the belief that Rama was born at that or another site, just as Christianity and Islam are not really dependent on their respective claims to specific pilgrimage sites.35
However, it just so happens that the Mohammed whom we talk about when formulating the dogmas of Islam, according to those very texts in which his career is described and given a Prophetic interpretation, was a man from Mecca in Arabia, brought up in the respect for the Pagan Arab sanctuary there, the Kaaba; there is no other Prophet Mohammed than the Mohammed from Mecca.36 Similarly, it so happens that Rama, according to the texts describing his career and glorifying him, was a member of the Ikshvaku dynasty ruling in Ayodhya; there is no other Rama than the Rama from Ayodhya. The agreement among all those concerned that Mohammed was born in Mecca and Rama in Ayodhya may have certain ritual consequences, but is by no means the defining dogma of the respective religions embodied in Mohammed and Rama.
The second fundamental objection to the formulation of the Hindu position regarding Ayodhya in terms of ‘faith’, is that the term ‘faith’ is not respectable among post-Enlightenment intellectuals, much less among India’s secularists. It has a connotation of irrational attachment to unproven and even absurd claims. Thus, ‘by faith alone Christians embrace Jesus Christ to be the Son of God’: that is an accurate description of an irrational behaviour. The notion that a human being, a creature, can be the Creator’s only-begotten son, is quite absurd. To believe it, is irrational, is an injustice to man’s status as a creature equipped with the faculty of Reason. The defiantly anti-rational position of the Christian faith was summed up by the Church Father Tertullian: Credo quia absurdum, ‘I believe it because it is absurd’.
Similarly, ‘by faith and faith alone Muslims believe Muhammad to be the Prophet of Allah’: that is an accurate description of an irrational belief, seen for what it was by Mohammed’s Pagan contemporaries. They dismissed his ‘revelations’ as hallucinations, poetic inventions or fits of demonic possession. It is simply not true that Mohammed heard the voice of the archangel Gabriel, nor that the text he ‘received’ was a special message from God. Everything in the Quran can perfectly be explained from the psychology and the cultural and social circumstances of the Meccan trader Mohammed.37 No fact in and about the Quran makes it intellectually necessary for a rational reader to think up the intervention of an outside and superhuman being, be it Gabriel or Allah. It is only by faith that one can accept the irrational claim which is the basic tenet of Islam, viz. that Mohammed received a special message from the Almighty.
By contrast, it is simply not true that ‘by faith and faith alone Hindus believe Rama-Janmabhumi in Ayodhya to be the birthplace of Rama’. In common with the Muslim reverence for the Kaaba, the Hindu reverence for the Rama-Janmabhoomi site is a ritual convention, a category which may or may not have a basis in history. In the case of the Kaaba, the convention is demonstrably based on a deliberately concocted myth. The case of Ayodhya is altogether different.
Is it by faith alone that we believe Napoleon lost the Battle of Waterloo? Of course, we have no eye-witnesses, and even if we had, we could not be sure that they weren’t lying to us. It is, in a sense, an act of faith (underlying all reliance on man-made historical evidence) to assume that the wealth of documentary material mentioning Napoleon and directly or indirectly confirming the traditional belief that he was defeated at Waterloo, is trustworthy. However, the scholarly discipline of historical method has developed ways of discerning trustworthy from untrustworthy sources, so that it can raise the mere possibility that the traditional claims of Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo are true, to a degree of probability bordering on certainty. This is not the absolute certainty of faith, but a rational form of knowledge which always remains open to correction, and which is merely the best and most practical instrument with which we can face the historical dimension of reality.
We have fewer sources about Rama than about Napoleon, but essentially the situation is the same: while we have no direct evidence in the form of eye-witnesses, we do have documentary sources giving particular information about his career. The tradition that Rama was born in Ayodhya, even on that very site, may well be historical. it is supported by a fairly consistent Epic and Puranic tradition, a type of source spurned by 19th-century Orientalists, and still ridiculed by westernized Indian scholars who are not up-to-date with developments abroad, where it has been rehabilitated. The core of the Greek story of Troy, the Biblical histories of the Israelite kings and the Chinese records of the Shang dynasty were once dismissed by scholars as ‘obviously unhistorical’, but are now accepted as remarkably accurate or at least as having a core of historical truth. It is only in India that people are still ignoring their own ancient historical tradition, and keep on treating some haughtily prejudiced 19th-century speculations as Gospel truth.
By Puranic chronology, Rama lived in a pre-Harappan age which has left few durable buildings, so chances are slim that anything about him could ever be archaeologically verified or falsified. Unlike the fictional traditions conferring sanctity on the Muslim and Christian pilgrimage sites in Mecca, Jerusalem and Bethlehem, the historicity of the Ayodhya tradition remains an undisproven possibility. The geographical prominence of the site, coupled with the consistent Epic and Puranic tradition that the Suryavamsa (solar) dynasty (including Rama) ruled in Ayodhya, add to the probability of the conventional assumption that that very site once carried Rama’s castle.
JNU historian Romila Thapar, a leading militant of the Babri Masjid cause, has claimed in an interview with Le Monde that ‘the real question’ is not whether a mosque had forcibly replaced a temple, but whether Rama had lived at that site in the first place.38 We notice the strategic retreat from a question on which hard proof is readily available, and where she knows her side has lost the battle, to a question buried in the deep past which is probably beyond verification. Her position that the historicity of the tradition underlying the sacred status of the site is what ought to be proven, is an insulting application of double standards: it subjects Hindus to a test which is out of the question with Islam and Christianity, and which these two religions are totally unable to pass.
The fact that a community considers a site sacred in the present is sufficient reason for respecting it as such, regardless of history. The Israeli government is protecting Christian access to the places where Christians claim that Jesus was born, crucified and buried. This correct policy is not altered just because modem research has shown these claims to be unfounded.39 Two of these sites originally had Pagan temples on them, which the Church destroyed. The Church’s claim on the supposed site of Jesus’ crucifixion was based on a dream in which Jesus himself revealed the location to the Emperor Constantine’s Christian mother. One imagines the scornful secularist reaction if the Vishva Hindu Parishad had based its Ayodhya claims on a dream; yet, the numerous Christians in India’s secularist coalition have not made any plans to relinquish the Church’s dream-based claims on the pilgrimage sites in Palestine.
Similarly, the Islamic claims on the Kaaba in Mecca and on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem are completely unhistorical and are based on transparent ad hoc myths. In this case, we know the circumstances of the myths’ deliberate creation with even more exactitude, from the Islamic sources themselves. Prophet Mohammed abandoned his fad of imitating Jewish tradition, including the choice of Jerusalem as the direction of prayer, when the Jews proved to be unimpressed with his claims to prophethood. Therefore he stole Abraham, the presumed founder of the monotheistic tradition which he had adopted, from the Jews, and declared that the Arabs were Abraham’s true heirs through Ishmael. The logic of this mythical construction forced him to claim that the Arab national sanctuary at Mecca had been built by Abraham. The fact that it had been in use as a temple of Hubal and other Arab Gods and Goddesses since time immemorial, was explained away by the totally unhistorical speculation that the idolaters had at one time usurped the temple which originally belonged to Abraham and his religion.
In reality, no pre-Islamic Arab text or inscription mentions Abraham, his religion, or his son Ishmael. Conversely, the Bible, the only authentic source on Abraham, never makes him go anywhere near Mecca, nor does it make him build the Kaaba. These two inconvenient facts are explained away by means of a conspiracy theory: the Jews censored their own Scripture and destroyed the existing references to the future prophet Mohammed, and the Pagan Arabs must have done likewise with their inscriptions and oral tradition. The truth of the matter is that Mohammed stole the Kaaba from its rightful owners, who had never practised any Abrahamic or Islamic worship there. Yet, because the Islamic use of the Kaaba is now a long-standing ritual convention, it is respected as such without any question.
The Islamic claim to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem is even more transparently fraudulent. Prophet Mohammed is supposed to have used it as a landing platform on his night journey through heaven on a winged horse. Any secularist willing to uphold this claim as historical? Or otherwise ready to show the courage of his conviction and demand that the Muslims relinquish their claim to the Temple Mount so as to be morally in a position to demand a similar abandonment of , ‘mythical’ claims from the Hindus? Most Jews believe that it is up to the Messiah to rebuild King Solomon’s temple on its original site, so they are in no hurry to make the Muslims hand it back. That saves the Israeli government a dilemma: for apart from respecting Jewish sensibilities, it is also committed to the principle that sacred sites, including Islamic ones, are to be respected irrespective of the validity of the claims underlying that status of sacredness.40
No secularist is brandishing the mythical nature of these Islamic claims in support of a demand to hand the Temple Mount back to the Jews, nor to seize it and declare it a secular ‘national monument’. In the case of Christians and Muslims, no one demands that they prove the historicity of the stories underlying the sacred status of their places of pilgrimage. Demanding the same of Hindus is an insulting display of double standards, a candid statement that one intends to treat Hindus as dirt.
But for the sake of argument, let us assume that ‘the real question’ concerns Rama’s historical birthplace. There are two competing answers to that question. One is the traditional answer, based on a corpus of traditional literature. The other is Romila Thapar’s not very precise answer, which is essentially ready to let Rama come into this world at any site except at the traditional one. That traditional location may be hard to prove, but there is even less proof for any alternative location. The traditional location has at least documentary evidence in its favour, viz. the tradition itself. Romila Thapar’s alternative, by contrast, is only backed by her own eagerness to put Hindus in the wrong.
To be sure, it remains possible that the tradition is mistaken, but the point for an objective scholar is that Romila Thapar has not given one iota of evidence for that scenario. In her overview of the development of different Ramayana versions, she mentions a lot of differences (relationship between Rama and Sita, Janaka and Sita, status of Ravana, of Hanuman) but no two different birthsites.41
It was left to the Babri Masjid Action Committee office-bearers to claim, on the basis of a collection of articles by various modern crank writers, that they had ‘proof’ of Rama’s birth at no less than seven different places (from Andhra Pradesh and Varanasi via Nepal and Afghanistan all the way to Egypt), apart from having cited ‘proof’ that Rama had never existed at all.42 To stay within their logic, I suggest that someone who has taken birth at seven different places was certainly able to take birth at yet one more place, viz. that hilltop in Ayodhya.
At any rate, the BMAC’s frontal display of contempt for logic and rational method has not pitted any secularist against the BMAC position. For them no allegations of replacing historical knowledge with myth or ‘faith’; which adds further illustration to our view that the whole rhetoric of historicity vs. faith was never anything else than a dispersionary tactic to put the Hindus on the defensive. Albeit one in which some Hindu spokesmen were unwitting accomplices by their own mindless adoption of the term ‘faith’.
9.6. A Babri Masjid, not a Rama-Janmabhoomi problem
Though the Supreme Court judgment was correct in its effective decision, the commentatorial parts of the verdict come in for some serious criticism. This is especially true of its allotment of guilt. The bias showing from these passages should warn against the optimism with which some Hindu commentators have welcomed the verdict.
I suppose I am not the first to notice the glaring contradiction between the following two statements made by the eminent judges in two successive paragraphs. In Para 56, Hindu society is explicitly dissociated from the ‘guilt’ of the demolition on 6 December 1992: ‘ The miscreants who demolished the mosque had no religion, caste or creed except the character of a criminal and the mere incident of birth of such a person in any particular community cannot attach the stigma of his crime to the community in which he was born.’43
This clear position is reversed in the very next Paragraph, no 57: ‘…However, confining exercise of the right of worship of the Hindu community to its reduced form within the disputed area as on 7th January 1993, lesser than that exercised till the demolition on 6th December 1992, by the freeze enacted in Section 7(2) appears to be reasonable and just in view of the fact that the miscreants who demolished the mosque are suspected to be persons professing to practice the Hindu religion. The Hindu community must, therefore, bear the cross on its chest, for the misdeed of the miscreants reasonably suspected to belong to their religious fold.’44
Remark first of all the Christian imagery in the last sentence: ‘The Hindu community must bear the cross on its chest.’ This illustrates what we had suspected all along: the English-speaking elite in India has preserved the mind-set of the Christian-British colonial rulers. The ruling class has borrowed its religious imagery from Western Christianity, just as it has borrowed its secularism from the anti-religious reaction in the late-Christian West. Mentally, India is to an extent still under Brown Sahib colonial domination, and the legal apparatus which denies Hindus the right to their sacred site can, in circumstances critical to the establishment’s legitimacy, still be used as an instrument of colonial oppression.
Within this anti-native, anti-Hindu colonial system, it is the latter (n0 57) of the two mutually contradictory statements which represents the true spirit: Hindu society is guilty of trying to manage its own affairs at its own sacred site, so it deserves to be punished with administrative restrictions on its access to the Rama-Janmabhoomi, and perhaps with further judicial restrictions later. The judges simply confirm what is explicitly laid down in article 30 of the Constitution: minorities enjoy privileges which are denied to Hindus, including the non-interference by the government in the affairs of their places of worship. Hindus have no right to complain when the government takes over Hindu temples, nor when it works hand-in-glove with Islamic activists trying to take over a Hindu sacred site. They should be satisfied with the status of second-class citizens, to which they have been so well accustomed by centuries of colonial rule, Islamic as well as Christian.
The former of the two statements (n0 56), by contrast, is quite dishonest. It is just a typical exercise in the mendacious secularspeak of the Nehruvian elite: claiming that the religions are not themselves responsible for communal strife, that it is the handiwork of evil political opportunists and ‘miscreants’. In reality, Islam is directly responsible for the communal conflict as a whole; and a group of committed Hindus are responsible for the demolition of the Babri Masjid. It is simply not true that the demolishers of the Babri Masjid ‘had no religion, caste or creed except the character of a criminal’.
Though not all Hindus agreed on this type of strategy for achieving the reconstruction of a proper temple at the site, it is undeniable that the demolishers acted out of a commitment to Hindu concerns. They certainly belonged to a Hindu caste (say, Maratha) or a Hindu sect (say, Naga sadhu) and professed the Hindu religion. Of course the ‘stigma’ of their intervention does not attach to the whole of Hindu society, but nevertheless every Hindu is entitled to feel some pride that ‘our boys’ have stood up for Hindu dignity on 6 December 1992. They did what many BJP supporters in their heart of hearts had wanted to do but were too afraid or too politically domesticated to put into practice.
It is sad that such a symbolic event like the demolition of the misplaced Babri Masjid architecture had to be performed surreptitiously by an unruly crowd of mostly unemployed youngsters. But then, perhaps it was just their task in these circumstances. Under India’s secularist regime, Hindu society is an underground society, and sometimes it is inevitable that moral imperatives in the service of Hindu society can only be realised by such surreptitious surprise action.
Considering the foolish haughtiness with which the Allahabad High Court had just decided, days before the gathering scheduled for 6 December, to postpone once more their verdict on the acquisition of some of the Ayodhya land by the UP government (intended as part of a strategy towards a peaceful solution), after a full 42 years of endless litigation, it is not fair to accuse the over-enthusiastic Rama devotees of disrespect towards the judicial process and the democratic order which it is supposed to uphold. Rather, they have shown disrespect towards the misuse of the courts for political games, and they have rightly revolted against the judges’ contempt for Hindu society, which was evident from their unwillingness to settle the dispute brought before them, concerning no less a site than the Rama-Janmabhoomi.
Sushil Srivastava: The Disputed Mosque. A Historical Inquiry, Vistaar Publ., Delhi 1991, p.90. As for the calligraphy of the inscription attributing the building of the mosque to Babar’s lieutenant Mir Baqi, Srivastava argues (p.89) that it is in a style typical of the 19th century, so that the inscription constitutes but a very weak proof for dating the mosque to Babar’s reign. ↩
R. Nath: The Babri Masjid of Ayodhya, Historical Research Documentation Programme, Jaipur 1991, p.11. ↩
About the Babri Masjid in the decades before the Hindu-Muslim clashes in the 1850s, the region’s first British district commissioner, Patrick Camegy, wrote: ‘It is said that up to that time the Hindus and Mohamedans alike used to worship in the mosque-temple.’ Quoted by Peter Van der Veer: Religious Nationalism, p. 153. ↩
R. Nath: The Babar Masjid of Ayodhya, p.38. With ‘1001-1030’, the period of Mahmud Ghaznavi’s raids is meant. ↩
Sushil Srivastava: The Disputed Mosque, p.88. ↩
Sushil Srivastava: The Disputed Mosque, p.78. ↩
Susan Bayly: ‘History and the fundamentalists: India after the Ayodhya crisis’, Bulletin of the Academy of Arts and Sciences, April 1993. ↩
We are not considering here the cases of outright provocation, like the Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust (Sahmat) Ramayana exhibit, or the disgusting performance of some journalists at the Ayodhya site prior to the demolition, when they were offering cookies to the Kar Sevaks, as if to monkeys in a zoo, in order to verify the rumour that these were just hungry street kids lured to the Kar Seva in exchange for food. Since these have nothing to do with the historical debate on Ayodhya, we understand that they are not included in Susan Bayly’s paean to ‘bravery’ of anti-temple Indiarls. Against the said provocations, some Hindu activists have lost their temper, but even then, nobody was killed. ↩
E.g. Soma Wadhwa: ‘Historians rained with hate mail’, Sunday Observer, 17-1-1993. ↩
In 1998, a BJP-led alliance gained a working majority in the Lok Sabha, but many coalition parties refuse to have anything to do with ‘communal’ issues, and even in the BJP the interest in and commitment to the Ayodhya temple is unimpressive. ↩
This stand is still taken by most contributors to Sarvepalli Gopal ed.: Anatomy of a Confrontation, the Babri Masjid/Ram Janmabhoomi Issue (Penguin, Delhi 1991), which probably contains the final Marxist position in this debate. The book (and the sycophantic reviews it has received) avoids mentioning the pre-British testimonies and carefully ignores the scholars’ debate as well as other scholarly expositions of the Hindu case. ↩
Edward Desmond reviewing S. Gopal, ed.: Anatomy of a Confrontation, in New York Review of Books, 14-5-1992. ↩
Gerard Heuze: Ou va l’Inde moderne? L’Harmattan, Paris 1993, p.59. ↩
Gerard Heuze: Ou va l’Inde moderne?, p. 12 2. ↩
Gerard Heuze: Ou va l’Inde modems?, p.7-8. ↩
Vide Harsh Narain: Ayodhya Temple-Mosque Dispute, esp. p.18 and p.91 for the Jaipur maharaja’s Janmasthan map (1717), p.10-11 for Father Tieffenthaler’s testimony (1767), p.23-26 for the Persian ‘Bahadurshahi Book of Forty Sermons’ (around 1710). ↩
Peter Van der Veer: Religious Nationalism. Hindus and Muslims in India, University of California Press, Berkeley 1994; Christophe Jaffrelot: Les Nationalistes Hindous, Fondation Nationale des Sciences Politiques, Paris 1993; Susan Bayly: ‘History and the Fundamentalists: India after the Ayodhya Crisis’, Bulletin of the Academy of arts and Sciences, April 1993. ↩
Published by Ajanta Publ., Delhi 1990. ↩
Published by Ajanta Publ., Delhi 1990 c.q. 1992. ↩
Antony Copley: ‘Secularism Reconsidered’, Contemporary South Asia 1993, 2 (1), p.47-65, spec. p.64 n.38. ↩
Quoted by Peter Van der Veer: Religious Nationalism, p.219, n.55. ↩
Peter Van der Veer: Religious Nationalism, p.218 n.51. A.R. Khan’s rebuttal to the JNU historians, ‘In the name of ‘’history’‘, along with the ensuing polemic, has been included in S. R. Goel, ed.: Hindu Temples, vol. 1, 2nd ed., p.243-263. ↩
Peter Van der Veer: Religious Nationalism, p.161, referring to Hans Bakker: Ayodhya, Groningen 1987, and to Peter Van der Veer: ‘’‘God must be liberated!’ A Hindu liberation movement in Ayodhya’, Modern Asia Studies, 1987. ↩
Antony Copley: ‘Secularism Reconsidered’, Contemporary South Asia 1993, 2 (1), p. 57. ↩
Antony Copley: ‘Secularism Reconsidered’, Contemporary South Asia 1993, 2 (1), p. 58. ↩
Antony Copley: ‘Secularism Reconsidered’, Contemporary South Asia 1993, 2 (1), p.58. ↩
Peter Van der Veer: Religious Nationalism, p. 160. ↩
Important contributions to the debate from the Hindu side include the official argumentation by the Vishva Hindu Parishad, published as History vs. Casuistry by Voice of India 1991; The Ayodhya Temple-Mosque Dispute, Focus on Muslim Sources by Prof. Harsh Narain, Penman Publ., Delhi 1993; and, in a broader perspective, Hindu Temples, What Happened to Them (2 vols.), by Sitaram Goel et al., Voice of India, 1990-1993. ↩
Syed Shahabuddin’s letter in Indian Express, 13-12-1990. ↩
Paul Teunissen in the Dutch bimonthly India Nu, January 1993. Note that he accepts my argumentation that the temple existed, so that ‘Shahabuddin will have to get serious about his demolition promise’. ↩
This point has been developed in the VHP’s official rebuttal to the BMAC’s evidence bundle: History vs. Casuistry, p.57 and p.67. Of course, that document is absent from the bibliographies of practically all secularist publications on Ayodhya in India and abroad eventhough it represents the official position of the secularists’ own chosen enemy, the position which their publications purport to be rebutting. ↩
Wahiduddin Khan is an ideologue of the Tabligh movement (propagation of pure Islamic ways and abolition of remnants of Hindu culture among Muslims); A.A. Engineer routinely publishes prefabricated ‘reports’ on communal riots in which the Muslim hand is systematically concealed, comparable to the pre-Partition Pirpur Report. Their commitment is to Islam, and their conciliatory stand on Ayodhya is only motivated by the calculation that at this point, Islamic interests are served better with a non-confrontational strategy. ↩
Though written in 1995, these words do not need serious amending even in January 2002. ↩
Quoted in K.N. Panikkar: ‘A Historical Overview’, in S. Gopal ed.: Anatomy of a Confrontation, p.37 of the Penguin reprint 1993, from K.S. Lal: ‘Ramjanmabhumi - Some Issues’, in Organiser, October 1989. Remark that all the historical arguments developed by Prof. Lal, like all those of other competent scholars, have been carefully kept out of view in S. Gopal’s book (which for most foreigners is the only source about the Ayodhya affair), while this one clumsy phrase has been seized upon to demonstrate the ‘unhistorical’ and ‘irrational’ basis o the Hindu position. ↩
To be sure, during the Ayodhya crisis, journalists managed to find an illiterate Rama devotee who, quoted from memory, declared: ‘We cannot attain moksha (liberation) unless we can worship Rama at his very birthplace.’ In a political sense, one could argue that Hindu society is not really free as long as it has to suffer the occupation of its sacred sites by Islam; with that view, I agree. But the interviewee was apparently talking about spiritual liberation, which of course has nothing to do with the location of the place of Rama’s birth. ↩
I cannot mention Jesus at this point, because his birthplace is in doubt. The claim for Bethlehem was made only in an attempt to convince potential Jewish converts that Biblical predictions about the birth of the Messiah in Bethlehem had come true in Jesus. ↩
A brilliant and thoroughly scientific analysis of Mohammed’s psychology, strictly based on the authentic Islamic sources, has been developed by the Flemish psychologist Dr. Herman H. Somers in his Dutch-language book Een Andere Mohammed, Hadewijch, Antwerp 1992. His conclusions are, of course, not compatible with the fond beliefs of Islam. Since for some reason no English translation has been forthcoming, I am preparing an English summary myself. ↩
Romila Thapar’s interview to Le Monde was reproduced in the September 1993 issue of India, bimonthly of Shanti Darshan Belgo-Indian Association. ↩
That the claims to these sites were deliberately made up on non-historical grounds by the triumphant Church in the 4th century, is the thoroughly researched thesis of the New Zealand historian Joan Taylor: Christians and the Holy Places, Oxford University Press 1993. ↩
This peculiar Messiah-centred Jewish attitude to the Temple Mount is only one of the fundamental differences between the Jerusalem and the Ayodhya situation. It is only a symptom of laziness if not worse to describe the Temple Mount controversy as a ‘Jewish Ayodhya’. ↩
Romila Thapar: ‘A historical perspective on the story of Rama’, in S. Gopal, ed.: Anatomy of a Confrontation, p.141-163. ↩
This claim was made in writing during the very first round of the Government-sponsored scholars’ debate. Embarrassed about their poor performance (which has gone strictly unreported in the media as well as in all academic publications), the BMAC negotiators have never published their argumentation; I could inspect a copy at the Deendayal Research Institute, Delhi. The specific pieces of ‘proof’ are commented on in the VHP rebuttal: History vs. Casuistry, p.38-41. ↩
‘The Supreme Court Judgment’, in Swapan Dasgupta et al.: The Ayodhya Reference, p.43. ↩
‘The Supreme Court Judgment’, in Swapan Dasgupta et al.: The Ayodhya Reference, p-44. ↩