Reactions To The Verdict

Written by  //  October 16, 2010  //  National Politics  //  1 Comment

Writers of this blog have analysed the Ayodhya verdict admirably. Arghya has analysed the verdict in the language of law and Prashant has argued that the verdict was a breach of the Social Contract between the Indian State and the Indian Muslims which rested on the mutual understanding that India would always be a secular State. I am neither a lawyer nor a political analyst and am thus ill equipped to make sense of the verdict either way. I am however, a frequenter of tea and coffee stalls (and occasionally, the fancier cafes) all over Delhi and can, with some authority, discuss the reactions of my friends and acquaintances across shades of political opinion.

It was the 24th of October and the country was gearing up. Anish, who had been teaching at a village school in Rajasthan, partly as a Gandhi Peace fellow and partly out of pure idealism, had literally fled to JNU that day. I met him at the Chinese food joint, gorging and gormandising on honey chicken and chicken fried rice. The poor thing had been eating vegetarian meals all month.

“What happened?” I asked. “The village elders were having a conversation about how they were looking forward to ‘cutting down’ the Muslims in the neighbouring village (translation- the original Hindi was starker: ‘Musale katenge’) as soon as the verdict was announced and asked me to join. I said I was not interested in cutting Muslims down. They replied, ‘No problem. We’ll teach you. If you can learn to cut bajra stems then you can learn to cut Muslim throats as well.’ (Guruji, aap bajra katna to seekh gaye, ab Musale katna bhi seekh jayenge.)”

Then the verdict was postponed to the 28th. My family rescheduled my mother’s flight from Gujarat and all other appointments so that we could stay put in our respective locations all day. But the judges couldn’t agree and the verdict was postponed again. This time even the UPA had started to panic. Chidambaram made official statements about the deployment of police personnel and paramilitary forces everywhere possible. 1.9 lakh Central paramilitary troops were deployed in Uttar Pradesh itself.

And then it came.

The common rooms, the Baristas, the lounge bars –in fact any and every place with a TV set in town was jam packed and those who felt their scruffiness would have them thrown out, peeked in through the shop windows.

Later, my friend, Rishabh told me that the verdict was a riot control document. The more Hindu of the lot scratched their heads and said, “Yeah so they recognised that Ramji was born here then why have they even given this one-third to the Muslims?” Other Hindus like my classmate Adarsh, said, “Ah! The Muslims should be happy and not spread communal tension. Atleast they got one-third.” (Luckily I wasn’t there. My friend Krithi, a fellow Left sympathiser, blew her top.) Most people said – “Ah! One third-one third-one third! That’s fair! No riot!” And Kamna, sipping her tea in the Library canteen, was of the same opinion. According to her, I was being communal when I said that the verdict was not fair.

The Ultra Left in JNU –groups like the Progressive Students’ Union or the Maoist sympathetic Democratic Students’ Union (quite the misnomer) –went up in arms. They saw the verdict as a de facto justification for the Babri Masjid demolition and yelled out for rebuilding the Babri Masjid. I agreed with the de facto justification bit but the thought for fighting to rebuild a mosque didn’t seem all that secular to me. My friend, Kavita was furious with the Ultra Left. “How can they talk of rebuilding the mosque? Don’t they think they are being disgustingly irresponsible? These factors must be settled by the law, by the Supreme Court. If the Sunni Waqf Board has a problem, it must go to the Supreme Court!”

Krithi heard her out but disagreed. “The High Court has been pacifist to the point of being unjust. How do we know that the Supreme Court will not do the same? As the Left, we must put political pressure on the Supreme Court.”

Meanwhile, Sahmat, the Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust brought out a pamphlet signed by respected academicians from AMU, JNU, DU etcetera, discrediting the Ayodhya verdict saying that it was based on the “faith and belief” of the Hindus rather than fact and evidence. Historians like Romilla Thapar were particularly vehement against the ASI report, saying that archaeological evidence actually points to animal bones, “surkhi” and lime mortar which are characteristic of Muslim presence. The ASI report had pointed to the presence of pillar bases to claim that a temple had once existed where the Babri Masjid had stood but no pillars were found. In fact, said Sahmat, there is no proof that Hindu belief says that Ram was born right under the dome of the mosque even in recent times, leave alone ‘time immemorial’ and who knows if those who broke in (in 1949) to put Ram’s idols under the dome of the mosque, put them in their rightful place. In other words, it is simply the belief of the Hindus that has caused the High Court to cede to the Hindus, the most important part of the mosque. Sahmat is particularly disturbed by the legitimation that the verdict gives to violence and muscle power. After all, next time property is required or the manufacture of a dispute is required to gain the political support of the Hindu majority, another janmasthan or two can be sprung up from time to time.

The Sahmat report brought nods of encouragement from everyone but the ABVP. This one asked students to unite against ‘communist hoax cries’ and referred to the academicians who signed the Sahmat statement as intellectual prostitutes. Meanwhile, it had a spectacular Navratra puja with loud speakers and cry upon cry of “Jai Shri Ram” which was regrettably, very popular.

The CPI(M) Politburo reaffirmed that the peace after the verdict proves that the people find the settlement of such disputes through the judicial process acceptable. Then it went on to critique the verdict because the judgement was based on the faith and belief of the Hindus rather than fact and evidence after which, it suggested rather than insisted that the judgement could be seen as a justification of the Babri Masjid demolition which it requested, rather than demanded, of the Supreme Court to keep in mind.

To my friend, Amit, always a critic of the CPI(M), it was a major disappointment that the Party should advocate the mere use of the judicial process with no attempt to put political pressure on the Court. After the High Court verdict, the ability of the judiciary to resist appeasing the majority for the sake of peace is much in question and in its bid to avoid channelling the disappointment after the verdict into anger and in its bid to avoid retaliation from the sanghis, the CPI(M) is also, falling into a pacifist trap. Amit also questioned the insistence on fact and evidence. After all, in Somnath, the Shiv temple was, in fact, demolished to build a mosque. Should that be given off to the Hindu groups as well?

I had to agree with Amit on the CPI(M)’s fall into the pacifist trap. (I’m still chewing on the question about the Somnath temple.) It saddened me to think about how close the grip of Hindutva really is. Even when it seems universally condemnable, the most intellectually fashionable statements end up giving the Hindutva groups their way. And that, is the real danger of communalism.

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