The long awaited verdict over the control of Babri Masjid site that was constructed a few centuries ago and where Lord Ram, a Hindu deity is believed to have been born many eons earlier was declared on September 30 in about 18 minutes after waiting for about 18 years to settle a legal battle that originated about six decades ago.
The court handed down its 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 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.
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 their belief that the site was the birthplace of Lord Ram is well upheld. However, the ruling did not represent a loss of hope for Muslims either. Lawyers representing both Muslim and Hindu groups said they would appeal to the higher court. But the High Court judgment is unlikely to spark off violence as neither side is made a gross loser by the verdict. What however is painful to think in retrospect is if the dispute had been disposed off by the court in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s or even in 1991, the demolition of Babri Masjid could have been avoided and the resultant riots may not have occurred.
The Babri Masjid was there in Ajodhya for generations. Before that there was a temple at that spot as the archaeological 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 American Red Indians may also claim that they had Teepees where the towers are now standing in New York and they be given back their lands, but that would be quite absurd as well as unattainable.
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 600 years ago, someone else may say ‘xyz’ destroyed a mosque, a church or a Gurudwara 1500 years ago. How far in the unrecorded history can one go to reclaim hereditary property? Otherwise, it may create scope for some militants to preach: “Destroy something and your ‘side’ may get 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 many temples across India were demolished in the past during the Moghul rule and mosques were also built on many 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 symbol 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.
India professes to be secular, but at times the country seems to be secular only in book. The 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.
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 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 Allauddin Khan, Poet Nazrul Islam, Zakir Hussain, Bismillah Khan, Vilayat Khan, and thousands more Muslims who could never imagine anything bad to happen to their motherland. It is indeed time for India to rise above its destructive past and champion for peace wherever there is a communal tension.
Maswood Alam Khan is a retired banker