May 06, 2021
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Ayodhya: Reconciliation, Consensus & Moving On

Ayodhya: Reconciliation, Consensus & Moving On

We have heard a lot about 'India has moved on' and it is time for reconciliation and that this was the time for a negotiated settlement rather than going in appeal to the SC. What do people mean when they use terms such as 'moving on', 'reconciliation' and 'negotiated settlement'? Do most people think of this as a 'fair settlement'?

Seema Mustafa in the New Indian Express:

The sense that justice was denied has been growing, not just among the Muslims, but so is the secular opinion in this country. Any number of academics, historians and others have come out questioning the ruling. Union home minister P Chidambaram has said that this will not impact on the cases already in the courts against those held responsible for the demolition of the Babri mosque on December 6 1992. This, of course remains to be seen as the lawyers will definitely argue that the Lucknow Bench ruling makes it clear that a temple had existed on the spot, so those responsible for the demolition of the mosque, were only taking back what was theirs.

In this battle no one is talking of the Constitution of India that was violated 18 years ago; sadly not even the judges. To answer the second part of the Kashmiri friend’s question, there is peace today because the verdict was a compromise. To add a question, and is this a good way of moving ahead? No, as brushing issues of justice under the carpet does not work. This only adds to the anger and frustration, and at best delays the inevitable. Maturity is reflected in the independent and efficient working of institutions. A clear-cut decision based on law and the evidence, with a peaceful acceptance would have been the real hallmark of a mature India

Ashok Malik in the Hinustan Times:

There is only one way in which Ayodhya can corrode Indian politics again. For the most part, those who are instigating this are not the regular ‘religious fundamentalists’ but self-proclaimed ‘secular modernists’, taking their litany from television studio to television studio and op-ed page to op-ed page. They are picking loopholes in the judgement, misrepresenting it where possible — for instance, a judge’s observation that there is a history to the Hindu perception of Ayodhya being the birthplace of Ram is being passed off as acceptance of Ayodhya being the physical birthplace of Ram — but at no stage are they pointing to an alternative solution that is legally workable and socially sustainable.

This is such a fringe intellectual position and so divorced from the larger reality of India, as evident from the relief the judgement has evoked and the genuine desire of people to sort out the issue and move on, that it’s a wonder it is still getting such traction.

There is an attempt to provoke Muslim leaders into intemperate rhetoric. There is criticism of the judges, even to the extent of the clothes they wear and the food they eat as if this somehow clouds their legal sensibilities. There is an attempt to scare the Congress that the ‘Muslim street’ is upset, that it will lose minority votes and that it should oppose the judgement if not promise to negate it by legislation.

Before this, there was Swapan Dasgupta in the Pioneer:

The matter-of-fact way in which India digested the complex High Court judgement suggests three possibilities. Perhaps people just weren't interested — a plausible explanation in a country where the sense of history is feeble. Maybe, people had heeded the Home Minister's advice and were mulling over the verdict’s implications — an implausible explanation in an easily excitable country. Finally, it is indeed possible that most of India thought the verdict — particularly the order for a three-way partition of the contentious 2.77 acres — was fair, just and based on the one thing that counts: Robust common sense.

The suggestion that the High Court verdict has enjoyed a spectacular degree of popular acceptance runs counter to the indignation in ‘intellectual’ circles. Not since the Supreme Court’s Shah Bano verdict in 1986 was rubbished by clerics and some Ministers of the Rajiv Gandhi Government has any court judgement been at the receiving end of so much abuse by so few.

Those who till 4 pm on September 30 were solemnly pontificating on the ‘majesty of the law' and the overriding importance of the Indian Constitution went completely berserk after it became clear that the Sunni Waqf Board petition had been rejected and that the court had favoured the Ram lalla deity with possession of its perceived janmasthan. The judgement was compared to a “panchayati” order and “majoritarian conceit” and painted as being so outrageous that it destroyed Muslim faith in the judicial process. Additionally, it was pilloried for having reduced Muslims to second class citizens.

Jyoti Punwani in the New Indian Express:

It’s not as if no Muslim sees the bias in the judgment; it’s that they prefer to see the end result. Some consider it more important that their right over the site has been acknowledged, and hope to get more than a third share from the Supreme Court. Others hope that the BJP’s dukandari (exploitation) of the Ayodhya issue may now finally be over, since the credit for the Ram temple will have to go to the court, not to them. A few are relieved that the bully has been appeased, so they can be left in peace — a realistic appraisal of the secular’ state’s capacity to protect them.

But across the board, among Hindus and Muslims, the focus is on the operative order, that divides the site between the two communities. The illogical janmasthaan finding, which both leaders and intellectuals feel is the flawed centre of the judgment, is hardly mentioned. Why? Escapism? An acknowledgement that faith matters? (On this question of faith versus law, we certainly have regressed; high court judges today have done what the Congress government did in 1985 after the Supreme Court’s Shah Bano judgment — put faith over law.) Or, is it just the practical approach, that looks at the concrete impact of the judgment and moves on?

Perhaps the best-summation was offered by Neerja Chowdhury, linked earlier, in the New Indian Express:

While there is disappointment in the Muslim community over the Allahabad Court’s three-way division of the disputed site at Ayodhya, unlike in the past, the Muslim reaction this time remains more underground than overground. They are not expressing themselves as forthrightly as they have done in the past. Partly there is confusion in their ranks about the implications of the verdict. Many also feel that if they protest openly, it might lead to riots and this will only provoke a counter-reaction and make them more suspect in the eyes of the Hindus.

There are those who want to let bygones be bygones and for the community to get on with their lives. There are others who feel the community has again been denied justice under the law — as it was in December 1992 when the Babri Masjid was demolished. They feel let down by the judiciary, seen by many as the last resort.

Many fear that the verdict could have implications for not just the mosques in Kashi and Mathura, but thousands of other shrines. It is easy enough to place idols, build a local movement around it, and then argue that it is ‘a matter of faith’.

They are also apprehensive that, with the court having legitimised it as the birthplace of Ram, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad would now mount pressure on them to surrender their one-third piece of land for building a ‘grand’ temple there, and this started with both the Sangh chief and BJP leader Ravi Shankar Prasad making such a plea within minutes of the judgment. While the Hindu leaders urged the Muslims to help them build a grand temple there by ‘consensus’, there were no offers by Hindus to help the Muslims build a mosque on the land given to them.

The union education minister Kapil Sibal says that while reconciliation and compromise is the way forward, the government has no role to play in this:

Most of India has turned a chapter. I don’t think we can talk about Muslims and Hindus. Most of India has turned a chapter because the young generation wants education. The young generation wants opportunities. The young generation wants to be part of the nation moving forward in the 21st century, and therefore these issues, according to the young, are not so relevant in that dream of being part of the new story.

...I believe that in a judicial process you’ll have verdicts of this nature, and ultimately, unless the verdict attains finality, I don’t think one party should feel triumphant and the other party should feel despondent. Remember, many a time the trial court verdict is affirmed, or completely set aside. So we don’t know what the Supreme Court is going to do. So for one party or the other to feel sad or despondent or feel triumphant I feel is completely inopportune and shows a lack of maturity. the ultimate analysis, the Supreme Court will definitely look... remember, this is the first appeal. In normal circumstances, these matters are not decided by the High Court. But there was a special dispensation. The High Court was charged with the responsibility of doing so. So when it comes up in appeal, the Supreme Court is going to look at each issue of fact and law meticulously — especially of fact. Because if the facts like whether there was a temple underneath — one judge has said there was a non-Islamic structure, that is, a Hindu temple — what does that mean? Is every non-Islamic structure a Hindu temple or is it a Hindu temple? Whether it is a non-Islamic structure or not? But these are factual issues again on which I have no expertise at this point in time. But this is a fundamental issue that arise on facts.

Anything is a possibility. The Supreme Court may affirm the judgment, the Supreme Court may completely set aside the judgment, the Supreme Court may do something else. I don’t know.

...quite frankly, all these issues, as I said, are highly complex, highly charged, and therefore the Supreme Court will be very, very careful and meticulous in analysing the judgment and coming to a conclusion consistent with the Constitution and the laws.

In other articles on Ayodhya, Ronojoy Sen notes in the TOI:

The fundamental problem with the verdict, however, was the court taking on issues that fell well outside its jurisdiction. This was noted in this newspaper and elsewhere as early as 1990, a year after four suits relating to the disputed site were clubbed and transferred to a special bench of the Allahabad high court. Then, TOI had reported, "Several of the 43 issues framed by the court on May 25 pertain neither to law nor any verifiable fact. Rather, these issues fall in the grey areas of history, mythology and religion." It is pertinent that three years later, the Supreme Court had wisely rejected the presidential reference made by the Narasimha Rao government on whether a temple existed on the site of the Babri masjid.

The three-judge high court bench was, however, unafraid to walk into this minefield. It attempted to answer questions such as whether the disputed site was the birthplace of Ram or if the Babri masjid was built in 1528 by destroying a temple, which it was simply not equipped to do. Unsurprisingly, for all the judges' efforts at going through masses of evidence and the thousands of pages they devote to it, the result is deeply problematic.

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