July 04, 2020
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The Scent Of A Betrayal

Acceptance, anger, fear is what the aam Muslim feels post-verdict

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The Scent Of A Betrayal
The Scent Of A Betrayal

If normalcy is the mere absence of violence, then even the most volatile parts of the country can be said to have retained their normal demeanour in the days following the Allahabad High Court judgement on the Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid title suits. If, however, normalcy implies a socio-cultural atmosphere of mutual respect, trust and goodwill among people, underscored by the absence of subterranean tensions, then parts of India have not been normal at all.

The Ayodhya judgement, it is said, is less about justice and more about a loaded compromise. Clearly, it found favour with Hindutva groups, their supporters, and even other segments of India’s majority population. The jubilation and self-congratulation were writ large on the face of many a Hindutva leader as news of the judgement trickled in; almost in concert, they reiterated the project a “bhavya Ram mandir”, and desired that Muslim community representatives come forth for a “settlement”. In the celebration and prevailing “normalcy”, it may be possible—but not prudent—to ignore the disquiet among Muslims.

Mumbai: Hasina Khan, activist and prime force behind Awaaz-e-Niswaan: “We have no option but to accept the judgement. But it’s as if it says ‘You (the Muslims) have also been given something, so don’t make a noise’. There’s insecurity among Muslim youth.” (Photograph by Apoorva Salkade)

Among them, there’s an unmistakable sense of hurt and angst. Sometimes it comes across as acceptance, helpless or otherwise, of the judgement and ensuing situation; often it translates into seething anger at the one democratic institution they believed would give them justice; mixed in between is trepidation that the judgement may have paved the way for “settling” ownership issues about other disputed shrines in the country. The Ayodhya judgement, much like the demolition of December 6, 1992, marks a moment in the Muslim psyche; many in the community see the demolition as a blow and the judgement as a betrayal.

“There was no justice done at all to the Muslim community. It’s very visibly a one-sided verdict; the distribution of land is all wrong, and there is no acknowledgement of the demolition at all,” thunders Rehana Salamat Sheikh, principal, Anjuman-i-Islam Allana English High School in Mumbai. Adds Hasina Khan, activist and prime force behind Awaaz-e-Niswaan, an organisation to raise awareness among Muslim women: “Our community has no option but to accept the decision but it tells us that the system itself is so biased. It’s as if the judgement says, ‘You (the Muslims) have also been given something, so don’t make a noise!’ There’s insecurity among Muslim youth.”

Hyderabad: “If judgements are based on faith,” says Mohammed Omer in Lad Bazaar, “then Charminar is mine, Mecca Masjid is mine, so is the Andhra Pradesh High Court.” (Photograph by P. Anil Kumar)

In the old Hyderabad city, Syed Osman Ghani, a 28-year-old medical shop owner, dismisses the judgement as a “chaar aana-baarah aana verdict” asking if India can truly be called secular now. “What will we do with the 1/3rd land?” he asks. At Lad Bazaar, Mohammed Omer declares: “If judgements are based on faith, then Charminar is mine, Mecca Masjid is mine, so is the Andhra Pradesh High Court.” Shakil Ahmed, young journalist-activist in Mumbai, puts it succinctly: “This is typical ‘jiski lathi uski bhains’. If Muslims haven’t protested or come out on the streets, it’s because they remember ’92-93 only too well; they only get the bullets.”

In Bangalore, architect Mohamed A. Subhan too reflects this angst. “Those who went to court did not ask for a partition but to confirm the ownership of the land,” he says. “The court has done everything else other than that. Take 50 more years, but resolve the ownership issue.” Quoting historians about “more than a dozen places in Ayodhya where Ram is claimed to have been born”, Subhan wonders how the court came to declare that “Ram was born below that dome”. In a sense, he’s putting into words sentiments that many in his community only whisper. In Benares, weaver Shafi Ali, 40, says: “In 1992, the government assured us that the Babri mosque will not be pulled down, but it was demolished. This time they promised us justice but Hindu belief was given weightage.”

Hurt is mixed with anger. B.F.H.R. Bijli, 65, retired chief engineer, Kerala Water Authority, says, “The judges ruled by faith, not evidence. Just like an occupying force, the fanatics had demolished the masjid. Like in war, the occupying forces dictate terms. If you can fight against the odds, fight, or submit.” That sense of submission is now taking root among many Muslims, especially the youth. “It’s now clear that like in the United States and Israel, the process of marginalising Muslims is well and truly under way in India too,” says Farooq Mapkar, wrongly accused in the ’92-93 riots in Mumbai and acquitted after 16 years of legal battle. “On judgement eve, Muslims were being counselled to keep peace, stay indoors and not hold meetings, imams and maulanas were asked not to talk about it, but the Shiv Sena newspaper was allowed to come out with repeat articles and stories of ’92, whipping up sentiment. Do you think we can’t see the administration is not even-handed?”

Hyderabad’s MIM MP Asaduddin Owaisi says the “prevailing peace is not to be confused with the sense of unease” that exists in the community. “How can we move on,” he asks, “Muslims have been reduced to second-class citizens”. Mumbai’s S.M. Malik, professional translator, manager and post-graduate in Arabic, declares that post-judgement, “Muslims are living with a third-grade identity”. He narrates an analogy, much cited recently in the press, that’s doing the rounds in several sections of the community: a Muslim body sought the restoration of the mosque in Shahidganj, Lahore, which had been demolished in the 18th century to build a gurudwara. The matter was resolved in a court, Sikhs were given their rights and the gurudwara still stands there. “If in an Islamic nation like Pakistan a religious minority can be given its due, why is this not possible in India that calls itself the largest democracy of the world?”

Delhi: Dildar Ahmed, a nylon net seller in Old Delhi, is among those who feel their angst might be addressed if the case went to the SC. “The case has moved forward,” he says, “it has somewhat blunted the urge among Muslims to fight for a mosque, but we will go the SC.” (Photograph by Sanjay Rawat)

The notion of equal citizenship seems to have taken a blow. The twin themes of marginalisation and second-class citizenship are difficult to miss even among those who have apparently “accepted” the judgement. Indeed, acceptance seems to be the most honourable way out for many in the community; even those who are angry say their angst may be addressed if and when the Sunni Waqf Board appeals in the Supreme Court, but right now they will have to simply accept the situation. Dildar Ahmed, a nylon net seller in old Delhi, typifies it: “The case has moved forward, it has somewhat blunted the urge among Muslims to fight for a mosque, but this will go to the SC.” Not far away, Mohammad Arif, date seller, says, “Go to the SC, but what can we expect—half of the disputed land?”

Adds J.S. Bandookwala, retired physics professor, Baroda University, and founder, Zidni Ilma Charitable Trust, which focuses on the education of Muslims, specially girls, “Given our problems, we can’t go on a confrontation with the RSS. At times we may be right but can’t go too far with our confrontation.”

Kozhikode, Kerala: 43-year-old Abdul Razak has taken the judgement in his stride, saying “it has averted communal clashes. Just imagine what would have happened if the verdict was different”. (Photograph by Ali Kovoor)

In Kozhikode, Abdul Razak, 43, has taken the judgement in his stride, saying “it has averted communal clashes. Just imagine what would have happened were the verdict different.” The Muslim on the street in Lucknow accepts the verdict, because, as daily wage-earner Meraj says, it “saved us from riots”. The intelligentsia find other reasons. Dr Mansoor Hasan, former head of cardiology department, King George’s Medical College, says: “Our acceptance should not be misconstrued as vindication of the condemnable demolition, but we need to move ahead.” Adds former high court judge and erstwhile Uttarakhand Lokayukta, S.H.A Raza, “The judges did cross certain limits, but the majority verdict could not have been better.”

If there’s a practical edge to the acceptance, there’s also a vulnerable helplessness. As Farzana Contractor (nee Khan), Mumbai-based editor of food magazine Upper Crust, reflects: “Our dignity which was lost post the razing of the Babri Masjid has not been restored, but nobody wants a repeat of that horrendous time. So the consensus is: swallow your pride and accept what is dished out.” Such resignation is true of Muslims in other cities too. In Bhopal, Shafique Khan, who works in Life Insurance Corporation, is satisfied with the judgement because it did not trigger off violence and mayhem.

Bangalore: Prof A.R. Kamruddin, a former advisor to UNESCO and director, Darul Umoor Tipu Sultan Research Centre, says, “This is not a problem between Hindus and Muslims, it’s a conflict between people with narrow political interests.” (Photograph by Nilotpal Baruah)

Bangalore’s N.A.M. Ismail, a journalist in his 30s, too is resigned. “The only thing is that the RSS should not claim victory and act patronisingly. There is one lingering question in my mind: could the title suit have been dismissed in that fashion?” Prof A.R. Kamruddin, a former advisor to UNESCO and director of the Darul Umoor Tipu Sultan Research Centre, and now in his 70s, says, “Since the judgement satisfies the egos of some people, we can now keep that as the basis. This is not a problem between Hindus and Muslims; it’s a conflict between people with narrow political interests.”

“How can we move on,” asks MIM MP Asaduddin Owaisi. “Muslims are now reduced to second-class citizens.”

In Meerut, truck driver Yakoob Ali, scarred by the 1987 communal violence here and now feeling betrayed by the judgement, says, “It is cliched to say that we are all brothers but I want it to be our reality now. Let us accept.” Quick calculations tell him that each party will get at least 136 bighas of land. “That’s enough to build a beautiful mosque and also set up a small school. Let’s all build what we have to.” Mumbai’s Sohail Khandwani, board member of Mahim Dargah and Haji Ali Dargah, is satisfied that “nothing untoward happened, though there’s something in the hearts and minds of Muslims”.

Those Muslims who do not live in community mohallas or lead the typical Muslim life, however, harbour more genteel feelings at the outcome. Given their education, professional work, cosmopolitan lifestyles, they are perhaps more accommodating of the judgement. As Irfan Khan, former media professional and member of Muslims for Secular Democracy in Mumbai, avers, “It’s a political judgement but I believe a great burden has been lifted off our shoulders. This should be over now. Now, in fact, if the Hindutva brigade doesn’t build a temple or demands Kashi and Mathura, they will get exposed as troublemakers.” This section of Muslim opinion is not too keen that the Sunni Waqf Board approach the Supreme Court.

Meerut: Jalis-ud-din, a maulana at the Chhoti masjid in Maliyana, says, “This was a dispute between two brothers, a Hindu and a Muslim. Where did the third party come from? That is an aspect of the judgement I don’t understand.” (Photograph by Jitender Gupta)

Others too see the futility of approaching the apex court. Says Shabbeer Hosarwala, trade union leader and development officer, New India Assurance Company, “There’s no point in appealing to the SC. So what if it’s a one-sided judgement? At least, the land’s been well distributed. It is sad to get angry or disappointed over this. The common Muslim on the street does not want to waste any more time; this sentiment is more amongst those in social service and trusts.” Retired colonel Fasih Uddin Ahmed in Lucknow, in fact, calls the judgement “balanced”.

Yet, irrespective of their angst, relief or acceptance, there’s some trepidation that the judgement will open the proverbial Pandora’s box. “That’s our worry now,” says school principal Sheikh in Mumbai. S.M. Malik adds: “We may want to move on as a community, but it depends on the establishment. Radical Hindu groups may make a list of 3,000 more title disputes. For us, the Babri Masjid is an index case of several issues; that’s why we want a just decision. The same yardstick shouldn’t be replicated elsewhere.” In Benares, there is an edginess to the mandir-masjid debate. Shafi Ali says what happened of the Ayodhya site “will happen here too, it’s a matter of time”.

The mix of dismay and trepidation about the future is not limited to other disputed sites alone; it translates into implications of living in a predominantly Hindu society. As Mumbai-based writer and independent researcher Sameera Khan points out, “This judgement seems to legitimise the whole Hindu right wing’s claim and justifies their violent movement. It’s the way that movement has taken root in people’s minds and hearts and the venom I have seen spewed particularly on Muslims. I am today marked as a ‘Muslim’ and that identity seems to overshadow all my other identities. It often influences where I can live, work, study etc. I, and many other young Muslims, find this more hurtful and offensive than the judgement”.

By Smruti Koppikar with Debarshi Dasgupta, Sugata Srinivisaraju, Prarthana Gahilote, Madhavi Tata, John Mary, Saikat Datta, Snigdha Hasan, K.S. Shaini and Sharat Pradhan

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