We can wait with bated breaths for the Allahabad High Court verdict slated for September 24 but that is not going to put to rest this controversy, says Vivek Gumaste
Nothing that has transpired since Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi rekindled the fire by throwing open the doors of this sanctum sanctorum to renewed Hindu worship in 1986 does adequate justice to the Babri Masjid-Ram Mandir controversy; not the haphazard compilation of events or the garbled, inane theories contained in the Liberhan Commission report; not the high decibel pretentious rhetoric indulged in by self-serving politicians or the verbose articulations of media columnists; not even the aggressive posturing of the sangh parivar; and certainly not the mundane and straitjacketed pronouncements by a court of law that is constricted by rigid rules and regulations which conform to the political correctness of a specific time period.
We can wait with bated breaths for the Allahabad High Court verdict slated for September 24 but that is not going to put to rest this controversy.
The Babri Masjid-Ram Mandir controversy is one of a kind: an issue that defines a people's history, a dilemma that distills the faith of a civilization and more recently a strife that has the potential to disrupt the social equilibrium of a modern state. In aeonic terms too, it stands out, stretching out over nearly half a millennium, spanning the life of two empires and extending well into the tenure of a third regime, the new India. The destruction of the edifice on December 6, 1992 was an unfortunate but avoidable culmination of this historic schism.
To reduce this dispute to a mere law and order problem and assign culpability to a specific section of our society and treat it as such represents a myopic mindset that disregards its overarching historical, religious and political facets: a small town approach that has been the bane of this controversy.
Without going into intricate archeological details it is imperative to assess this imbroglio with a simple albeit logical frame of mind. There is no disagreement as to who built this structure known variably as the Babri Masjid or the Masjid-i-Janmastan: it was constructed by Mir Baqi, one of Babar's generals in 1528. What is in contention is the location of the edifice or the edifice that was. Was a pre-existing Hindu temple razed to the ground to consecrate the Babri Masjid is the million dollar question?
The first query that joggles one's mind concerns the specific location of this mosque. Of all the myriad places available in the vast expanse of the Indian sub-continent, why did Babar home in on Ayodhya, a place sanctified by Hindu tradition? Was it a symbolic attempt to stamp Islamic dominance over Hindu India?
Historically, there is ample evidence to indicate continued Hindu obeisance at this site. In 1768, an Austrian priest, Joseph Tieffenthaler averred that Hindus routinely celebrated Ram Navmi in front of the mosque. Analyzing this ostensibly inexplicable behaviour, he wrote:
"The reason is that here existed formerly a house in which Beschan (Vishnu) took birth in the form of Rama and where it is said his three brothers were also born. Subsequently Aurangzeb and some say Babar destroyed the place in order to prevent the heathens from practising their ceremonies. However, they have continued to practice their religious ceremonies in both the places knowing this to have been the birth place of Rama by going around it three times and prostrating on the ground." (Harsh Narain in The Ayodhya Temple Mosque Dispute, 1993, New Delhi, Penman Publications, and by Peter Van der Veer in Religious Nationalism)
British government dossiers also affirm that both Hindus and Muslims worshipped in the same complex during the 19th century.
Additionally it appears that Hindus persisted with both military and legal measures to regain this site. Koenraad Elst, an Indic scholar of Belgian origin, in his book Ramjanambhoomi vs Babri-Masjid recalls several armed raids by Hindu rulers of the Mughal period with this goal in mind.
In 1855, the Faizabad District Gazetteer describes a bloody riot associated with the disputed site:
"The desecration of the most scared spot in the city caused great bitterness between Hindus and Mussalmans. On many occasions, the fighting led to bloodshed, and in 1855 an open fight occurred, the Mussalmans occupying the Janmasthan in force "
Note the use of the word, 'Janmasthan' which alludes to its origin.
In 1885, Mahant Raghubar Ram moved the courts for permission to erect a temple just outside the Babri Masjid premises. Despite validating the claim of the petitioner, the judge dismissed the case citing the passage of time:
"It is most unfortunate that a masjid should have been built on land specially held sacred by the Hindus, but as that event occurred 356 years ago, it is too late now to agree with the grievances." (Court verdict by Colonel F E A Chamier, district judge, Faizabad, 1886).
These events, despite some having reservations about the political motives of the British reports, do underline some incontrovertible facts. One Hindus have been worshipping at this site for hundreds of years. And two Hindus have repeatedly launched military and legal battles for custody of this site.
The next question that logically follows is: Why were Hindus offering prayers in front of a mosque for hundreds of years? Why were they fixated on this spot? Was it sheer coincidence? Or was there any special religious significance?
Therefore, without passing a final judgment, one can rationally conclude that there was at least some merit in the Hindu stance. There can be no smoke without a fire
Finally the decider: How important is the masjid-mandir site to the Hindus? Extremely important, being linked with the birthplace of one of their most revered deity and in a town that is synonymous traditionally with Shri Ram.
Does it carry the same degree of importance to Muslims? Was this structure or town ever associated traditionally with their religion? In this catechism lies the answer.
With a little forethought this controversy could have been transformed into a golden opportunity encasing magnanimity and grace cementing forever Hindu-Muslim amity. Instead it became a watershed for Hindu-Muslim polarisation.
The answer to this problem lies not in a court verdict but in human accommodation. Are the Muslims of India up to it?