The Ayodhya Debate: Focus on the
'No Temple' Evidence
Two sides to the story
In references to the question whether
there really was a Hindu temple at the Ayodhya site later covered by the
Babri Masjid, the focus is invariably on the case made by the Hindu side,
viz. that there was a temple, and that different types of evidence confirm
this. The standard question is: is this evidence for the temple demolition
scenario valid? Have they succeeded in proving the existence of the
temple? By contrast, the opponents of the temple hypothesis are but very
rarely asked to put their evidence on the table.
Let us now look at the anti-temple
argumentation (with due attention to the several non-archaeological types
and in particular to its offer of positive evidence that the allegedly
demolished Hindu temple never existed. Of course, some might argue that it
is impossible to prove the non-existence of something, and that it is
therefore unreasonable to demand such proof.
But this argument is not valid: if there was no temple and no temple
destruction, then there must have been something else at the site, some
other history preceding the building of the mosque, which is exactly as
capable of leaving some written or archaeological testimony as a
demolished temple would. There is no need to prove the temple's
non-existence, it will do to prove the existence of something else at the
The disputed site is an elevated site near
the centre of a city, quite well-known to a whole city population, so it
is perfectly reasonable to expect the existence of testimonies of any
alternative history of the site. Thus, the site may have been covered with
a forest and the city records mention its felling to make way for a
mosque; or the owner of some secular building standing at the site sold
his real estate to the builder of the projected mosque at a fair price,
vide the written sales contract. As much as the temple party is expected
to provide evidence for the temple, the non-temple party must provide
evidence for the alternative to the temple.
Now, a close scrutiny of the argumentation
by the non-temple party, whether by the Babri Masjid Action Committee, by
the scholars representing it during the government-sponsored scholars'
debate of December-January 1990-91 (at least its last two meetings)
, or by independent scholars such as those of Jawaharlal Nehru University)
shows that none of them even formulates an alternative hypothesis. Not one
of the numerous scholars who took up arms against the temple party has
thought it necessary to explicitate even in the vaguest terms what exactly
happened before a mosque was built at the site. Much less does any of them
provide any kind of evidence for such an alternative scenario, eventhough
positive proof for a non-temple scenario would be the best possible
refutation of the temple scenario.
Vanquishing a straw man
The non-temple argumentation is confined
to two types of evidence: arguments from silence, and attempts to find
fault with pieces of evidence offered by the temple party.
Criticism of the pro-temple argument is
usually directed against a straw man, not against the actual argumentation
as presented by pro-temple scholars. A number of much-acclaimed
anti-temple publications bravely announce in the introduction or on the
cover that they will demolish every argument given (or "concocted" and
"maliciously propagated") by the temple party, but then fail to address or
even mention the main statements of the pro-temple party. Thus, Asghar Ali
Engineer has published two anthologies of articles on this controversy
, but carefully leaves out the official as well as the competent
non-official formulations of the pro-temple position; instead he includes
only a few clumsy ones to create a semblance of even-handedness.
The most powerful non-official books by
pro-temple scholars are simply never mentioned, let alone discussed.
Even the official argumentation offered by the scholars mandated by the
Vishva Hindu Parishad during the government-sponsored debate is generally
Gyanendra Pandey manages to leave all this argumentation by professional
historians totally unmentioned in three successive publications purporting
to deal with the Hindu way of doing history during the Ayodhya
controversy, focusing instead on some Hindi pamphlets by local religious
personnel totally unacquainted with scholarly historiography.
The same ignoring of the very
argumentation which is purportedly refuted is found in the successive
editions of S. Gopal's Anatomy of a Confrontation, for most foreign
scholars the only accessible source about the Ayodhya conflict. Even the
fact that a government- sponsored debate between historians mandated by
both sides took place is obscured in most publications, and when it is at
all mentioned, it is mostly to denounce the fact that the government had
"collaborated with the communal forces" by giving them a hearing at all.
Case study of a straw man
The single most important book in the
whole Ayodhya controversy is Sita Ram Goel's two-volume book Hindu
Temples, What Happened to Them. Its first volume contains a number of
presentations of specific cases of temple demolitions, a brief
presentation of the Islamic theology of iconoclasm, and most of all a list
of nearly 2,000 mosques standing on sites of temples demolished by Islamic
Everybody whispered that within the Ayodhya movement, a list of "3,000"
demolished temples was circulating. The normal thing to do for serious
historians would have been, to analyze this list inside out, and to try to
refute it. After all, far from basing itself on "myth", Goel's argument
consists of two thousand precise and falsifiable claims, as a scientific
theory should. It turns out that none of the anti-temple historians has
taken up the challenge of refuting even one of those claims, viz. by
proving objectively that one of the mosques in the list had definitely not
been built in forcible replacement of a temple. The list has never been
discussed and figures in practically no bibliography.
Even more important is the second volume,
The Islamic Evidence. It is the key to the whole Ayodhya controversy, no
less. Its main parts are a 174-page compilation (emphatically not claiming
completeness, merely the discovery of a "tip of the iceberg") of Muslim
literary and epigraphic evidence for the demolition of Hindu temples, and
a 138-page presentation of the Islamic theology of iconoclasm. Goel's
comment on the compilation open thus: "Starting with Al-Biladhuri who
wrote in Arabic in the second half of the ninth century, and coming down
to Bashiruddin Ahmad who wrote in Urdu in the second decade of the
twentieth, we have cited from seventy histories spanning a period of more
than a thousand years. Our citations mention fifty kings, six military
commanders and three sufis who destroyed Hindu temples in one hundred and
The importance of the book is that it
provides the historical and ideological context of the temple demolitions:
it demonstrates that the Ayodhya dispute is not a freak case but on the
contrary an entirely representative case of a widespread and
centuries-long phenomenon, viz. Islamic iconoclasm. It shows that the
iconoclastic demolition of Hindu temples was practised in practically all
Indian regions which were under Muslim rule at one time. Historians,
particularly modern historians with their emphasis on "context", ought to
welcome it and study it closely. Instead, it has been completely obscured
and kept out of the picture in the whole controversy.
It may have achieved mention in a footnote
here or there. The longest discussion of it which I am aware of, is by
political scientist Chetan Bhatt (who does not try to hide his ignorance
about medieval history), who devotes fifteen lines to it: two separate
lines in his text, and a 13-line footnote. He accuses Goel of "a highly
selective obsession with archaeology and to some extent anthropology"
 , of marshalling "the
most selective archaeological and historical facts"
, and of this: "Goel's
text uses Islamic sources to 'prove' that Mughals were only interested in
religious domination of Hindus and nothing more. The historical method
used is based almost entirely on highly selective non- contextual
quotations from these sources."
It is of course very convenient to allege
that embarrassing quotations are "selective" and "pulled out of context",
especially when you don't say what that context is, nor how it changes the
meaning of the quotation. But here we are dealing with hundreds of
quotations, requiring no less than an equal number of contexts to redeem
them, to turn a testimony of fanatical vandalism into a testimony of
tolerance. Moreover, it is normal for quotations to be selective (those in
Bhatt's own book, culled from writings by Hindu nationalist ideologues to
put them in a bad light, certainly are); at any rate, quoting from primary
sources is a decent form of scholarship. Incidentally, that the "Mughals"
(meaning the Islamic invaders in general) were "only" interested in
religious domination is a caricature misrepresenting Mr. Goel's stated
views; his point merely is that the religious motive provides an
exhaustive and well- attested explanation for the observed fact of Islamic
temple- demolishing campaigns.
Bhatt also claims that Goel "provides
'evidence' that the Black Stone in the Ka'ba at Mecca (the most sacred
site for Muslims) was originally a shrine to the Hindu God Shiva".
In reality, Goel explicitly denies just that claim. He discusses a
long-standing Hindu tradition to this effect, as well as testimonies of
the mutual visits to each other's temples by Pagan-Arab and Hindu traders
and of the (well-founded) Muslim belief in a connection between Arab and
Hindu polytheism, to the extent that the first Muslim invaders took great
risks to reach and demolish the Somnath temple (Gujarat), in which they
believed the Arab deities had taken refuge after the islamization of
Arabia. At any rate, the presiding deity of the Ka'ba, Hubal, was a male
moon-god just like Shiva, and polytheists have always identified their own
gods with roughly corresponding deities in other pantheons.
Goel explains how he always "dismissed" this belief as an invention of
crank historians, until he ran into some new evidence, and even then he
reserves his judgment: "But in the course of the present study this author
has run into some facts which force him to revise his judgment. He is not
prepared to say that the Ka'ba was a Shiva temple. He, however, cannot
resist the conclusion that it was a hallowed place of Hindu pilgrimage."
Bhatt describes Goel's book as "a fairly
typical RSS-Hindu-nationalist text".
 I challenge him to
produce a similar text by a declared RSS man. Anyone familiar with the
Hindu nationalist movement knows that (and knows why) the RSS scrupulously
avoids this type of critical study of Islam as a doctrine. Since at least
the Emergency (1975-77, when RSS activists were jailed and developed
friendly relations with jailed activists of the Jamaat-i-Islami), the RSS
is wooing the Muslim community; its political ally, the BJP, is courting
the Muslim voters and showing off its fast-increasing number of Muslim
election candidates. Even when criticizing specified Muslim politicians or
Islamic militants, the RSS and its allies firmly refuse to turn this into
a criticism of Islam as such; rather, they will denounce their Muslim
target as "straying from the true message of Islam, which is a religion of
peace and tolerance".
In the very book which Bhatt claims to be
criticizing, Goel has taken the RSS-BJP leaders to task for precisely this
pro-Islamic attitude: "Hindu leaders have endorsed the Muslim
propagandists in proclaiming that Islam does not permit the construction
of mosques at sites occupied earlier by other people's places of worship.
One wonders whether this kowtowing to Islam is prompted by ignorance, or
cowardice, or calculation, or a combination of them all. The Islam of
which Hindu leaders are talking exists neither in the Quran nor in the
Sunnah of the prophet."
 On other occasions as
well, Goel has sternly criticized the RSS and BJP for their policy of
eschewing all serious discussion of Islamic doctrine.
His book Time for Stock-Taking is the single most incisive critique of
the RSS available; unlike the stereotyped and sloganeering tirades by
Marxists like Chetan Bhatt, it is based on first-hand knowledge, including
the testimonies by a number of disappointed RSS volunteers. In spite of
this, political "scientists" like Bhatt can disregard all the evidence and
label Goel as an RSS man.
"Disregarding the evidence" is indeed the
name of the game. Critics of the Hindu historians' case on Ayodhya have so
far never looked their opponents in the eye, smugly settling for a
labelling number, excelling in demonizing terminology ad hominem rather
than in a factual analysis ad rem. It is historiographical nonsense to
discuss the phenomenon of Islamic iconoclasm, in Ayodhya or elsewhere,
without addressing the question of its motivation -- always an important
aspect in any history of human behaviour. Yet, that is precisely what a
whole establishment of Indian historians have done in suppressing the very
mention (or in the case of Bhatt, at least the true contents) of Sita Ram
The BMAC historians
The only (partial) exception to the solid
front of scholarly disregard for the pro-temple argument is the official
statement by the scholars mandated by the Babri Masjid Action Committee
half-way through the government-sponsored scholars' debate.
The story behind this is that the BMAC officials, no historians
themselves, had shown up at the first meeting in December 1990, at which
bundles of evidence would be exchanged, with nothing but a pile of
photocopies of newpaper articles and book excerpts stating opinions on the
Ayodhya dispute, but no historical evidence (the only solid material
included pertained to the fairly uncontroversial judicial history of the
site since 1857). My reading is that they had been misled into an
unwarranted self-confidence by the assurance propagated by certain
media-savvy academics that the pro-temple case was completely baseless and
fraudulent. To their surprise, they were confronted with a genuine
presentation of evidence by the pro-temple party, represented by Prof.
Harsh Narain, Prof. B.P. Sinha, Dr. S.P. Gupta, Dr. B.R. Grover, and Mr.
A.K. Chatterji (none of them formally associated with the Vishva Hindu
Parishad except for Gupta).
In desperation, the BMAC representatives
approached Prof. Irfan Habib of the Indian Council of Historical Research
asking him to save them. Habib collected a team of genuine historians for
them, led by Prof. R.S. Sharma. We will refer to these employees of the
BMAC as "the BMAC team", for it is in that capacity that they have
participated in the debate, notwithstanding their initial attempt to be
recognized as "independent historians" (as the BMAC negotiators have
continued to call their own employees). Now that, in spite of minimum
coverage in the English-language Indian press, the impression was out that
the VHP-mandated team of historians was winning the debate, the BMAC team
had little choice but to address the pro-temple argumentation.
On 24 January 1991, when they were
expected to present their case, Sharma and his team failed to show up and
unilaterally broke off the talks. One could see the unilateral walk-out
from the negotiations by the BMAC team as an admission of defeat. But the
day before, the four BMAC historians, in their first meeting (chaired by a
government representative) with the VHP team, had said that they needed
six weeks to study the evidence,-- a remarkable position for people who
had led 40 colleagues into signing a public statement on the absolute
non-existence of any evidence, just a few days before. However, it must be
admitted that they did make their homework as promised. A few months later
they presented an argumentation under the title Historians' Report to the
Nation, which remained their central argument when the talks briefly
resumed in October 1992. Then too, they broke off the talks, viz. in
(arguably justified) protest against the VHP's announcement that,
disregarding the ongoing negotiations, it would stage a demonstration in
Ayodhya on December 6, the occasion when the Babri Masjid was demolished.
In the BMAC team's Report, the salient
point is that the BMAC scholars exclusively attempted to refute (a part
of) the pro-temple argumentation but made no attempt whatsoever to present
any original evidence of their own. In effect, they pretended to sit in
judgment on evidence presented to them by supplicants, when in reality
they themselves were one of the contending parties in the arena, expected
to present their own evidence. Unfortunately, to keep both parties to the
rules of a debate and to evaluate the evidence objectively, a genuinely
neutral judge would have been needed, and of course, it seemed that there
was no neutral judge available in India.
Arguments from silence
The central line of argument in the BMAC
team's Report is that until the late 18th century, no literary source
mentions a temple or a temple demolition at the site. Arguments from
silence are always the weakest type of argument. The absence of testimony
in a particular source may simply mean that that the author was unaware of
an event eventhough the event did take place; or it can mean that the
author had no intention of providing the kind of information which we are
looking for, either deliberately or simply because he had a different
project in mind when writing that particular text. Thus, poet Tulsidas,
author of the main devotional work on Rama in Hindi, the Rāmcharitmānas,
is often cited as remaining silent regarding the alleged temple
demolition. But this proves little, when you keep in mind that in his day
(ca.1600 AD) the construction of the Babri Masjid at the site (1528 AD
according to the inscription on the mosque itself) was a long-accomplished
fact, and that the same Tulsidas doesn't mention any of the numerous
temple demolitions even in his own Varanasi. As a rewriter of ancient
traditions, Tulsidas was just not a reporter on recent events at all; he
does not even mention his own most famous contemporary, the enlightened
But in this case, there is an even more
decisive argument against reliance on arguments from silence: each
argument from silence against the temple is equally valid as an argument
from silence against every possible alternative scenario, for none of the
texts cited mentions any non-temple entity at the site.
One frequently mentioned argument from
silence is simply disingenuous: the absence of any reference to Ayodhya in
Babar's memoirs. As Babar himself relates, the pages for the period when
he may have stayed in Ayodhya were blown away during a storm. If those
missing pages listed Babar's activities day by day and failed to mention
his stay in Ayodhya, then that would constitute a serious argument from
silence; but since those pages are missing, there is not even an argument
from silence in Babar's memoirs.
A British concoction ?
But if there had never been a temple
demolition, why did a tradition come into being asserting just that?
Usually, this anomaly is explained by means of an ad hoc hypothesis, viz.
that the temple demolition scenario was invented by the British as part of
their policy of "divide and rule". Even pro-temple authors like K.R.
Malkani, editor-in-chief of the party paper BJP Today, have conceded an
important role to this British "divide and rule" policy, which in my view
is a figment of the imagination.
Admittedly, at the institutional level the
British did follow a policy of "divide and rule": communal recruitment
quota and separate electorates for Muslims were obviously meant to isolate
the Muslims from the national movement. In their conquest of India, the
British had also used one community against another, e.g. they took help
from the Sikhs, hereditary enemies of the Moghul Empire, to suppress the
so-called Mutiny of 1857, which was a predominantly Muslim revolt aimed at
restoring the Moghul Empire. However, in this process, they used existing
antagonisms between communities and had no need of inventing new ones.
Moreover, it is simply not true at all
that the British encouraged inter-religious rioting, nor that they
exploited (let alone created) the kind of emotive issues (such as temple
demolitions) which led to street fighting rather than to purely political
disunity. Once the British-Indian Empire was securely established, the
British rulers sought to establish communal peace, and did so with
remarkable success. The period between 1858 and 1920, at the height of
British power, saw the lowest incidence of Hindu-Muslim violence since the
Ghorid invasion of 1192. When Hindu-Muslim riots started on a large scale
in 1922, it was due to the failure of the ill-conceived Khilafat agitation
started by the (Muslim and Congress Hindu) Indians themselves.
At any rate, not one of the proponents of
the British concoction scenario has discovered even the faintest evidence
for it in the copious colonial records. Remark, moreover, that this
scenario implies a number of highly unlikely presuppositions. Thus, it
imputes a great deal of stupidity to the wily Britons: it has them concoct
a temple demolition scenario when so many factual, well- attested temple
demolitions had marked India's landscape, often in the form of temple
remains being visibly incorporated in mosques built over them. In Ayodhya
itself, several Rama temples were destroyed by Aurangzeb (Treta-ka-Thakur
and Swargadwar), a fact which even the official polemicists against the
Ram Janmabhoomi have not dared to deny; if the British had wanted to poke
up anti-Muslim feelings among the Hindus of Ayodhya by means of temple
demolition narratives, they had no need at all to go through the trouble
of concocting one.
Further, this scenario credits the
guardians of Hindu tradition with an uncharacteristic open-mindedness. All
through the past centuries, Hindu Pandits have refused to listen to
European scholars who claimed that the Sanskrit language had been brought
from South Russia during the so-called Aryan Invasion, eventhough this
Aryan Invasion Theory is taught in every schoolbook of history in India.
These Pandits have consistently turned a deaf ear to European theories
about Indian chronology, Sanskrit etymology or Aryan- Dravidian relations.
They won't even allow non-Hindus into Hindu temples. Yet, we are asked to
believe that a few British agents could infiltrate the local traditions
and make these same Pandits swallow and then propagate a newly invented
story about the birthpla- ce of one of their greatest gods.
The British concoction hypothesis is
conclusively refuted by several pre-British testimonies of (at least the
belief in) the temple demolition scenario. The best-known and clearest
testimony is certainly the one by the Austrian Jesuit Tieffenthaler, who
wrote in 1768: "Emperor Aurangzebe got demolished the fortress called
Ramcot, and erected on the same place a Mahometan temple with three
cupolas. Other believe that it was constructed by Babor."
 One could speculate,
along with R.S. Sharma and his BMAC team of historians, that the tradition
which Tieffenthaler recorded, was a concoction from the early 18th century
(still "in its initial phase of creation")
 , but it cannot, at any
rate, have been a British concoction.
To their credit, R.S. Sharma and his team
are the only ones in the no-temple camp to have abandoned the British
concoction hypothesis, at least implicitly. But they fail to give the
elements which could lend substance to a pre-British concoction
hypothesis: no who, no how, no why.
A closer look at the argument
While Sharma c.s. leave undiscussed
several pre-British testimonies which the VHP-mandated team had brought as
evidence, they do mention a few other sources of this type nonetheless. In
each case, they claim it as an argument from silence: the source fails to
mention the pre-existence or the demolition of a temple at the site. But
each of these Ayodhya-related passages cited is very brief and fails to
mention other buildings in Ayodhya, and none of the texts cited purports
to be a history of temple demolitions, so that the non-mention of a
birthplace temple is quite in keeping with the project of the texts
concerned, and not a telling omission.
Thus, Abul Fazl's Ain-i-Akbari, completed
in AD 1598. Sharma c.s. note that it includes Ayodhya among the foremost
places of pilgrimage, calling it "one of the holiest places of antiquity"
and "the residence of Ramchandra", and mentioning the celebration of Ram
Navami (Rama's birth festival) there. The BMAC historians comment:
"Clearly, the tradition till then did not confine Rama's place of birth to
the existing town of Ayodhya, let alone the site occupied by the Baburi
But this is hardly incompatible with a
tradition concerning a specific birthplace. Till today, people can say:
"I'm from Scotland", or: "I was born in Edinburgh", rather than to tell
you in exactly which house they were born. When filling out forms, people
still write the name of the town behind the entry "place of birth", and
not the full adress of the building; yet in doing so, they are not denying
that they were born in that specific building. You really have to be a
university professor to come up with the brilliant idea that when people
mention a town as their place of birth, they are implying that they have
no notion of having been born in one specific house.
Anyone familiar with the lore of Hindu
devotional tradition would find it strange that Hindus would come on
pilgrimage to Ayodhya as Rama's city and not let that Rama association
come alive in an enactment of Rama's career with the designation of
specific sites as the theatres of specific scenes in Rama's life. That,
for example, is why another temple in Ayodhya was associated with Rama's
death: the Swargadwar, "gate to heaven". Even if Rama were a purely
fictional character, the religious imagination would have created that
kind of landscape, and in the Bhakti period, i.e. from well before the
start of the second Christian millennium, it was the done thing to adorn
such religiously meaningful sites with temples.
Sharma c.s. assume that the identification
of the demolished building as a "fortress" (Ramkot, "Rama's fortress")
refutes the assumption that it was a temple; but Hindu "idol-worshippers"
consider a temple as the house of the deity, in the case of a
warrior-deity as his fortress. The whole idea of idol-worship is to make a
deity come alive, realistically: the idol is washed and clothed and fed,
and of course it lives in a house appropriate to its character and epic
So, in spite of sometimes painstaking
attempts to neutralize the evidence presented by the temple party, the
proponents of the non- temple hypothesis have failed to produce any
positive evidence for a non-temple scenario. This observation raises a few
questions. First of all: why is there an Ayodhya debate in the first
place? Normally, scholars only take time from their busy schedules to
reopen a settled affair when new evidence has surfaced which throws a new
light on the matter. In this case, no such new evidence has ever been
presented. It is most conspicuous by its absence in the opening shot of
the debate, the JNU historians' pamphlet The Political Abuse of History
(Delhi 1989). Had there not been the purely political motives which drove
some to declare the Ayodhya debate opened, we would still have been with
the consensus of 1989"
Secondly: what is the score if each one of
the attempted refutations of the items of pro-temple evidence proves
correct? In that case, the pro-temple evidence is reduced to zero, but
that would still make it exactly as voluminous as the evidence for every
possible non-temple scenario, which to date is non-existent. Even if all
the trouble taken by the pro-temple scholars had been in vain, their
evidence would still be equal in magnitude to the evidence offered by
their oponents, whose endeavour has been purely negative. Anyone weighing
the actual evidence presented by both sides would have to infer that the
balance of evidence, while not yet definitive, is strongly on the
Tampering with the evidence
Before concluding, we want to register a
remark on a minor but quite significant chapter in the exchange of
evidence: the VHP- mandated scholars have, in their argumentation, pointed
out no less than four attempts where scholars belonging to the anti-temple
party have tried to conceal or destroy documentary evidence. Those are of
course cases where the attempt failed because it was noticed in time, but
the question must be asked how many similar attempts have succeeded. At
any rate, there has not been any attempt from the anti-temple side to
counter or even deny these four specific allegations, nor have they been
able to point out any similar attempt by the pro-temple party to tamper
with the record.
With one possible exception: immediately
after the announcement of the discovery, in the post-demolition debris on
6-7 December 1992, of Hindu sculptures and an inscription explicitly
supporting the temple thesis, seventy academics issued a statement
alleging that this evidence had been stolen from museums and planted
there. Well, who knows. But in the six years since then, this
archaeological material has been in the custody of politicians openly
hostile to the Hindu Revivalist movement (such as Human Resources Minister
Arjun Singh, 1991-96), who would gladly have made the material available
for inspection by scholars capable of proving the allegation. So far,
however, the attack against the professional integrity of the scholars who
presented these findings (grouped in the Historians' Forum chaired by
Prof. K.S. Lal) remains unsubstantiated; unless proven, the allegation is
a case of defamation.
The politics behind the debate
The political equation behind all this
intrigue is rarely understood by non-Indians. Thus, it requires quite a
historical excursus to explain why declared Marxists like Irfan Habib, R.S.
Sharma and Romila Thapar are making common cause with Islamic
fundamentalism in its struggle against Hindu heathenism.
Leaving aside the larger framework of the alliances and power equations in
India's political arena, we may for now draw attention to a significant
asymmetry in the political backgrounds of the pro- and anti-temple
Reducing the "belief" in the pre-existence
of a Hindu temple at the site to a political agenda is, apart from being a
case of the "genetic fallacy", also counterfactual. Among those who uphold
the temple thesis, you find scholars who did not support the movement for
replacing the mosque structure with temple architecture, and who
explicitly distanced themselves from the Vishva Hindu Parishad's campaign,
e.g. Prof. A.R. Khan and archaeologist Dr. Ram Nath. By contrast, I am not
aware of anyone in the anti-temple party who supported the right of Hindus
to build a temple at the site: every one of them explicitly subscribes to
the position that Hindu attempts to reclaim this Hindu sacred site should
Of course, the opponents of the
replacement of the Babar mosque (already back in use as a Hindu temple
since 1949) with new temple architecture could have taken that political
stand without dragging in the historical question, e.g.: "The fact that a
Hindu temple stood at the site still does not give Hindus the right to
claim it back"; and some of them have indeed fallen back on that position
when they saw they were losing the debate on the historical evidence. But
in 1989-91, the field seemed ripe for the more aggressive position, which
was to deny the Hindu history of the site altogether; nobody had expected
that the VHP would be capable (and in effect, it was not capable, but it
found some independent scholars who were capable) of collecting and
presenting the available as well as some newly-found evidence for the
The VHP-mandated scholars, for their part,
have not been aggressive enough to take the struggle into the enemy half
of the field by focusing public attention on the quality of the evidence
presented by the BMAC-mandated scholars and their allies in academe and
the media. That is why the latter have gotten away with creating the false
impression, at least among those unacquainted with the actual contents of
the debate, that the pro-temple case is weak and fraudulent while, purely
by implication, their own case must be unassailable.
The role of foreign scholars
It is not reassuring to watch the ease
with which foreign scholars have absorbed or adopted the non-temple thesis
from their Indian colleagues (whom they assume to be neutral observers)
even without being shown any positive evidence. In academic circles in the
West, my own restating the status quaestionis in terms of actual evidence
has only earned me hateful labels and laughter, and this from big
professors at big universities whose prestige is based on the widespread
belief that scholarship goes by hard evidence, not politically fashionable
opinions. Never has any of them offered hard evidence for the newly
dominant view, or even just shown a little familiarity with the contents
of the debate.
Until 1989, there was a consensus about
the existence of a medieval Hindu temple and its destruction by Islamic
iconoclasm, as laid down in the Encyclopaedia Brittannica (1989 edition,
entry Ayodhya): "Rama's birthplace is marked by a mosque erected by the
Moghul emperor Babur in 1528 on the site of an earlier temple." Western
scholars who did primary research, notably the Dutch scholars Hans Bakker
and Peter van der Veer, found nothing which gave reason to question that
consensus. Had they cared to follow the debate in India, they would have
looked in vain for the presentation by the no- temple party of any
historical or archaeological fact which is radically incompatible with
(and thereby constitutes a refutation of) that consensus view.
A painful example of a scholar intimidated
into conformity by the demonization of the temple thesis can be witnessed
is this climbdown by Peter van der Veer, who had at first accepted the
pre-existence of the Ayodhya temple on the basis of the local tradition:
"While Bakker and I could naively accept local tradition, this cannot be
done any longer."
In fact, the local oral history was confirmed by other types of evidence
as presented by B.B. Lal, S.P. Gupta, Harsh Narain et al., but none of
these are known to Van der Veer (as per his own text and bibliography)
because his only source turns out to be S. Gopal's Anatomy of a
Confrontation, which conceals the pro-temple evidence. More importantly,
Van der Veer and Bakker are attacked nominatim in S. Gopal's book
, which falsely
associates them with the Hindu fundamentalist bad guys all while diverting
attention from the historical evidence, which it spurns as "pointless".
Being associated with Hindu fundamentalism is about the worst defamation
one can inflict on an Indologist, and this is the sole reason for Van der
Veer's change of heart. At any rate, he offers no historical evidence at
all which could justify his retreat from the well-established consensus.
Future historians will include the
no-temple argument of the 1990s as a remarkable case study in their
surveys of academic fraud and politicized scholarship. With academic,
institutional and media power, a new consensus has been manufactured
denying the well- established history of temple demolition by Islamic
iconoclasm to the Babri Masjid Ram Janmabhoomi site; at least among people
with prestige and influence but no first-hand knowledge of the issue. But
the facts will remain the facts, and their ongoing suppression is bound to
© Dr. Koenraad Elst, December 4, 1999.