and the Supreme Court
What follows is
a reworked version of my paper “The Ayodhya demolition: an evaluation”,
contributed to the collective volume: The Ayodhya Reference. Supreme
-Court Judgment and Commentaries (Voice of India, Delhi 1995), which
also included papers by Swapan Dasgupta, M. Rama Jois, Arun Jaitley and
S.P. Gupta. The book was occasioned by the Supreme Court’s decision
not to help Narasimha Rao’s Government out of the Ayodhya dilemma by offering
an opinion on the historical evidence.
9.1. The one-point reference
town of Ayodhya became world famous in 1989-92 when Hindus and Muslims
clashed over a mosque structure used by the Hindus as a temple but claimed
by the Muslims as the Babri Masjid. It made headlines worldwide on
at least three occasions. The first one was when Hindus laid the
foundation stone of the prospective temple on 9 November 1989, incidentally
the same day when the Berlin Wall was brought down. The second time
was when the Hindu activists outwitted the troops deployed by Uttar Pradesh
Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav and entered Ayodhya in large numbers,
only to be shot down (with several dozen being killed) within sight of
the Babri Masjid. The third and most sensational occasion was when
vanguard irregulars of Hindu society destroyed the controversial structure
on 6 December 1992 and replaced it with a small makeshift temple in expectation
of a proper (scripturally designed) temple building.
that the site of the building is Rama’s birthplace, and maintain that a
Hindu temple adorned the site until, in 1528 at the latest, Muslims forcibly
replaced it with a mosque. Muslim leaders have recently taken to
denying this, though their fellow Muslims of earlier generations had proudly
Contrary to what
the international press has written, the dispute over the Rama-Janmabhoomi/Babri
Masjid site in Ayodhya is not a hopeless tangle of contending fanaticisms
in which the historical truth is forever unknowable. A lot of scholarly
research has been done, and the Government of India has provided the contending
parties with an official forum in which experts could go through the evidence
produced for both sides. This scholarly debate took place around
the turn of 1991, and once more in autumn 1992. Though both rounds
of debate were unilaterally broken off by one of the parties, viz. the
anti-temple party, it brought to light enough evidence to support an unambiguous
Apart from this
semi-official debate, there was a longdrawn-out polemic in the general
publishing market, in a dozen books and hundreds of newspaper articles
and columns. The polemic started in earnest in 1989 and has effectively
ended with the October 1994 decision of the Supreme Court to reject the
Government’s “one-point reference”, viz. the request for a judicial verdict
on the single historical question whether a temple had existed at the site
until it was replaced with a mosque. Narasimha Rao’s government had
made this request on the tacit understanding that a positive verdict would
justify an acceptance of the Hindu claim on the disputed site, while a
negative verdict would justify a “solution” in accordance with the Muslims’
reference was supported by those who wanted the dispute to end, whatever
the details of the eventual solution. Otherwise, it was widely objected
to. Observers of India’s ramshackle institutions feared that the
judiciary might not be immune to political manipulation. Some historians
argued that judges are not competent on hi story and archaeology.
Modernist supporters of the Babri Masjid cause objected that medieval state
of affairs, no matter how well-proven, should not be allowed to determine
today’s policies. Its Islamist supporters asserted that any and every
mosque deserves protection, regardless of whether it had a history of forcibly
replacing a temple. Supporters of the Rama-Janmabhoomi cause objected
to the idea that a firm Hindu tradition would be made the object of a,contingent
judgment by fallible human judges appointed by a hostile state.
So, there was
a sigh of relief in many quarters when in October 1994, after more than
a year of deliberations, the Supreme Court formally rejected this one-point
reference regarding the history of Ayodhya’s disputed site. With
that, the historical question, which would have come into full focus if
the Supreme Court had accepted to consider it, seemingly lost its political
relevance and disappeared from public debate.
For at least three
reasons, this was a correct decision. In fact, it was correct for
more and better reasons than the judges themselves realised.
The formal reason
is the matter of competence: historical questions should be decided by
impartial scholars, not by judges. In practice, judges often have
to base their verdicts at least partly on opinions about matters beyond
their strict competence, after calling certified “expert witnesses” to
the court. But in this case, such an opinion would not merely be
an ancillary consideration in a properly judicial verdict based on the
judges’ expertise in legal matters; it would be the whole of the verdict.
Though they could legally have chosen to offer the opinion, they were equally
within their rights when they opted to refuse. This point is quite
straightforward, has been argued sufficiently and needs no further elaboration.
The other two
reasons, by contrast, have hardly been mentioned, let alone elaborated:
the historical question is in its pertinent aspects sufficiently clear;
and history is not the cause of the dispute anyway. We will look
into them in the next sections, before attempting a more general evaluation
of the Ayodhya debate.
9.2. Why an Ayodhya debate at
The material reason
why the judges were right not to entertain the historical question regarding
Ayodhya, is that in this question, apart from details, there was nothing
left to decide anyway. Until 1989, there was a complete consensus
in all sources (Hindu, Muslim and European) which spoke out on the matter,
viz. that the Babri Masjid had been built in forcible replacement of a
Hindu temple. The 1989 edition of the Encyclopedia Brittannica
(entry Ayodhya) puts it squarely: “There are few surviving monuments of
any antiquity. Rama’s birthplace is marked by a mosque, erected by
the Moghul emperor Babur in 1528 on the site of an earlier temple.”
Apart from local
tradition, architectural indications, supporting documents and archaeological
evidence, this consensus had logic on its side: thousands of mosques inside
and outside India do stand on demolished non-Muslim places of worship,
while in every area of North India where Muslim power has reached during
the Sultanate and Moghul periods, every prominent temple has been demolished.
Therefore, all that the consensus claimed, was that the general rule, verified
in thousands of places in India and thousands more in other countries,
applied in this particular case (the central hill of the temple town of
Ayodhya) as well. To affirm that the general rule also applies in
a given particular case, is the most modest claim one can possibly make.
He who makes the opposite claim, viz. that the given particular case forms
an exception to the rule, must logically accept the burden of proof.
In normal scholarly
practice, the debate on the object of such a consensus is only reopened
when new evidence surfaces. Scholars have more promising questions
to figure out, so they don’t waste time on settled affairs. The “eminent
historians” from Jawaharlal Nehru University JNU), Aligarh Muslim University
(AMU) et al., who insisted on revising the consensus have not shown
such evidence, no new fact nor credible new interpretation of known facts.
Instead, they have constructed purely speculative hypotheses (like the
British conspiracy to float demolition stories in order to “divide and
rule”) which are in conflict with all available knowledge and remain in
need of supporting evidence themselves.
In the entire
corpus of Ayodhya arguments, including the minutes of the Govemment-sponsored
debates of DecemberJanuary 1990-1991 and October-November 1992 between
scholars mandated by the Babri Masjid Action Committee (BMAC) and the Vishva
Hindu Parishad (VHP), I have not come across any piece of evidence which
would warrant the reopening of the question in any normal scholarly context.
On the contrary, what new evidence has surfaced, has only confirmed the
old consensus: new documentary and esp. archaeological evidence confirms
that a Hindu temple stood at the Babri Masjid site. The Supreme Court
judges could not have added anything to this unambiguous status quaestionis.
Of course, some
as yet undecided historical details may remain of interest to scholars.
Thus, it is unlikely that the demolition which was followed by the construction
of the Babri mosque, was the first temple demolition on the Rama Janmabhoomi
site. The temple from which historians claim to have recovered
an inscription in the Babri debris on 6 December 1992 was built around
1100 A.D., i.e. well after Mahmud Ghaznavi’s raids. It is most likely
that during the Ghorid and Sultanate periods (1192-1526), the RamaJanmabhoomi
site suffered a fate similar to the Somnath site in Prabhas Patan, Gujarat:
temple demolition followed by reconstruction followed by yet another demolition,
mosque built by Muslim invaders but reclaimed by the Hindus and temporarily
used as a makeshift temple, etc. The RamaJanmabhoomi site had probably
been desecrated a number of times before Babar and A& Baqi set foot
In various intemet
discussion lists and other forums, this observation of mine has been quoted
by anti-temple polemicists to counter the unreflected claim of some Hindutva
publications that the original ancient temple itself is the one which Babar’s
men destroyed. It is true that unlike the hardliners in both contending
parties, who are so terribly sure of their theories, I readily admit that
in the said period, much remains obscure about the exact chain of events
between the original Hindu temple and the Babri mosque. Thus,
architectural indications have been pointed out for a preMoghul construction
of the mosque, implying that it was not built by Babar but more likely
by the Sharqi sultans of jaunpur in the early 15th century.1
“entirely disproportionate” size of the domes in relation to the walls
and the “patchwork”2 nature of the building
indicates an eventful history, probably including partial demolition, re-employment
for different purposes and reconstruction. This scenario has plenty
of room for periods of Hindu use of the site, either thanks to temporary
unilateral acquisition of the site, or by consent of the Muslim authorities
when they needed Hindu support against Muslim rivals. This was the
case in the final years of the Sultanate, and - more definitely attested
- in the post-Aurangzeb period of the Moghul empire,
when the Muslims acquiesced in a Hindu presence at the site, materialized
in the Ram chahootra (platform) just metres outside the Babri mosque.3
I therefore concur
with archaeologist R. Nath’s observation: the Hindu temple at the contentious
site “was devastated either by the armies of Mahmud of Ghaznin or the Delhi
Sultans who captured the place and established here their provincial seat.
It is quite probable, and possible too, that a mosque was first raised
during the Sultanate period (1001-1030; 1192-1526)
on the site of the most important temple associated with the life of Rama,
and Mir Baqi just restored that mosque during his occupation of
Ayodhya.”4 Sushil Srivastava
likewise opines: “Mir Baqi might have had the mosque renovated and then
re-dedicated it to Babur.”5
as these vicissitudes of Islamic iconoclasm in Ayodhya may be, they are
immaterial to the fundamental issue: the very fact of Islamic iconoclasm
as the cause of the destruction of a Hindu temple on one of the foremost
sacred sites of India’s native religion. In a Hindu city, a mosque
could not have appeared where a Hindu temple stood without the forcible
replacement of that temple, no matter what the exact year was in which
the replacement happened. The basic and pertinent fact of history
is that first there was a Hindu temple at the site (at least until the
Ghorid invasion of 1192) and later a mosque was built in forcible replacement
of the temple (at least from 1528 onwards).
The outline of
the relevant historical events is quite wellknown, but then the controversy
is not about history. This is not merely the now dominant position
among India’s secularists who, knowing fully well that they can’t win the
debate on history, try to shift their ground towards redefining the conflict
as a strictly judicial property dispute. It is also the view of the
Muslim and Hindu claimants.
to anti-temple author Sushil Srivastava, the local Muslims “believe that
Emperor Babur came to Ayodhya in 1528 and destroyed the famous Ram Janmabhoomi
temple, to propitiate Pir Fazal Abbas Musa Aashikan”, an allegedly fanatical
Muslim saint.6 Muslim claimants have only
started challenging the established consensus about the iconoclastic origin
of the Babri Masjid when secularist intellectuals taught them the tactical
usefulness of that negationist position. Originally they accepted the true
history, but differed with other people only in their theologico-juridical
conclusions. To them, a mosque is not less legitimate because it
was built in forcible replacement of an idol temple, rather the contrary.
They claimed the Babri Masjid because at one point it was a mosque, and
regardless of that mosque’s prehistory, they insist on the principle: “once
a mosque, always a mosque”.
The Hindus who
refuse to cede the Rama-Janmabhoomi site to the Muslim and secularist claimants,
do so because this is a Hindu sacred site, - not because it was one in
Valmiki’s, Vikramaditya’s or Babar’s day, but simply because it is one
right now. And the problem, the cause of the post-1949 episode
of the Ayodhya conflict, is not the fact that some mujahid denied
them the right to their own sacred site sometime in the Middle Ages, but
that Muslim and secularist politicians are denying them that right today.
That Muslims have
destroyed thousands of temples would not be an issue today if the Muslims
had taken the same conciliatory attitude which the Pope takes vis-A-vis
the Native Americans (during his 1992 visit to the site where Columbus
landed in 1492, the Pope expressed his heartfelt regrets for the suffering
which Christendom inflicted on them), which the Japanese now take vis-A-vis
the Koreans, the Germans vis-A-vis the Jews, etc. Or they may dispense
with the fashionable breast-beating and televised apologies, as long as
they don’t repeat their medieval behaviour in our own time. The problem
is not what Muslims did in the past, but what they do today: Hindus are
trying to exercise a right which religious communities everywhere obviously
have, viz. to worship at their own sacred site; and Muslims are trying
to deny them this self-evident right - not in the middle Ages, but today.
9.3. The role of foreign scholars
There never was
a Rama-Janmabhoomi problem, only a Babri Masjid problem. That Hindus
want to build a temple at their own sacred site is the most normal and
natural thing in the world. By contrast, it is a most astonishing
circumstance that some Muslims lay claim to this Hindu sacred site and
try to occupy it. But this arrogant and self-righteous Muslim behaviour
is only the effect of indoctrination in Islamic theology. The most
abnormal and unnatural thing is the complete support which this Islamic
communal aggression has received from world opinion.
might have played the role which the Supreme Court judges rejected: that
of independent arbitrators. But as it turned out, the established
Western academics, to the extent that they cared to look into the Ayodhya
debate at all, have only looked through the glasses which the India’s Marxist-Muslim
combine has put on their noses.
Writing on the
Ayodhya controversy, the American India watcher Susan Bayly describes how
Hindu activists “claim that the ‘scientifically’ verifiable facts of history
justify their cause”. Against this tendency,
she sees “a pressing need for more academics to join those in India who
have been brave enough to contest these views”.7
The claims made here explicitly or implicitly are the following five:
1) Hindu activists
claim that facts of history justify their cause, viz. the official recognition
of the Hindu status (effective since December 22, 1949) of the disputed
RamaJanmabhoomi Babri Masjid site at Ayodhya, and its materialization in
a scripturally appropriate Rama temple at the site.
2) These facts
of history are scientifically verifiable, at least according to the said
Hindu activists, though Bayly’s quote marks insinuate that the Hindus use
the term “scientific” improperly.
3) Some Indians,
academics and others, are contesting these views, viz. the view that the
Hindu claim is justified by history, and the view that this reference to
history is scientifically verifiable.
4) For these Indians,
it requires bravery to contest the Hindu activist claims.
5) Western academics
should urgently join these “brave” Indians in their rejection of the Hindu
The first claim
is incorrect, for the Hindu claim to the disputed site in Ayodhya was not
originally based on history, but on the actual present-day status of the
site as a Hindu sacred site. The need for historical justification
only arose in 1989, four decades after Hindus had staked their claim, when
the opponents of the temple started challenging the existing consensus
regarding the history of the site, viz. that a medieval Hindu temple had
been razed by Muslims to make way for a mosque.
The second claim
is obviously uncontroversial: once the pro-temple party accepted the challenge
of collecting historical evidence, they were confident that their corpus
of evidence would stand up to scientific scrutiny. To an extent,
this scrutiny has also taken place, and it has not shaken the temple party’s
The third claim
is only correct in the weaker sense, viz. that Indian academics are politically
contesting (opposing, protesting against) the Hindu position; not in the
stronger sense, viz. that they are scientifically contesting (confronting,
attempting to refute) it. With the very partial exception of the
foursome of historians who represented the Babari Masjid Action Committee
during the Government-sponsored scholars’ debate, Indian academics have
most definitely not confronted the case made by the pro-temple scholars.
On the contrary,
they have fully used their power in the media, academic and publishing
sectors to muzzle the protemple voices and keep the pro-temple evidence
out of public view, rather than face it and possibly refute it. When
confronted with inconvenient new evidence dug up by their opponents, the
knee-jerk reaction of the secularist scholars and media was to allege “concoctions”,
“fabrications” and “Goebbelsian lies” at the top of their voices, and foreign
scholars have sheepishly followed their lead.
The fourth claim
is simply untrue: it did not require bravery to oppose the pro-temple party
from academic platforms, certainly much less than to defend the pro-temple
position. There is no physical risk involved
in publishing a paper denouncing the Hindu claims on Ayodhya.8 To
be sure, every now and then a secularist scholar claims to have received
death threats from people venting their impotent anger, and the newspapers
devote plenty of attention to these non-events all while downplaying the
real killing of Hindus in Kashmir or the Northeast.9
But being no stranger to hate mail and death threats myself, I know that
someone who cares to send you advance warning is not very serious about
murdering you. So, at the time of writing, Romila Thapar, R.S. Sharma,
S. Gopal and all those other would-be martyrs for free speech are alive
and well (like myself, thank you).
The physical danger
in writing against the temple is imaginary; by contrast, it is dangerous
to uphold rather than oppose Hindu activist positions. It is a fact
that throughout the 1990s, many office-bearers of the RSS, the BJP and
their Tamil affiliate Hindu Munnani have been murdered; but that was more
because of the demolition and other political matters than because of any
statements on the historical background of the Hindu claims on Ayodhya.
At one point, the publishinghouse Voice of India, which has published
the Vishva Hindu Parishad’s statement and several other writings on the
Ayodhya evidence, has had to seek police protection for a few days, but
the threats had to do with “insults to the Prophet” and not with the Ayodhya
evidence. The riotous and triggerhappy types are not the ones who
attach great importance to feats of scholarship.
In terms of status
and career, a non-conformistic stance in favour of the temple cannot be
maintained without sacrifice. By contrast, joining the anti-temple
party has always been a smart career move. Far from requiring bravery,
posturing as a “committed secularist” up in arms against “obscurantist
and communalist history manipulation” will only earn you praise (as Dr.
Bayly’s own appreciation of this “bravery” illustrates). India’s
secularist academics and journalists form a society of mutual praise, and
the cheapest way of getting applause in elite India is to attack the Hindu
Dr. Bayly’s fifth
claim, about the urgent need for Western support, is equally untenable.
There is no need at all for Western scholars to come out in support
of their Indian colleagues who oppose the pro-temple position. The
reason is that they are already in the same camp: not a single Western
academic has come out in support of the Hindu (i.e. the pre-1989 consensus)
position. Foreign academicians in overwhelming majority borrow the
views of the secularist establishment in the Indian universities, so there
is no need for them to “join” their Indian colleagues.
which is bravest: to take the position promulgated by the government, the
parliamentary majority, the media and the capitalist media barons, most
political parties, the academic establishment and the international Indological
and India-watching community; or to stand alone against this power bloc?10
In the footsteps
of the Indian academics, their Western colleagues writing on Ayodhya pretend
to discuss a conflict but do not care to find out the position of one of
the parties. Somehow they manage to collect a lot of data and write
lengthy papers without noticing that one half of the controversy’s contents
is missing, and that they are merely rewording the position of one of the
two warring parties; though I am sure that they would never accept a student’s
thesis on any given controversy which reported only one side’s version.
Future books on the affair will include a chapter on “the Ayodhya scandal”:
the unscrupled use of academic and media power positions by India’s secularists
to suppress relevant evidence, and the gullibility of foreign scholars
relying on hearsay from Indian colleagues whose bonafides is open to question.
outsiders still believe that the VHP case is based on “myth” and “concoction”,
as the BMAC and its Marxist supporters have kept on alleging.11
At the very best, many people, including sincere but uninformed scholars,
assume a priory that “the truth must lie somewhere in between”, and that
both sides are just equally unreliable hot-heads. Foreign press correspondents
have simply parroted the views of the Marxist historians of JNU and AMU
in support of the Babri Masjid cause, as well as their silence about the
scholars’ debate. Thus, in his review of the
eminent historians’ book Anatomy of a Confrontation, former Time
correspondent Edward Desmond adopts the Marxist historians’ contentions
lock, stock and barrel.12
As a writer of
lengthy pieces on Kashmir in which the 1990 ethnic cleansing of the Hindus
goes unmentioned, Desmond does not surprise us by concealing the government
sponsored debate with its embarrassing outcome nor by deliberately denying
the existence of evidence put at his disposal by Voice of India: in his
lengthy article on the affair, he curtly dismisses all the pro-temple evidence
as “bogus” without presenting any part of it, a position he would never
be able to defend in a public debate. His strength is, of course,
that he does not have to fear any public debate: the other side simply
cannot get its message across through the media, so the public assumes
that this is a subject on which the debate is closed.
Even the French
sociologist G6rard Heuzie, who has written some fresh and independent observations
on the Hindutva movement, has not been able to get around the secularist
monopoly on the information flow on Ayodhya. He has analysed the
anti-democratic musings which were audible in the discourse of secularism
“when several thousands of karsevaks brutally demolished the Babri Masjid,
refusing to listen to RSS cadres, who were acting as the last ramparts
of the paternalist perspectives. Numerous
comments showed clearly that for the academic and establishment commentators,
the most insupportable thing was that uneducated youngsters, without any
letters of introduction or written authorisations, had intervened to change
the course of things.”13 Heuzé
points out that “the way in which the RSS was overwhelmed by a thousand
determined youngsters on 6 December 1992 is telling. The sect is
worthless in street combat... its manifestations remind us more of the
boy scouts than of mass politics.”14
And yet, watch
how even a lucid man like Heuze gets trapped. For all his independence,
even he proves to be the prisoner of the secularists’ control of the information
flow. Mentioning the historical claims regarding Ayodhya,
he declares that Hindus believe only “since the 19th century” in the forcible
replacement of a Rama temple by the Babri Masjid, that “there seems never
to have been a temple underneath the mosque”, and that the Hindu pillars
used in the mosque “were clearly brought from elsewhere”.15
These claims are not true, and have not emerged from the debate as even
There is no firm
information about the pillars’ provenance, though the rule is that a mosque
systematically incorporated rubble from the very temple which it was replacing.
There is ample archaeological evidence that the whole Ramkot hill was covered
with a temple complex, as is only to be expected at the geographical place
of honour in a temple city. Apart from older
but vaguer indications, there are three firm pieces of evidence from the
18th century, apart from the unnamed pre-19th century sources cited as
such by the local 19th-century Muslim authors.16
Moreover, he should have been able to draw the right conclusions from the
general context of Islamic iconoclasm, from the fact that the VHP scholars
had discovered no less than four attempts by BMAC people to tamper with
the evidence, and from the mediacentred and swearword-oriented performance
of the proBabri academics as opposed to the evidence-centred performance
of their rather fewer academic opponents.
The point is that,
judging from his text and bibliography, Heuze does not know the official
VHP argumentation presented during the Government-sponsored debate, nor
has he heard of the independent studies supporting the temple thesis. The
same ignorance about the solid Hindu argumentation is in evidence in the
publications on India’s religious conflict by Susan Bayly (US), Peter van
der Veer (Holland), Christophe Jaffrelot (France) and others.17
They have relied on India’s secularist accounts of the status quaestionis
of Ayodhya research, and these have quite purposely kept the more serious
and convincing formulations of the Hindu position out of the reader’s view.
Ali Asghar Engineer writes on the cover of his Babri Masjid Ram Janmabhoomi
Controversy. “Future generations will have a right to know what
the controversy was about”18, but
then takes care to include only a few token statements for the Hindu side
which are either on peripheral aspects of the debate or belong to the clumsier
variety of Hindutva polemic; he repeats the same exercise in his sequel
Politics of Confrontation.19 To comment
on such manipulation, I need only repeat Engineer’s own words on the same
cover: “It is not- only violence which has to be condemned but also distortion
of history and intellectual dishonesty.”
The Dutch Indologist
Peter Van der Veer profusely quotes from the contributors to S. Gopal’s
and A.A. Engineer’s books. Even the bibliography (of a book published
in 1994) does not mention a single book presenting any aspect of the protemple
argument (all of which were available before 1993). However,
in his own earlier research on the traditions concerning Ayodhya, he had
endorsed the old consensus view. This earned him a lot of criticism,
e.g.: “Disconcertingly, Van der Veer does not query Babur’s destruction
of the temple.”20
Even in his book
Religious Nationalism, Van der Veer does not follow the secularists
all the way. He actually quotes pro-temple archaeologist Dr. S.P.
Gupta, albeit only in a footnote; and not some clumsy statement but an
actual piece of refutation of Babri historian Prof. R.S. Sharma’s claims:
“Mr. Sharma has not given a single piece of archaeological or historical
evidence in support of what he says. The archaeological and other
evidence from art history indicate that there was a Brahminical temple
at the place where the mosque stands today. The
iconographical features like vanamala and karandmukut show that it was
probably a Vaishnava temple.”21 Prof.
A.R. Khan, who opposed the VHP plans for Ayodhya yet upheld true history
by confirming the preexistence of a temple at the site, is also mentioned
in footnote by Van der Veer but his arguments are not given.22
However, it is
clear that after being taken to task for providing ammunition to the pro-temple
argumentation, the Dutch scholar developed cold feet, hence his climb down:
“In research carried out in the 1970s both Bakker and I relied heavily
on the local tradition that Babar’s general had destroyed a temple built
on Rama’s birthplace. This tradition is supposedly corroborated by
the fact that in the mosque are pillars of a temple (which Bakker ascribes
to the eleventh century). The same kind of pillars are also used
in the grave of a Muslim pir who is in the local tradition considered to
have been instrumental in the demolition of the temple.( ... ) While
Bakker and I could naively accept local tradition, this cannot be done
any longer. For example, one could argue that the fact that there
are temple pillars in the mosque does not tell you much. They could
have been taken from anywhere and not from a demolished Rama temple.”23
So this is the
evidence given, the whole reason for abandoning a well-researched
view of history: “One could argue...” It is in the nature of historical
evidence (as opposed to evidence in physics) that it can always be “argued”,
that is, explained away if inconvenient. Fossiles disprove the Biblical
Creation Theory? No, for one could argue (and some Evangelical fundamentalists
do argue) that God created the world with fossiles and all, if only to
put the faith of palaeontologists to the test- Of even the hardest evidence
one could argue that it may have been planted, doctored, misplaced,
and that it should therefore be rejected by historians.
Fact is that Bakker
and Van der Veer, during their original and extensive research, have not
come across any fact which casts doubt on the temple demolition scenario.
Fact is also that Van der Veer (and likewise Bakker) can still not cite
a single finding which casts such doubt now. All he has to
show as justification for his climb down is that “one could argue” that
the probable things did not happen, and that, though there is no evidence
for it, something improbable might have happened.
His critic Antony
Copley goes all the way in parroting his Indian contact persons: “Myth
rather than history has fuelled Hindu fundamentalist protest over Ayodhya.(
... ) Archaeologists question there being any urban
site at Ayodhya at the alleged date of Rama’s birth, and find no evidence
of any temple on the site of the Babri Masjid mosque.”24
One wonders to what archaeological finding he may be referring, for the
two latest diggings, by B. B. Lal in the late 1970s and by Y.D. Sharma
in 1992, have yielded remains of a temple.
To zoom in on
a telling detail, Copley makes two claims which are readily refuted by
Father Tieffenthaler’s 1767 evidence, which had figured prominently during
the Ayodhya debate, but which has not come to Copley’s notice because the
Indian historians on whom he relies have done their utmost to keep this
evidence out of view. He claims that in the last decades of Nawabi
rule (in Oudh), Muslims claimed that Hanuman Garhi was built on a mosque,
and "to appease Muslim feeling [the Nawahl gave permission for a new mosque
to be built near the Hanuman temple. This inspired the Hindu counter-claim
that the Babri Masjid mosque was built on the site of a former temple,
the Ram Janmabhoomi.” Further, Copley alleges that
the chabootra had been “illegally constructed near the mosque in
1857”.25 Both claims are explicitly refuted
by Tieffenthaler’s testimony: he saw the chabootra in 1767, and
he reports the Hindu claim that the Masjid had forcibly replaced a Rama
Of course, Copley
supports the secularist thesis that it was all a British concoction: “But
the British, convinced that the Muslims lay behind the rebellion of 1857,
(... ) saw fit to feed this mythology. Much is made by secular-minded
historians of both this official literature and Miss Beveridge’s introduction
to her translation of Babar’s memoirs, where she accused Babar of just
this act of vandalism. That there was a temple
to mark Rama’s birthplace and that the entire Ayodhya complex could be
seen as commemorative of his birth suggests the irrationality of this claim.”26
there is plenty of pre-British testimony, which is why even after his climbdown,
Peter van der Veer maintains: “The suggestion that the local tradition
is entirely invented by the British thus seems disingenuous.”27
The facile claim of a British concoction also flies in the face of the
known fact that the British, while fostering disunity among the Indians
at the political level, made great efforts to prevent communal clashes
in the streets. Further, if the British had wanted to use temple
demolition stories for fomenting communal friction, they could have pointed
to numerous indubitable instances rather than having to invent one.
A scrutiny of
the available historical material clearly shows that the truth does not
lie halfway between the recent politicized hypothesis and the centuries-old
consensus, and that the former is not half right, nor the latter half wrong.
By all standards of historical method, the case for the thesis that the
Babri Masjid has replaced a pre-existent Hindu temple is strong, if not
overwhelming. It should be accepted unless and until evidence to
the contrary is produced - and that is precisely what the BMAC experts
have failed to do when the Government of India provided them with an official
forum for doing so.
That the international
media without exception and even most academics have chosen the side of
the Muslim aggressor and condemned the Hindus who were merely minding their
own business at their own sacred site, is the eighth wonder of the world;
but it becomes perfectly understandable when we realise that they merely
act upon the “information” given them by India’s secularists. Like
their source, they have blacked out the Hindu version on Ayodhya and completely
identified with the Muslim version. Future scholars of political
and communications science will study the reporting on the Ayodhya affair
as an absolute classic of successful disinformation.
9.4. Misrepresenting the Ayodhya
Neither the real
probability that Rama was effectively born right there, nor the solid evidence
that a temple was destroyed to make way for a mosque, are what should decide
this controversy. After all, the call for historical proof was only
launched by India’s secularists spoiling for a fight, as a dispersionary
tactic. To be sure, I don’t want to follow the Babri Masjid Action
Committee historians in replacing factual argument with rhetoric consisting
of the attributing of ulterior motives to opponents. The
weakness of their argumentative position has to be demonstrated in its
own right, as has already been done.28 They
themselves have not contributed any evidence to the search for the historical
true story, they were actually demanding from the Hindu side what they
themselves never provided, - indeed, never intended to provide. In
the process, their ulterior motives have come to light in sufficient measure
to warrant some comment.
The aim of the
pro-Babri Masjid historians was never to settle any historical questions.
If it had been, then they would not have opposed the VHP’s request to organize
systematic excavations at the site; nor would they have concealed the pro-temple
evidence in their publications. Their aim was merely to distract
public attention from the obvious and extremely simple solution of this
controversy. The fact that this solution would be in favour of the
Hindu claims was apparently unbearable to them because of their seething
hatred of their ancestral religion.
The solution to
the Ayodhya tangle lies in the universal ethical principle known as the
Golden Rule: do unto others as you would be done to by them. Since
Muslims would not like their own sacred sites to be occupied by members
of another religion, they should not claim anyone else’s sacred site for
This means in
practice that they should give up every attempt to wrest the site from
its rightful owner, Hindu society. This includes street agitation,
political lobbying inside and outside Parliament, and also the judicial
proceedings. The attempt to occupy another religion’s sacred site
is morally wrong, and it is not made one per cent less wrong by circumstances
which seem to bring the achievement of the reprehensible goal within reach.
It is not made less reprehensible by political equations which have allowed
Islamic activists to score some points (e.g. the Places of Worship Act
which freezes the status of places of worship as on 15 August 1947).
Nor by the media bias which confers guilt on the Hindus for the riots which
Muslims have started in pursuance of their political goals (such as the
Muslim attacks on Hindu lives and property all over India, Bangladesh,
Pakistan and Great Britain after 6 December 1992), and thereby gives Muslim
rioters ample reward for their aggression.
arrogant Muslim attempt to take over a Hindu sacred site is not even justified
by the legal sanction to the injustices of history which has been created
by the British and Nehruvian juridical statusquo-ism regarding the accomplished
facts of Islamic iconoclasm, and which may have given the Muslims a judicial
leg to stand upon. Pressing the Islamic claim on a Hindu sacred site
is morally outrageous, whether in the streets, in parliament or in court;
whether using Molotov cocktails, petrodollar bribes, or juridical residues
of jihadic accomplished facts. The only just, honourable and workable
solution is that Muslims simply withdraw their outrageous claim, preferably
with apologies for the damage in lives and political stability which their
Babri Masjid agitation has already caused.
Some Muslims have
understood the unreasonableness of the Islamic claim to Rama-Janmabhoomi.
When Chandra Shekhar was Prime Minister, in December 1990, even his friend
Syed Shahabuddin wrote that for once, Muslims would be ready to “gift away”
the Babri Masjid site: “The law protects the Babri
Masjid even if it was constructed on the site of a temple after demolishing
it, but in the interest of communal amity, as a one-time exception, the
Muslim community is willing to make the offer, as a moral gesture, in accordance
with the Shariat.”29 The Dutch scholar Paul
Teunissen, in a review of my own book Ram Janmabhoomi vs. Babri Masjid,
takes me to task for putting Islamic fanatics and secularists in the same
bag, and declares that Syed Shahabuddin cannot possibly be a fanatic, considering
that “he has promised to demolish the Babri Masjid with his own hands if
proof is furnished that it was built on a temple”.30
After the demolition,
several more Muslim leaders have come forward with proposals to abandon
the claim to Ayodhya, notably Maulana Wahiduddin Khan and Asghar Ali Engineer.
This raises the issue of a possible settlement with the Muslims, and the
terms in which such a settlement should be formulated. But note that
no secularist opinion leader in India nor any Western observer has highlighted
these offers, let alone given them his explicit support. Their preference
is with the most obscurantist and militant tendency in the Muslim community.
The basis for
a settlement must be a correct appreciation of the Ayodhya situation.
The site belongs to the Hindus, and the fact of its historical Muslim occupation,
now already a distant memory, has not altered that. The ancient Hindu
status of the site, strengthened moreover by its restored Hindu status
since 1949, implies that Muslims are in no position to “gift away” what
isn’t theirs in the first place. Muslim postures of “generosity”
and “sacrifice for the common good” still carry an implied claim that for
now at least, the site is theirs; it isn’t. Similarly, the assertion
that by exercising their right to their own sacred site, Hindus are “exacting
revenge” or “demanding compensation” for Islamic misdeeds of the past,
still implies that the site is now the Muslims’ property, and that Hindus
want to take it back or receive it back.
mean that Hindus kill as many Muslims as the number of Hindus killed by
Muslims (in absolute figures, or perhaps in relative proportion, taking
into account today’s higher population levels?), which would require a
good number of Hiroshima-size nuclear bombs; also, thousands of functioning
mosques, including those at the sacred sites of Islam in Central Asia,
would have to be destroyed. It is no Hindu’s
case that Muslims should be subjected to this kind of treatment, and Ayodhya
simply has nothing to do with it.31
is out of the question too: the contemporary Indian Muslims do not have
the power to restore the millions of Hindu victims back to life, nor to
bring back the millions deported as slaves, nor to resurrect the numerous
treasures of civilisation which their ancestors destroyed. They may
of course try to win back for Hinduism the lost territories now known as
Afghanistan, the Maldives, Pakistan, Bangladesh and parts of Southeast
Asia; and they are welcome to form a special regiment and take Pak-Occupied
Kashmir back into India, - that would be a very incomplete but nonetheless
is what the Hindu upper castes are asked to do towards the Hindu lower
castes, in the form of job reservations. In their supreme arrogance,
some Muslim leaders are now demanding that Muslims be included in the category
of “backwards” to whom the “forward” castes are expected to give favourable
treatment in compensation of past injustices; at the same time, they angrily
reject any suggestion that they (like upper-caste Hindus) could be held
accountable for the “so-called misdeeds” of their ancestors. If compensation
is needed in Hindu-Muslim relations, a start should be made with job reservations
for the oppressed and dwindling Hindu minorities in Pakistan and Bangladesh:
let the bullies make amends to their victims. In the case of the
destroyed temples, compensation would mean that the estimated contemporary
value of all the buildings and art treasures victimised by Islamic iconoclasm
is paid back to Hindu trusts, in the form of a mega-billion sum of petrodollars
earmarked for public works in the sphere of Hindu civilisation. The
signs are that such “compensation” is not on the cards. No Hindu
organisation connected with the Rama-Janmabhoomi controversy has formulated
its wishes in those terms.
Let us not get
sidetracked by the numerous semantic manipulations with which India’s secularists
are trying to blur this issue. Muslims are not the objects of “revenge”,
they are not asked to “compensate” anything, not even to “restore” anything.
All they should do, is to abandon their claim to what is not theirs: a
Hindu sacred site. To put it even more briefly, all they should do
is nothing, except to get on with their lives. To Wahiduddin
Khan and others who attach strings to their offer of leaving the disputed
site to the Hindus, it should be clear that Muslims are not in a position
to expect any kind of reward for this long-overdue step. There is,
however, one reward which they would certainly be getting: a positive feeling
among Hindus, who have never overlooked the fact that Muslims are human
beings like the rest of us.
the prospect of Muslims “gifting away” the Rama-Janmabhoomi site remains
academical. The Government of India could of course have chosen to
promote these conciliatory Muslim leaders (who are still militant enough)32
as acknowledged representatives of their community. But it preferred
to cultivate fanatics like the recently deceded Ali Mian, director of a
theological academy which doubles as a sanctuary for Pakistani spies, on
the assumption that they have more of a following among the mass of Muslim
voters. At the time of writing, the focus
of the ongoing war of Islam against India has shifted to other arenas (Kashmir,
reservations for Muslims, Urdu), but there is as yet no reason to believe
that the Ayodhya normalisation process will be completed in a peaceful
manner anytime soon.33 Let it be clear that
that is not the Hindus’ fault: they should not bear any cross on their
chests for minding their own business at their own sacred site.
9.5. Rama’s birthplace: a matter
The terms of the
Ayodhya debate have often been blurred, sometimes deliberately and mischievously,
sometimes out of intellectual incompetence or sloppiness. Both types
converge in the affirmation that the Hindu claim to Ayodhya is a matter
of “faith”. Anti-temple polemicists have blurred the matter further
by pretending that the pro-temple spokesmen who clumsily described the
question of Rama’s birthplace as a matter of faith, had also tried to reduce
the plainly historical and archaeological question of medieval temple demolition
to a matter of faith, which they have not. Let us now at any rate
focus on the belief concerning Rama’s birth.
Some RSS leaders
have repeatedly claimed that the Rama-Janmabhoomi site should be left to
the Hindus out of respect for the “faith” of the Hindu masses in the tradition
that Rama was born at that very site. Even the noted historian Prof.
K.S. Lal has gleefully been quoted by JNU historian Prof. K.N. Panikkar
as declaring: “In religion, it is a matter of faith and not of proof...
So by faith alone Christians embrace Jesus Christ to be the Son of God, by
faith and faith alone Muslims believe Muhammad to be the Prophet of Allah,
and by faith and faith alone Hindus believe Ram-Janmabhoomi in Ayodhya
to be the birthplace of Lord Rama.”34 This
presentation of the Hindu claim to Ayodhya as being a matter of “faith”
is inaccurate and unnecessarily weakens the Hindu position.
For one thing,
the status of the enumerated items of faith is different. Christianity
stands or falls with the belief that Jesus was God’s Only-Begotten Son.
Islam stands or falls with the belief that Mohammed is Allah’s Prophet.
But Hinduism (and within Hinduism even the particular tradition of Rama
worship) does not in any way depend on the belief
that Rama was born at that or another site, just as Christianity and Islam
are not really dependent on their respective claims to specific pilgrimage
However, it just
so happens that the Mohammed whom we talk about when formulating the dogmas
of Islam, according to those very texts in which his career is described
and given a Prophetic interpretation, was a man
from Mecca in Arabia, brought up in the respect for the Pagan Arab sanctuary
there, the Kaaba; there is no other Prophet Mohammed than the Mohammed
from Mecca.36 Similarly, it so happens that
Rama, according to the texts describing his career and glorifying him,
was a member of the Ikshvaku dynasty ruling in Ayodhya; there is no other
Rama than the Rama from Ayodhya. The agreement among all those concerned
that Mohammed was born in Mecca and Rama in Ayodhya may have certain ritual
consequences, but is by no means the defining dogma of the respective religions
embodied in Mohammed and Rama.
The second fundamental
objection to the formulation of the Hindu position regarding Ayodhya in
terms of “faith”, is that the term “faith” is not respectable among post-Enlightenment
intellectuals, much less among India’s secularists. It has a connotation
of irrational attachment to unproven and even absurd claims. Thus,
“by faith alone Christians embrace Jesus Christ to be the Son of God”:
that is an accurate description of an irrational behaviour. The notion
that a human being, a creature, can be the Creator’s only-begotten son,
is quite absurd. To believe it, is irrational, is an injustice to
man’s status as a creature equipped with the faculty of Reason. The
defiantly anti-rational position of the Christian faith was summed up by
the Church Father Tertullian: Credo quia absurdum, “I believe it
because it is absurd”.
faith and faith alone Muslims believe Muhammad to be the Prophet of Allah”:
that is an accurate description of an irrational belief, seen for what
it was by Mohammed’s Pagan contemporaries. They dismissed his “revelations”
as hallucinations, poetic inventions or fits of demonic possession.
It is simply not true that Mohammed heard the voice of the archangel Gabriel,
nor that the text he “received” was a special message from God. Everything
in the Quran can perfectly be explained from the psychology and the cultural
and social circumstances of the Meccan trader Mohammed.37
No fact in and about the Quran makes it intellectually necessary for a
rational reader to think up the intervention of an outside and superhuman
being, be it Gabriel or Allah. It is only by faith that one can accept
the irrational claim which is the basic tenet of Islam, viz. that Mohammed
received a special message from the Almighty.
By contrast, it
is simply not true that “by faith and faith alone Hindus believe Rama-Janmabhumi
in Ayodhya to be the birthplace of Rama”. In common with the Muslim
reverence for the Kaaba, the Hindu reverence for the Rama-Janmabhoomi site
is a ritual convention, a category which may or may not have a basis
in history. In the case of the Kaaba, the convention is demonstrably
based on a deliberately concocted myth. The case of Ayodhya is altogether
Is it by faith
alone that we believe Napoleon lost the Battle of Waterloo? Of course,
we have no eye-witnesses, and even if we had, we could not be sure that
they weren’t lying to us. It is, in a sense, an act of faith (underlying
all reliance on man-made historical evidence) to assume that the wealth
of documentary material mentioning Napoleon and directly or indirectly
confirming the traditional belief that he was defeated at Waterloo, is
trustworthy. However, the scholarly discipline of historical method
has developed ways of discerning trustworthy from untrustworthy sources,
so that it can raise the mere possibility that the traditional claims of
Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo are true, to a degree of probability bordering
on certainty. This is not the absolute certainty of faith, but a
rational form of knowledge which always remains open to correction, and
which is merely the best and most practical instrument with which we can
face the historical dimension of reality.
We have fewer
sources about Rama than about Napoleon, but essentially the situation is
the same: while we have no direct evidence in the form of eye-witnesses,
we do have documentary sources giving particular information about his
career. The tradition that Rama was born in Ayodhya, even on that
very site, may well be historical. it is supported by a fairly consistent
Epic and Puranic tradition, a type of source spurned by 19th-century Orientalists,
and still ridiculed by westernized Indian scholars who are not up-to-date
with developments abroad, where it has been rehabilitated. The core
of the Greek story of Troy, the Biblical histories of the Israelite kings
and the Chinese records of the Shang dynasty were once dismissed by scholars
as “obviously unhistorical”, but are now accepted as remarkably accurate
or at least as having a core of historical truth. It is only in India
that people are still ignoring their own ancient historical tradition,
and keep on treating some haughtily prejudiced 19th-century speculations
as Gospel truth.
By Puranic chronology,
Rama lived in a pre-Harappan age which has left few durable buildings,
so chances are slim that anything about him could ever be archaeologically
verified or falsified. Unlike the fictional traditions conferring
sanctity on the Muslim and Christian pilgrimage sites in Mecca, Jerusalem
and Bethlehem, the historicity of the Ayodhya tradition remains an undisproven
possibility. The geographical prominence of the site, coupled with
the consistent Epic and Puranic tradition that the Suryavamsa (solar) dynasty
(including Rama) ruled in Ayodhya, add to the probability of the conventional
assumption that that very site once carried Rama’s castle.
historian Romila Thapar, a leading militant of the Babri Masjid cause,
has claimed in an interview with Le Monde that “the real question”
is not whether a mosque had forcibly replaced a temple, but whether Rama
had lived at that site in the first place.38
We notice the strategic retreat from a question on which hard proof is
readily available, and where she knows her side has lost the battle, to
a question buried in the deep past which is probably beyond verification.
Her position that the historicity of the tradition underlying the sacred
status of the site is what ought to be proven, is an insulting application
of double standards: it subjects Hindus to a test which is out of the question
with Islam and Christianity, and which these two religions are totally
unable to pass.
The fact that
a community considers a site sacred in the present is sufficient reason
for respecting it as such, regardless of history. The Israeli government
is protecting Christian access to the places where Christians claim that
Jesus was born, crucified and buried. This
correct policy is not altered just because modem research has shown these
claims to be unfounded.39 Two of these sites
originally had Pagan temples on them, which the Church destroyed.
The Church’s claim on the supposed site of Jesus’ crucifixion was based
on a dream in which Jesus himself revealed the location to the Emperor
Constantine’s Christian mother. One imagines the scornful secularist
reaction if the Vishva Hindu Parishad had based its Ayodhya claims on a
dream; yet, the numerous Christians in India’s secularist coalition have
not made any plans to relinquish the Church’s dream-based claims on the
pilgrimage sites in Palestine.
Islamic claims on the Kaaba in Mecca and on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem
are completely unhistorical and are based on transparent ad hoc
myths. In this case, we know the circumstances of the myths’ deliberate
creation with even more exactitude, from the Islamic sources themselves.
Prophet Mohammed abandoned his fad of imitating Jewish tradition, including
the choice of Jerusalem as the direction of prayer, when the Jews proved
to be unimpressed with his claims to prophethood. Therefore he stole
Abraham, the presumed founder of the monotheistic tradition which he had
adopted, from the Jews, and declared that the Arabs were Abraham’s true
heirs through Ishmael. The logic of this mythical construction forced
him to claim that the Arab national sanctuary at Mecca had been built by
Abraham. The fact that it had been in use as a temple of Hubal and
other Arab Gods and Goddesses since time immemorial, was explained away
by the totally unhistorical speculation that the idolaters had at one time
usurped the temple which originally belonged to Abraham and his religion.
In reality, no
pre-Islamic Arab text or inscription mentions Abraham, his religion, or
his son Ishmael. Conversely, the Bible, the only authentic source
on Abraham, never makes him go anywhere near Mecca, nor does it make him
build the Kaaba. These two inconvenient facts are explained away
by means of a conspiracy theory: the Jews censored their own Scripture
and destroyed the existing references to the future prophet Mohammed, and
the Pagan Arabs must have done likewise with their inscriptions and oral
tradition. The truth of the matter is that Mohammed stole the Kaaba
from its rightful owners, who had never practised any Abrahamic or Islamic
worship there. Yet, because the Islamic use of the Kaaba is now a
long-standing ritual convention, it is respected as such without any question.
The Islamic claim
to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem is even more transparently fraudulent.
Prophet Mohammed is supposed to have used it as a landing platform on his
night journey through heaven on a winged horse. Any secularist willing
to uphold this claim as historical? Or otherwise ready to show the
courage of his conviction and demand that the Muslims relinquish their
claim to the Temple Mount so as to be morally in a position to demand a
similar abandonment of , “mythical” claims from the Hindus? Most
Jews believe that it is up to the Messiah to rebuild King Solomon’s temple
on its original site, so they are in no hurry to make the Muslims hand
it back. That saves the Israeli government
a dilemma: for apart from respecting Jewish sensibilities, it is also committed
to the principle that sacred sites, including Islamic ones, are to be respected
irrespective of the validity of the claims underlying that status of sacredness.40
is brandishing the mythical nature of these Islamic claims in support of
a demand to hand the Temple Mount back to the Jews, nor to seize it and
declare it a secular “national monument”. In the case of Christians
and Muslims, no one demands that they prove the historicity of the stories
underlying the sacred status of their places of pilgrimage. Demanding
the same of Hindus is an insulting display of double standards, a candid
statement that one intends to treat Hindus as dirt.
But for the sake
of argument, let us assume that “the real question” concerns Rama’s historical
birthplace. There are two competing answers to that question.
One is the traditional answer, based on a corpus of traditional literature.
The other is Romila Thapar’s not very precise answer, which is essentially
ready to let Rama come into this world at any site except at the traditional
one. That traditional location may be hard to prove, but there is
even less proof for any alternative location. The traditional location
has at least documentary evidence in its favour, viz. the tradition itself.
Romila Thapar’s alternative, by contrast, is only backed by her own eagerness
to put Hindus in the wrong.
To be sure, it
remains possible that the tradition is mistaken, but the point for an objective
scholar is that Romila Thapar has not given one iota of evidence for that
scenario. In her overview of the development
of different Ramayana versions, she mentions a lot of differences (relationship
between Rama and Sita, Janaka and Sita, status of Ravana, of Hanuman) but
no two different birthsites.41
It was left to
the Babri Masjid Action Committee office-bearers to claim, on the basis
of a collection of articles by various modern crank writers, that they
had “proof” of Rama’s birth at no less than seven different places (from
Andhra Pradesh and Varanasi via Nepal and Afghanistan all the way to Egypt),
apart from having cited “proof” that Rama had never existed at all.42
To stay within their logic, I suggest that someone who has taken birth
at seven different places was certainly able to take birth at yet one more
place, viz. that hilltop in Ayodhya.
At any rate, the
BMAC’s frontal display of contempt for logic and rational method has not
pitted any secularist against the BMAC position. For them no allegations
of replacing historical knowledge with myth or “faith”; which adds further
illustration to our view that the whole rhetoric of historicity vs.
faith was never anything else than a dispersionary tactic to put the
Hindus on the defensive. Albeit one in which some Hindu spokesmen
were unwitting accomplices by their own mindless adoption of the term “faith”.
9.6. A Babri Masjid, not a Rama-Janmabhoomi
Though the Supreme
Court judgment was correct in its effective decision, the commentatorial
parts of the verdict come in for some serious criticism. This is
especially true of its allotment of guilt. The bias showing from
these passages should warn against the optimism with which some Hindu commentators
have welcomed the verdict.
I suppose I am
not the first to notice the glaring contradiction between the following
two statements made by the eminent judges in two successive paragraphs.
In Para 56, Hindu society is explicitly dissociated from the “guilt” of
the demolition on 6 December 1992: “…The miscreants
who demolished the mosque had no religion, caste or creed except the character
of a criminal and the mere incident of birth of such a person in any particular
community cannot attach the stigma of his crime to the community in which
he was born.”43
This clear position
is reversed in the very next Paragraph, no 57: “...However,
confining exercise of the right of worship of the Hindu community to its
reduced form within the disputed area as on 7th January 1993, lesser than
that exercised till the demolition on 6th December 1992, by the freeze
enacted in Section 7(2) appears to be reasonable and just in view of the
fact that the miscreants who demolished the mosque are suspected to be
persons professing to practice the Hindu religion. The
Hindu community must, therefore, bear the cross on its chest, for the misdeed
of the miscreants reasonably suspected to belong to their religious fold.”44
Remark first of
all the Christian imagery in the last sentence: “The Hindu community must
bear the cross on its chest.” This illustrates what we had suspected all
along: the English-speaking elite in India has preserved the mind-set of
the Christian-British colonial rulers. The ruling class has borrowed
its religious imagery from Western Christianity, just as it has borrowed
its secularism from the anti-religious reaction in the late-Christian West.
Mentally, India is to an extent still under Brown Sahib colonial
domination, and the legal apparatus which denies Hindus the right to their
sacred site can, in circumstances critical to the establishment’s legitimacy,
still be used as an instrument of colonial oppression.
Within this anti-native,
anti-Hindu colonial system, it is the latter (n0 57) of the two mutually
contradictory statements which represents the true spirit: Hindu society
is guilty of trying to manage its own affairs at its own sacred site, so
it deserves to be punished with administrative restrictions on its access
to the Rama-Janmabhoomi, and perhaps with further judicial restrictions
later. The judges simply confirm what is explicitly laid down in
article 30 of the Constitution: minorities enjoy privileges which are denied
to Hindus, including the non-interference by the government in the affairs
of their places of worship. Hindus have no right to complain when
the government takes over Hindu temples, nor when it works hand-in-glove
with Islamic activists trying to take over a Hindu sacred site. They
should be satisfied with the status of second-class citizens, to which
they have been so well accustomed by centuries of colonial rule, Islamic
as well as Christian.
The former of
the two statements (n0 56), by contrast, is quite dishonest. It is
just a typical exercise in the mendacious secularspeak of the Nehruvian
elite: claiming that the religions are not themselves responsible for communal
strife, that it is the handiwork of evil political opportunists and “miscreants”.
In reality, Islam is directly responsible for the communal conflict as
a whole; and a group of committed Hindus are responsible for the demolition
of the Babri Masjid. It is simply not true that the demolishers of
the Babri Masjid “had no religion, caste or creed except the character
of a criminal”.
Though not all
Hindus agreed on this type of strategy for achieving the reconstruction
of a proper temple at the site, it is undeniable that the demolishers acted
out of a commitment to Hindu concerns. They certainly belonged to
a Hindu caste (say, Maratha) or a Hindu sect (say, Naga sadhu) and professed
the Hindu religion. Of course the “stigma” of their intervention
does not attach to the whole of Hindu society, but nevertheless every Hindu
is entitled to feel some pride that “our boys” have stood up for Hindu
dignity on 6 December 1992. They did what many BJP supporters in
their heart of hearts had wanted to do but were too afraid or too politically
domesticated to put into practice.
It is sad that
such a symbolic event like the demolition of the misplaced Babri Masjid
architecture had to be performed surreptitiously by an unruly crowd of
mostly unemployed youngsters. But then, perhaps it was just their
task in these circumstances. Under India’s secularist regime, Hindu
society is an underground society, and sometimes it is inevitable that
moral imperatives in the service of Hindu society can only be realised
by such surreptitious surprise action.
foolish haughtiness with which the Allahabad High Court had just decided,
days before the gathering scheduled for 6 December, to postpone once more
their verdict on the acquisition of some of the Ayodhya land by the UP
government (intended as part of a strategy towards a peaceful solution),
after a full 42 years of endless litigation, it is not fair to accuse the
over-enthusiastic Rama devotees of disrespect towards the judicial process
and the democratic order which it is supposed to uphold. Rather,
they have shown disrespect towards the misuse of the courts for political
games, and they have rightly revolted against the judges’ contempt for
Hindu society, which was evident from their unwillingness to settle the
dispute brought before them, concerning no less a site than the Rama-Janmabhoomi.
Srivastava: The Disputed Mosque. A Historical Inquiry, Vistaar
Publ., Delhi 1991, p.90. As for the calligraphy of the inscription attributing
the building of the mosque to Babar’s lieutenant Mir Baqi, Srivastava argues
(p.89) that it is in a style typical of the 19th century, so that the inscription
constitutes but a very weak proof for dating the mosque to Babar’s reign.
Nath: The Babri Masjid of Ayodhya, Historical Research Documentation
Programme, Jaipur 1991, p.11.
the Babri Masjid in the decades before the Hindu-Muslim clashes in the
1850s, the region’s first British district commissioner, Patrick Camegy,
wrote: “It is said that up to that time the Hindus and Mohamedans alike
used to worship in the mosque-temple.” Quoted by Peter Van der Veer: Religious
Nationalism, p. 153.
Nath: The Babar Masjid of Ayodhya, p.38. With “1001-1030”, the period
of Mahmud Ghaznavi’s raids is meant.
Srivastava: The Disputed Mosque, p.88.
Srivastava: The Disputed Mosque, p.78.
Bayly: “History and the fundamentalists: India after the Ayodhya crisis”,
Bulletin of the Academy of Arts and Sciences, April 1993.
are not considering here the cases of outright provocation, like the Safdar
Hashmi Memorial Trust (Sahmat) Ramayana exhibit, or the disgusting
performance of some journalists at the Ayodhya site prior to the demolition,
when they were offering cookies to the Kar Sevaks, as if to monkeys in
a zoo, in order to verify the rumour that these were just hungry street
kids lured to the Kar Seva in exchange for food. Since these have
nothing to do with the historical debate on Ayodhya, we understand that
they are not included in Susan Bayly’s paean to “bravery” of anti-temple
Indiarls. Against the said provocations, some Hindu activists have
lost their temper, but even then, nobody was killed.
Soma Wadhwa: “Historians rained with hate mail”, Sunday Observer,
1998, a BJP-led alliance gained a working majority in the Lok Sabha, but
many coalition parties refuse to have anything to do with “communal” issues,
and even in the BJP the interest in and commitment to the Ayodhya temple
stand is still taken by most contributors to Sarvepalli Gopal ed.: Anatomy
of a Confrontation, the Babri Masjid/Ram Janmabhoomi Issue (Penguin,
Delhi 1991), which probably contains the final Marxist position in this
debate. The book (and the sycophantic reviews it has received) avoids
mentioning the pre-British testimonies and carefully ignores the scholars’
debate as well as other scholarly expositions of the Hindu case.
Desmond reviewing S. Gopal, ed.: Anatomy of a Confrontation, in
New York Review of Books, 14-5-1992.
Heuzé: Où va l’Inde moderne? L’Harmattan, Paris 1993,
Heuzé: Où va l’Inde moderne?, p. 12 2.
Heuzé: Où va l’Inde modems?, p.7-8.
Harsh Narain: Ayodhya Temple-Mosque Dispute, esp. p.18 and p.91
for the Jaipur maharaja’s Janmasthan map (1717), p.10-11 for Father Tieffenthaler’s
testimony (1767), p.23-26 for the Persian “Bahadurshahi Book of Forty
Sermons” (around 1710).
Van der Veer: Religious Nationalism. Hindus and Muslims in India,
University of California Press, Berkeley 1994; Christophe Jaffrelot: Les
Nationalistes Hindous, Fondation Nationale des Sciences Politiques,
Paris 1993; Susan Bayly: “History and the Fundamentalists: India after
the Ayodhya Crisis”, Bulletin of the Academy of arts and Sciences,
by Ajanta Publ., Delhi 1990.
by Ajanta Publ., Delhi 1990 c.q. 1992.
Copley: “Secularism Reconsidered”, Contemporary South Asia 1993,
2 (1), p.47-65, spec. p.64 n.38.
by Peter Van der Veer: Religious Nationalism, p.219, n.55.
Van der Veer: Religious Nationalism, p.218 n.51. A.R. Khan’s rebuttal
to the JNU historians, “In the name of ‘history’”, along with the ensuing
polemic, has been included in S. R. Goel, ed.: Hindu Temples, vol.
1, 2nd ed., p.243-263.
Van der Veer: Religious Nationalism, p.161, referring to Hans Bakker:
Ayodhya, Groningen 1987, and to Peter Van der Veer: “‘God must be
liberated!’ A Hindu liberation movement in Ayodhya”, Modern Asia Studies,
Copley: “Secularism Reconsidered”, Contemporary South Asia 1993,
2 (1), p. 57.
Copley: “Secularism Reconsidered”, Contemporary South Asia 1993,
2 (1), p. 58.
Copley: “Secularism Reconsidered”, Contemporary South Asia 1993,
2 (1), p.58.
Van der Veer: Religious Nationalism, p. 160.
contributions to the debate from the Hindu side include the official argumentation
by the Vishva Hindu Parishad, published as History vs. Casuistry
by Voice of India 1991; The Ayodhya Temple-Mosque Dispute, Focus on
Muslim Sources by Prof. Harsh Narain, Penman Publ., Delhi 1993; and,
in a broader perspective, Hindu Temples, What Happened to Them (2
vols.), by Sitaram Goel et al., Voice of India, 1990-1993.
Shahabuddin’s letter in Indian Express, 13-12-1990.
Teunissen in the Dutch bimonthly India Nu, January 1993. Note
that he accepts my argumentation that the temple existed, so that “Shahabuddin
will have to get serious about his demolition promise”.
point has been developed in the VHP’s official rebuttal to the BMAC’s evidence
bundle: History vs. Casuistry, p.57 and p.67. Of course, that
document is absent from the bibliographies of practically all secularist
publications on Ayodhya in India and abroad eventhough it represents the
official position of the secularists’ own chosen enemy, the position which
their publications purport to be rebutting.
Khan is an ideologue of the Tabligh movement (propagation of pure
Islamic ways and abolition of remnants of Hindu culture among Muslims);
A.A. Engineer routinely publishes prefabricated “reports” on communal riots
in which the Muslim hand is systematically concealed, comparable to the
pre-Partition Pirpur Report. Their commitment is to Islam, and their
conciliatory stand on Ayodhya is only motivated by the calculation that
at this point, Islamic interests are served better with a non-confrontational
written in 1995, these words do not need serious amending even in January
in K.N. Panikkar: “A Historical Overview”, in S. Gopal ed.: Anatomy
of a Confrontation, p.37 of the Penguin reprint 1993, from K.S. Lal:
“Ramjanmabhumi - Some Issues”, in Organiser, October 1989.
Remark that all the historical arguments developed by Prof. Lal, like all
those of other competent scholars, have been carefully kept out of view
in S. Gopal’s book (which for most foreigners is the only source
about the Ayodhya affair), while this one clumsy phrase has been seized
upon to demonstrate the “unhistorical” and “irrational” basis o the Hindu
be sure, during the Ayodhya crisis, journalists managed to find an illiterate
Rama devotee who, quoted from memory, declared: “We cannot attain moksha
(liberation) unless we can worship Rama at his very birthplace.” In a political
sense, one could argue that Hindu society is not really free as long as
it has to suffer the occupation of its sacred sites by Islam; with that
view, I agree. But the interviewee was apparently talking about spiritual
liberation, which of course has nothing to do with the location of the
place of Rama’s birth.
cannot mention Jesus at this point, because his birthplace is in doubt.
The claim for Bethlehem was made only in an attempt to convince potential
Jewish converts that Biblical predictions about the birth of the Messiah
in Bethlehem had come true in Jesus.
brilliant and thoroughly scientific analysis of Mohammed’s psychology,
strictly based on the authentic Islamic sources, has been developed by
the Flemish psychologist Dr. Herman H. Somers in his Dutch-language book
Een Andere Mohammed, Hadewijch, Antwerp 1992. His conclusions
are, of course, not compatible with the fond beliefs of Islam. Since
for some reason no English translation has been forthcoming, I am preparing
an English summary myself.
Thapar’s interview to Le Monde was reproduced in the September 1993
issue of India, bimonthly of Shanti Darshan Belgo-Indian Association.
the claims to these sites were deliberately made up on non-historical grounds
by the triumphant Church in the 4th century, is the thoroughly researched
thesis of the New Zealand historian Joan Taylor: Christians and the
Holy Places, Oxford University Press 1993.
peculiar Messiah-centred Jewish attitude to the Temple Mount is only one
of the fundamental differences between the Jerusalem and the Ayodhya situation.
It is only a symptom of laziness if not worse to describe the Temple Mount
controversy as a “Jewish Ayodhya”.
Thapar: “A historical perspective on the story of Rama”, in S. Gopal, ed.:
Anatomy of a Confrontation, p.141-163.
claim was made in writing during the very first round of the Government-sponsored
scholars’ debate. Embarrassed about their poor performance (which
has gone strictly unreported in the media as well as in all academic publications),
the BMAC negotiators have never published their argumentation; I could
inspect a copy at the Deendayal Research Institute, Delhi. The specific
pieces of “proof” are commented on in the VHP rebuttal: History vs.
Supreme Court Judgment”, in Swapan Dasgupta et al.: The Ayodhya Reference,
Supreme Court Judgment”, in Swapan Dasgupta et al.: The Ayodhya Reference,
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