The Ayodhya Debate – History, Recent Developments and Concerns

Back in childhood, I remember celebrating umpteen number of festivals; be it Diwali, Holi, Raksha Bandhan, Eid, Ganesh Chaturthi, Christmas, Easter and so on. It was such fun that it never even crossed my mind that Religion in India is a big distinguisher. I did go to the church, attended masses and Sunday School, but never did I once contemplate on the difference between me and my neighbours. Belonging to a different religion was as simple as being a different gender or born in a different family. Religion is not what we choose so children, hopefully, in my days, were not obsessed with it. But today everything has changed. I can see it in my building, my workplace, my city, my town, my country.

Today, amidst the pandemic, time is running out. We are doubling our cases (in millions) in a matter of 10 days now. But who cares? The current administration has been more excited about completing a 360-degree circle since the day the party was created in the 1980s to finally making the dream of the nationalists come true after a long long time almost 36 years. It was back in 1984 that the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) had launched a campaign for the construction of a Ram temple at Ayodhya, as it claimed it to be the birthplace or Janmbhoomi of Hindu Lord Ram.

With official permissions granted for a religious occasion at a time when India has crossed 20 Lakh cases and the country’s leader being the yajmaan and the Master of Ceremonies at the Bhoomi Pujan in Ayodhya, we have spectacularly burnt the separation line between State and Religion. If this is the price the administration has paid for electoral gains in future, there is no doubt that the deal is going to be very very costly in the long run.

The Structure

The disputed site before 1949 was known as the Mosque-Temple with historical records and witnesses claiming to have seen both a Mosque as well as a temple with both Hindus and Muslims at the site. The Muslims prayed inside the Mosque whereas Hindus prayed outside in the Ram-Chabutra and Kaushalya Rasoi, both built in the outer courtyard but within the compound. In 1859, the British had erected a fence to avoid clashes between the two communities.

What is the dispute?

The main argument behind the dispute is the claim that right under the Central Dome of the Babri Masjid, Lord Ram was born in a small room in the Treta Yuga almost millions of years ago. Certain proponents of the temple theory citing the writings of a Jesuit priest Joseph Tieffenthaler also state that it was Aurangzeb who destroyed the existing temple and replaced it with a Mosque.

A rather interesting story behind the construction is interpreted through the 20th-century translation text by Maulvi Abdul Ghaffar which describes Babur’s visit in disguise as a Qalandar to the Sufi saints’ Shah Jalal and Sayyid Musa Ashiqan. It talks about an alleged pledge that young Babur took in return for the saints’ blessings for his Hindustan conquest. A certain Lala Sita Ram of Ayodhya, who claims he had access to the original edition of the translated book, wrote, “The faqirs answered that they would bless him if he promised to build a mosque after demolishing the Janmasthan temple. Babur accepted the faqirs’ offer and returned to his homeland”. Now how true all this is without any concrete evidence to fall back on is a question altogether.

As per inscriptions discovered at the site, the Mosque was built between the years 1528-29 by Mir Baqi, a Mughal commander under Mughal ruler Babur. 

Chronology in Brief

The first sign of a dispute was observed back in 1885 when Mahant Raghbir Das filed a suit for permission to build a temple in the vicinity. However, this plea was rejected at the time. Later in 1934, a small mob tried to destroy parts of the disputed site but the colonial administration got it repaired. It was in 1949, that the dispute took a new colour when Lord Rama’s idols were found in the central dome, initially attributed to a miracle but later said to have been planted by some temple advocates.

Post this event, both the communities filed civil suits and the Supreme Court got the temple gates locked. Post the founding of Vishwa Hindu Parishad in 1984 that spearheaded the committee dedicated to building a Ram Temple at the site, two years later the District Court opened the gates for Hindus to worship at the site. This led to the Muslims setting up the Babri Mosque Action Committee in protest.

Situations turned worse when the Rajiv Gandhi led government gave the VHP permission to lay foundations of a Ram Temple on the land adjacent to the Babri Masjid in 1989. In 1990 the then BJP President L.K. Advani launched a Rath Yatra from Somnath Temple in Gujarat to Ayodhya for setting the foundation of the temple in the disputed site. However, this stunt ended up with riots in towns of different states like Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan and also with the arrest of L.K. Advani by the Bihar police.

Babri Masjid Demolition in 1992 

By 1992, the BJP government had come to power in Uttar Pradesh under Chief Minister Kalyan Singh. On December 6, 1992, the different political organisations associated with the Sangh Parivar like the VHP and BJP, organised a massive rally comprising as many as 150000 kar sevaks. The party stalwarts like L.K. Advani, Uma Bharti and Murali Manohar Joshi gave powerful flammable speeches that led to the historical Babri Masjid demolition.

The Mosque’s razing to the ground was allegedly orchestrated by the then State (BJP) Government in power with the help of RSS, Shiv Sena and VHP. In the riots that ensued in different cities like Mumbai, Bhopal, Delhi and Hyderabad, as many as 2000 people mostly Muslims were killed or we can say murdered. And this started the perpetual enmity between the two communities and the ensuing riots and terrorist attacks, a direct consequence of the affairs of December 6, 1992.

The worst riots were observed in the city of Mumbai where almost 1000 people were killed. The Srikrishna Commission Report gives a detailed account of the causes and consequences of the Mumbai riots. What started as a protest against the Ayodhya demolition in Muslim dominated areas soon culminated in one of the worst riots following victory rallies by the political activists, leading to the stabbing, killing, burning of masses as well as complete displacement of large Mulsim populations.

You can read the complete report here

In 2001, the VHP again announced its resolve to build the temple and the next storm came in February 2002. A train carrying a group of kar sevaks returning from Ayodhya after performing a religious ceremony was torched (4 coaches) leading to 59 people, including women and children, burning to death. The resulting riots, aka the Godhra Riots, has been a subject of controversy ever since with the then Gujarat Chief Minister and current Prime Minister being an alleged complicit in the crime.

With over 1000 dead, Muslims making up to three times more than the Hindus killed, the 2002 Riots have been described by many scholars as a pogram and both the State Government and law enforcement agencies were said to be involved in mobilising the riots. Numerous eye witness accounts and investigation findings pointed towards a highly co-ordinated attack involving a synergy of proxy organisations, official authorities and people in power.

The findings of the Archaeological Survey of India post excavations in 1970, 1992 and 2003, especially the last, greatly affected the judgement of the Allahabad Court in 2010. The ASI confirmed the existence of a temple-like structure, with intricate details pointing towards a Shiva Temple than the one dedicated to Lord Ram. While the ASI received a lot of flak for failing to corroborate their statements with adequate evidence, it nonetheless helped the jury in reaching a conclusion.

In 2010, the Allahabad High Court delivered a majority judgment for a three-way partition of the disputed property among Hindus, Muslims and Nirmohi Akhara which was protested against all the three parties and suits filed thereafter. The Supreme Court stayed the Allahabad HC order and in January 2019, a five-judge Constitution Bench led by CJI Ranjan Gogoi was set up by the SC. After the failure of finding any consensus between the parties by the Mediation Panel, a 40-day marathon hearing ensued culminating in the SC reserving its final verdict on October 16, 2019.

On November 9, 2019, the SC gave the landmark verdict allotting the disputed land to Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas for construction of a temple, and the Muslims were to be compensated with five acres of land at a prominent place in Ayodhya for a mosque. This brings us to the recent August 5 pujan by the all-encompassing personality – Shree Pradhan Mantri Narendra Modiji.

Why are some Indians not happy?

Unfortunately, the reason has to be explained. India is a secular country and according to the principles enshrined in our Preamble, a national level Party openly carrying out its nationalist goals amidst an already widening communal gap is in itself against the statues set by our Founding Fathers. A temple built on the murder, rape and burning of innocents being celebrated across the country as a sign of triumph is not just insensitive but gives us a peek into the kind of society we are churning today.

If the land had not been a disputed one and if the current party’s entire existence and philosophy did not relate to this pseudo religiosity, the entire country would have been jubilant. Another reason was the timing. At a time when thousands are dying and medical infrastructure is struggling with handling the pandemic patients, the Prime Minister attending and presiding over the ceremony when other communities are banned from carrying out any religious functions or gatherings has set a very unhealthy precedent and is likely to increase the already existing trust deficit among the minorities.

Anyone not joining in the celebration or having an opposite view is condemned heavily on Social Media with a barrage of insults and community-specific comments thrown right across. This is a dangerous picture. India’s biggest strength has been its diversity and that very basis is under threat. If this ultra-nationalism and radical ethnocentrism succeed in painting India as a Hindu Rashtra, the country will collapse eventually.

Why are some others more than happy?

Many are genuinely happy because the temple at Ayodhya can be equated with a Mecca of the Muslims and the Jerusalem of the Christians. Also, many remain unaware of the ghosts of the past and the ugly truth connected to the demolition of the Mosque.

However, a major chunk seems to have massaged their egos and due to false pride, take this opportunity for mudslinging the other community in the picture.

For the politically motivated, this is a historic event as decades have gone into making the dream of a Ram temple a reality. Electoral gains, as well as maintaining power equations in the grand scheme of things, are relevant reasons.

Way Forward

With major goals achieved including the revocation of Article 370 last year and laying the foundation stone for the promised Ram Temple at Ayodhya, the Government is already ready to win the UP Elections of 2022. As per Outlook magazine’s interview with BJP leader Vinay Katiyar, replacing the Gyanvapi Mosque in Kashi and Shahi Idgah in Mathura with temples are next on the party’s agenda.

The government has successfully taken away public attention from the Pandemic, Floods, Landslides, failing economy, ecological disasters and general woes and concerns of a common Indian and played well using the Religion and Nationalism cards.

I hope I am proved wrong in future, but as per the developing emotions and arguments across the country, we are moving towards an India that is socially unstable not to forget the threats it would directly cause to our national security.

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