I have been thinking about coming back to the blogosphere for quite some time now. After I came to USA, honestly, I have been either too busy or simply too lethargic to take to the virtual pen again! Anyway, being in the USA for a little over a year now, I have been constantly amazed by how this nation works. It is by no means an overstatement if I say that the oldest democracy in the world through innumerable sacrifices, mistakes, determination and sheer hard work has achieved its rightful place in the modern world where it is today.
Now, let me bring to you another picture. I am from the biggest democracy in the world - India - a land which traces its history to beyond 5000 years (at least historically). India has endured in its past several challenges and yet has managed to somehow preserve its culture and its globally accepted plural character. Not going into any controversy, not going into any long drawn effort to prove or disprove its plural character, I just have few questions to all fellow Indians who may be reading this. I by no means claim to be a historian or even an intellectual but still I feel compelled to give words to my thoughts as they bother me everyday.
India is a country of over 1.2 billion people - majority Hindus (or one of its bewildering number of sects) followed by the minorities Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Jains, Buddhists and others. Probably everyone knows the history by which we achieved independence from our colonial masters mostly through non-violent means. Yet, the price that we paid for that independence by virtue of partition continues to haunt us even today - viz. the complex socio-political Hindu-Muslim equation. Whereas it can be said that the two communities have lived peacefully in this ancient land since millenia, it cannot also be denied that their entire co-existence in modern India has been punctuated by unfortunate (sometimes religiously and sometimes politically motivated) events which have left a bad taste in everyone's mouth. No one can disregard the horrendous carnages that took place during the partition or the subsequent riots that have taken place at various times in the last 63 years. However, even after all of this blood spill and mayhem, India has managed to survive. This is because of the good sense that prevails amongst the majority of the population irrespective of religion. You may be wondering why I am suddenly writing about this issue out of the blue. The reason - the recent Ayodhya verdict. While I accept the verdict with all humility, I am skeptical of the far reaching effects that this verdict may have on our nation.
I am a Hindu. I go to temples (on occasions), ponder over the great spiritual discourses that are hidden in the Gita, love the fascinating stories of Ramayana and Mahabharata and by the way I do believe that they are true historical events, do the occasional teerth yatra, enjoy the Pujas (more so maybe because I belong to Kolkata and Durga Puja is not merely a religious festival, it is a cultural festival as well). Still, I am not satisfied with what the verdict has been even though I agree that this middle path may be the least objectionable one. Mind you, I am not saying 'acceptable to everyone'. Let me elaborate further.
The court case that was decided upon is merely a case to decide who owns the title of the land and as we all know that case has been going on for the last six decades. Even though the case may be to simply decide on the title suit, the emotions involved with it are by no means simplistic. Since two religions are involved, it has more or less become a test of pride for at least a section of both Hindus and Muslims. Theories and counter-theories, proofs and counter-proofs have apparently been presented to the court to decide on this matter. Both the parties claim to have evidence which proves their unequivocal right over the land. The case is also complicated by bringing in the fact that certain Hindu right wing groups and parties have used this issue to garner support amongst the population by claiming to be the protector of 'Dharma' or by advocating the correction of historical wrong-doings of Islamic invaders and rulers (viz. demolition of various temples) at various times in Indian history. Similary, some Muslim clerics and groups have tried to portray this suit as another proof that a Hindu India is trying to subjugate the Muslims. Add to this, the absolutely deplorable act of razing the Babri Mosque (while the title suit was still in the court) and you have a potential mixture for a time bomb that is ticking away. This time bomb can however be defused before its horrific consequences unfold only if, we as Indians show the courage, prudence and maturity to do so. Religious beliefs and historical facts are open to interpretation but we cannot turn a blind eye to the events of that particular day in December of 1992 when 'secular' India was challenged more than ever before. That happened right before our own eyes (I was 12 at that time) and we all know what the aftermath was. Thousands were butchered and yet the same people who planned this macabre act are allowed to flourish and continue to rule the roost. This is absolutely pathetic. After the events of 1992-93, the civil suit for the land became intertwined with the criminal suit of the demolition. These can no longer be seen as not inter-related. I am now stating something potentially controversial - The verdict would have made much more sense if the Mosque had still stood in its place and the court had given this ruling. Because in that case, if the litigating parties had accepted this verdict, the re-structuring of the disputed land as suggested by the 1/3rd formula would have had legal sanction and general approval of the parties in concern and the public in general. However, this scenario seems very unlikely. Even if the Mosque would not have been demolished, I am sure the two parties would have moved the Supreme Court because of the 'Pride' factor.
But, since the Mosque was demolished, this verdict seems to send out a signal that the demolition has indirectly been vindicated. This is because, as I stated earlier, had the mosque existed even today and the contending parties had accepted this verdict as final, the demolition / restructuring would have happened anyway. The verdict apparently uses 'belief' as a parameter in determining where Ram was born thereby awarding a portion of the said land to the Hindus. Many legal experts have raised questions on this aspect. I am not aware of the law or legality of the verdict but I can understand that if belief is the cornerstone in a certain case then that sets a dangerous precedence in the long run. One day, suddenly you'll find people filing civil suits against each other simply because they 'believe' in something which may be contrary to what the opposing party 'believes' in.
The verdict is going to be challenged in the Supreme court by both the parties so that they can gain complete control of the land and not 1/3rd as prescribed by the High court. Probably another 60 years would have passed before that verdict is delivered but in the meantime can we at least punish those people with exemplary punishment who instigated the mobs to bring down the Mosque? Can they be made accountable for their actions? If law is supposed to be above everyone else, can they be made to kneel in front of it and ask for forgiveness?
Those who sympathize or support these leaders - I have a question for you. Five hundred years ago, when the temple was demolished for the mosque, if you had the power to convict Babur / his general would you not have done so? Would you not have singed your teeth in anger if you had seen your beloved grand temple being razed to the ground? Probably yes. Would you be able to do something? Probably not. Because at that time you could do nothing even if you wanted to. That was medieval feudal India. But fortunately, this is 'new' India - a phrase that seems to be the hot favorite on TV these days. The demolition happened in our life time and now we do have the power (via the law) to correct this wrong-doing. We need to do that. I hope we can at least do that. We urgently need to mobilize public support to push for the early and just conviction of those people who challenged the very fundamental principles on the basis of which this republic was established. Let this not be another case in the proverbial 'slow cooker' in which by the time the verdict comes, most of the accused are either infirm or dead. An early conviction of all the accused will be the best thing that we as a nation can strive for. That will rebuild the trust deficit between the communities an overwhelming majority of whom just want to carry on with their normal lives without looking at each other through a prism of suspicion. Let historical wrongs not dictate our present polity anymore. Twenty first century India cannot be held hostage to the demolition of a temple in sixteenth century India.
I don't know what the Supreme court will decide or who will get the final title deed. But I believe that peaceful co-existence needs to be driven so deep in our collective psyche that no matter what happens we always stay united and together. I have faith in our judiciary which has shown exceptional courage and farsightedness in many past judgments that it will consider all the issues impartially, based on evidential proof and legally before arriving at a conclusion. If you ask me, I personally think that we would do our nation a great service if we build a hospital or some other such public institution at the site which is beneficial to one and all. On the other hand, if we have to build a temple and a mosque side by side at that site, then let us make sure that the bricks used in the construction of those structures bear the names of all those unfortunate Hindus and Muslims who perished in the communal riots in 1992-93. Let there be a 'Kar Seva' by the families of those who were killed. Let the Muslim families contribute and toil in building a modest temple and let the Hindu families do likewise in building the mosque. In between the two structures let there be a plaque with the pledge that we will not be divided any further.
I started by saying that I admire America for many reasons. One reason is that the site of the World Trade Center is being rebuilt even to this day and even after recent controversies it will still have the names of all the people (of all religions) who died in the horrific 9/11 attacks. It will be a reminder to all American people and to the world to strive to live in harmony.