By Yoginder Sikand
As neither a Hindu nor a Muslim, but, rather, now a hardened agnostic who suspects there is an invisible force behind the universe but is fully distrustful of all religions, I could not be bothered in the least if a temple or a mosque or a profane structure—or, indeed, nothing at all—is now to occupy the disputed spot in Ayodhya. As far as I know, the force that I want to believe exists and pervades the entire universe and beyond is supremely indifferent to who the new owners of the contested spot are to be. This force knows no distinction of religion, caste, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, and so on and so forth. For all I care, you can smear your head with ash and fall flat in front of the toy-like idols that now stand on the disputed spot and mumble mantras in incomprehensible Sanskrit, or you can don a skull-cap and bend and bow while muttering phrases in Arabic of which you understand not a word if the mosque that once stood on the spot is reconstructed. The universal force I sort of suspect exists is, I know, supremely unaffected by what you do on that measly bit of earth.
That said, I must confess that the judgment of the Allahabad High Court on the Ayodhya imbroglio struck me as deeply disturbing, to put it very mildly. Numerous critics have argued that the Court appears to have accepted the claims of Hindus who share the RSS vision of the world as normative and historically valid, and to have been guided by these possibly wholly untenable claims in making whatever decision it did. That this logic bodes ill for the future of secular democracy in India is a complete understatement. As a friend of mine, a fellow agnostic, brilliantly expressing my own reaction to the judgment, quipped, ‘Are we now to be governed by Hindu shariah?’
At the same time, however, I must also confess my immense relief at the Court turning down the claims of the Sunni Waqf Board, not because I believe that the Board’s stance is wholly without any merit at all, but, rather, simply because had the Court favoured the Board (which is what many of my Muslim friends had rather naively expected) it would certainly have provoked Hindu hordes into unleashing yet another massive reign of terror against hapless Muslims all across the country. Had the Board been declared as the rightful owners of the contested site, rebuilding the Babri Masjid, which is what the Board has been demanding all along, would inevitably have had to entail demolishing the make-shift temple that was hurriedly set up on its ruins in 1992. And that would certainly have been at once pounced upon by Hindu fanatics as an excuse to whip up anti-Muslim violence on a scale hitherto completely unprecedented.
This is why I think the move on the part of some Muslim outfits (who never tire of falsely claiming to represent all the Muslims of India—this being as horrendous a lie as the Hindutvawadis’ claim that they speak for all Hindus)—to approach the Supreme Court for redress is, I believe, sheer idiocy. Supposing the Supreme Court overturns the Allahabad High Court’s ruling and decides that ownership of the contested space in Ayodhya be granted entirely to the Sunni Waqf Board, as the Board hopes it will. What then? Is it at all conceivable that the Board can actually begin building a mosque on the disputed spot, even if this—miraculously, for there can be no other way—does not involve tearing down the make-shift temple that presently stands there? The spot, the mullahs and the other ignoramuses in the Board and the Babri Masjid Action Committee must surely know, is not somewhere on the outskirts of Mecca-Medina or in the hills of Tora-Bora in Afghanistan, where the task could have been easily accomplished and no opposition would have been brooked. I dare say that not a single of the self-styled Muslim leaders spearheading the movement for rebuilding the Babri mosque would, for all their foolhardy, rabble-rousing rhetoric, be so bold as to venture even a hundred miles from Ayodhya leading a team of zealous ‘mujahideen’ to restore the mosque even if the Supreme Court were to rule in the Board’s favour. Not one of them would, I bet, are so eager for martyrdom. The tryst with houris that they believe are promised to shaheeds can wait for a bit more, I am sure they feel.
To come back to the High Court’s judgment, although, as I said, I find it, to put it mildly, disappointing in a very fundamental sense and cannot help disagree with the logic that informs it, its recommendation that the contested space be shared by Hindus and Muslims (although disproportionately) is, I must admit, hugely compelling and entirely welcome—simply for the symbolism of it. I have absolutely no idea as to how the two are going to arrange for this to actually happen. I suspect this will not be at all easy, particularly given the Hindutva fanatics’ dreams of constructing what they repeatedly term as a ‘ really grand temple’ on the spot, a prospect that would not exactly inspire Muslims with confidence to build, and worship in, a mosque in its shadow. But, anyhow, as far as I am concerned, as I said at the outset, while some Hindus and Muslims will continue to believe that occupying that particular piece of ground in Ayodhya and knocking their heads on it in prayer is of immense, indeed cosmic, significance, I am confident that the force that pervades everything knows otherwise.
Yoginder Sikand works with the Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion at the National Law School, Bangalore