14 November 2019
already decided that we will accept whatever decision the court makes. This is
about respecting the court,” said the 45-year-old businessman in Varanasi. He
was referring to the city’s Muslim community. The court decision that had been
accepted calmly was the ruling on the Ayodhya land title dispute, which paves
the way for a Ram temple on the site where the Babri Masjid had been
demolished. The Supreme Court had also ordered the allocation of five acres of
land for a mosque in Ayodhya.
not mean that we are happy with it,” the businessman said. It had been a
property dispute but the court seemed to have no evidential basis for its
judgment, and was there no other land to build a temple?
Muslim journalist based in Varanasi was more blunt. “We had expected that there
would be a decision, not justice,” she said. “But we had not expected the
judgment to go so much against us.”
no proof of a Ram Mandir ever having existed on the site, she pointed out, and
the Supreme Court had admitted that a mosque built by Babur had stood there.
“The Supreme Court gave such a baffling judgment,” she said.
there is bitterness, both businessman and journalist also speak of keeping the
peace, of not wanting “more damage to the country”. The businessman preferred
to dwell on how people from all faiths had been invited to a chhat puja on the
ghats of Varanasi, how Eid-Milad-un-Nabi processions had passed off peacefully
a day after the verdict.
November 9 judgment, the Supreme Court decided on an matter that has riven the
political life of India post Independence. What began as a sullen legal dispute
in 1949, when idols were smuggled into the inner sanctum of the mosque, became
a communal flashpoint after 1992, when a Hindutva mob demolished the mosque.
Since then, the dispute has triggered riots that killed thousands, cut through
the social fabric of villages across North India and poisoned political
speeches, especially those of the Hindu Right. For close to three decades,
Ayodhya has been a byword for polarisation in Indian politics.
judgment, decades in the making, has been read by many as serving majoritarian
interests. Yet there have been few protests from the minority, whose claims to
the site have been dismissed. All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen chief
Asaduddin Owaisi rejected the offer of alternative land for a mosque, and has
found growing support on social media. A few voices have urged a review
But, on the
whole, Muslim political and socio-religious leaders said the verdict in favour
of a Ram temple had to be accepted. Even in North India, where Ayodhya
resonates the most, Muslim communities took in the judgment with stoic calm.
Going by reports, Muslims in Ayodhya expressed sorrow and helplessness. In Old
Delhi, Muslim shopkeepers were more worried about businesses that had struggled
after demonetisation and a shrinking job market.
of contestation, what explains this lack of protest? There are no easy answers.
But social scientists point to the place of the Babri Masjid in the Muslim
faith, how the dispute figured in Muslim identity politics, the absence of a
monolithic Muslim identity in India, as well as a growing majoritarian
a mosque for us but not a special mosque,” said the businessman from Varanasi.
“It is not like Muslims from all over the country came to pray there. For us,
the important places are Mecca and Medina.”
dispute has always been a mix of the sacred and secular. For a section of
Hindus, the site was the birthplace of Ram. For Muslims, it was consecrated
ground. But it was not central to the faith, many argue. “Babri wasn’t even a
grand mosque like Jamia Masjid,” said Saeed Naqvi, journalist and author of
Being the Other: The Muslim in India. “If you say Ramchander ji was born here
and I say Prophet Muhammad was born here then we have a contest.”
years, the Mughal-era mosque had paled in religious significance for Muslims.
Even if the plot had been allotted to Muslims, the journalist from Varanasi
explained, they would not have been able to pray there – the tenets of Islam
said prayers could not be offered on disputed land.
scientist Hilal Ahmed even contends that Babri had become an “irrelevant
mosque” for Muslims, especially after 1992. “The mosque or at least the
structure of it, was demolished in 1992, hence, there is no mosque at all there
on the disputed land,” he explained. “On the other hand, there is a functional
Hindu temple, which is open to all Hindus. A Hindu can visit this temple, offer
bhog to the deity and commemorate lord Ram’s birthplace on the site where Babri
Masjid once stood. However, this is not the case with Muslims. A Muslim is not
allowed to offer prayers on this land. This legal restriction discourages the
Muslims from asserting their religious claim on this site for regular namaz
etc. as the Babri Masjid does not have any special religious status for Muslim
Muslim claims to the site have been rooted in questions of historicity and
legality. In his book, Muslim Political Discourse in Postcolonial India:
Monuments, Memory, Contestation, Ahmed writes that the dominant Muslim position
on the dispute hewed close to the “secular, objective” position: that there was
little evidence to support the presence of a Ram temple on the site, the
monument was a part of India’s national heritage, the dispute was not just a
local issue but spoke to the rights of religious minorities in India.
Muslim narratives, Ahmed argues, connected legal and historical facts with
myths and folklore. The deserted hilltop in Ayodhya had been a site for Sufi
worship, according to local folklore. The prayers of Sufi mystics had helped
Babur win the Battle of Panipat against Sikander Lodhi, and so the victorious
Mughal ordered the construction of a mosque on the spot. Local histories also
note the presence of Hindu bairagis who forced their way in and built a
platform in the outer courtyard of the mosque but continued to worship there at
the indulgence of the Nawab of Awadh. The Hindu-Muslim unity of Awadh was only
disrupted by the British, who created the dispute, according to the local
some of these ideas still endure in the former kingdom of Awadh. For centuries,
Hindus and Muslims had lived together and fought together, said the businessman
from Varanasi. “It was the British who created these divisions to get power,”
dominant and local Muslim positions sought negotiations in the domain of law.
It was only briefly, in the 1980s, that these legal contestations entered the
political domain, Ahmed argues.
saw Muslim political responses shaped by an increasingly animated Hindu Right.
In 1984, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad started an active campaign for the Ram
temple and in 1986, the Faizabad district court allowed the mosque to be
unlocked after decades. With that, Babri entered a wider current of Muslim
identity politics, Ahmed argues, becoming the symbol of a “collective Muslim
Masjid Action Committee was formed soon after the gates were unlocked, Muslim
parties such as the AIMIM as well as Muslim political and religious leaders
joined in political mobilisations, mostly in North Indian cities. It was a
decade marked by other battles of identity – the Shah Bano case, which
triggered a debate over Muslim personal law, and the Satanic Verses, the Salman
Rushdie novel which incurred a fatwa.
case was folded into the demand for a law to protect the right to worship in
other mosques. But the Muslim agitations could not prevent the performance of
the shilanya, or stone laying, for a Ram temple in 1989. That same year, Ram
Lalla Virajaman, the deity itself, represented by a “sakha” or “friend”, became
a party to the title suit.
to be an inflection point for Muslim identity politics around Babri. “The
common Muslims, who were mobilised in the name of protecting the mosque, were
always told that Babri Masjid was a political failure for them,” said Ahmed.
There was a victory of sorts in 1991, when the Places of Worship (Special
Provisions) Act was passed, ensuring that the religious character of places of
worship would be maintained as it existed on August 15, 1947. But while it
boosted the legal proceedings, political mobilisations receded, especially
after the demolition.
“All Muslim parties and groups decided to
recognise the AIMPLB’s [All India Muslim Personal Law Board’s] High Power
Committee as the core body to look after the legal case on Babri Masjid after
its demolition,” said Ahmed. “The Babri Masjid Action Committee passed a
resolution on December 1, 1993, to suspend all the agitational programmes and
decades after the demolition, the Ram Mandir became a core issue for the
Bharatiya Janata Party and its Hindu nationalist project, which involved the
attempt to construct a homogenising Hindutva politics. It helped propel the
party from two seats in 1984 to over 300 seats in 2019, Naqvi observes. But
after the mobilisations of the 1980s, no such consolidated identity politics
was visible among Muslim communities across the country.
one, is indignant when asked about a “Muslim response” to the Babri dispute.
Muslims in India were a diverse group, ranging across states, speaking
different languages, with varying political impulses and responses. Most Indian
Muslims wanted social harmony, he said, it was a section of the religious and
political leadership which kept Babri alive to stay relevant.
social scientists and writers point out, Muslim communities wanted to be
identified as political subjects outside “Muslim issues”. But they had been
boxed in, by socio-religious and political leaders from within the community
and by the wider sweep of politics, even apparently secular politics. “Muslims
wanted jobs, security, and entrepreneurial help. But what has the system
imposed on them? Babri, Shah Bano, Satanic Verses,” said Naqvi.
In a Majoritarian State
quiet after the Ayodhya judgment, there is also a dry-eyed recognition of
political realities. Even if the court had awarded the land to the Muslim
parties, Naqvi says, they would never have been able to build a mosque their in
the current climate of majoritarian bullying.
Some of the
silence is dictated by fear. The journalist in Varanasi spoke of FIRs against
Muslims in Uttar Pradesh who had criticised majoritarian policies or politics
on social media. The businessman did not want to be named – “you know what the
political situation is”.
created silences in personal relationships. “Even with Hindu friends, we don’t
discuss the Mandir-Masjid issue. We don’t want to ruin our relationship with
them,” said the journalist.
protests, there was no space for the political articulations that were possible
even a couple of decades ago. “Earlier, there were politicians who would listen
to us. Now, no one will listen to us,” said the journalist.
of political marginalisation was sealed with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s
speech after the Ayodhya verdict. “He congratulated Hindus for the mandir but
did he talk about Muslims even once? What are they getting?” she asked.
Headline: What explains the silence among Muslim communities on the Ayodhya
Source: The Scroll In