Around 9:30 pm a day before yesterday, the usually quiet groups on my WhatsApp started buzzing with screenshots and links to news articles announcing the date for the “Ayodhya verdict”. The verdict had been expected in the middle of November and the sudden verdict was news and cause of much anxiety. Post the announcement, came to those infamous WhatsApp forwards with “beware” and “take precaution” regarding the publishing and propagation of “controversial political posts” on social media.
Soon almost the groups were flooded with news of preparation of a wide curfew throughout large chunks of North India, deployment of thousands of personnel throughout Uttar Pradesh, the shutdown of all public schools and institutions in wake of the verdict, internet shutdown which did nothing more than add to the apprehension of the common public. One could feel the electricity in the air, it was like a national gossip, everyone was talking about the same thing on the right and advising others to not do so on the left.
I too, after a lot of heckling and pushing by my parents decided to leave my PG and move to my relative’s house for a couple of days “in-case conditions deteriorate”. Never before had I discussed rioting and possibilities of dying in such clear yet ambiguous terms with my parents, yet it felt like the most normal conversation ever. “The Muslim areas aren’t safe”, “which cities are prone to most rioting and death tolls?” The conversations seem chilly to read now.
The sentiments ran high, perhaps higher than on the day of an Indo-Pak match, it was like… an internal Indo-Pak match. What caught my attention was the bandwidth of emotions that flowed in the conversations. Never had I seen a larger chunk of mass unable to process their emotions and be collectively indecisive.
While some asserted that “we” did not NEED to claim the mosque in the wake of the current political scenario, the others dug up the religious and legal anecdotal solution to similar dispute; discussions ranged from who was the rightful owner to the land to who had the right to worship on the land. One point everyone inadvertently converged to was acknowledging the volatility of the situation if the verdict turned out to be unpalatable to the Hindu right.
After a night of discussions and anxiety, some points that finally everyone contended upon were as such:
Babari masjid meant little to nothing to Muslims in terms of faith. The only reason we are fighting the case is to avoid the setting of a precedent to the ever emboldening Hindu right. Amidst every discussion on the Babri dispute, it is not uncommon to hear of well-intentioned yet politically clueless messiahs to demand the construction of a “neutral building” like a hospital or an orphanage in order to subside the dispute.
What is to be understood is there is more to the land than what meets the eye. A dispute that started even before the first war of Indian independence of 1857 was not merely for a piece of land. If there is one case, the extensive study of which will make you understand the dynamics of religious co-existence in India over the years and the consolidation of the rightwing, rise of religious-fascism, it is this.
It would be a folly to underestimate the multi-layers and complexity of the 2.77 acres of land. The issue facing the Sunni Waqf and Muslim masses is the indignation at the encroachment of land illegally, the forceful establishment on idol inside the mosque and the brutal tearing down of the mosque led by prominent members of the ruling party today.
The fact that one proposes to build a humanitarian structure on encroached land doesn’t make them any more magnanimous. Even before the pronouncement of the verdict, the Hindutva groups had their eyes set not just on the Babri masjid but had released a list of several hundreds of mosques that were apparently built on Hindu temples and called for the demolition of these as well. In the face of the larger danger of acquisition of minority spaces, encroachment and ousting from places of worship it became mandatory for the Muslim side to fight the case. Even though little religious sentiment is attached to the mosque itself, the Sunni Waqf board couldn’t afford to give up the fight or offer mediation for the fear of prompting replication of the case nationwide.
It was a fight that had to be fought till the end while throughout hoping not to win. As we waited with bated breaths for the verdict, we knew it would be suicidal for the verdict to be in favor of the mosque. The verdict would set a spark in an atmosphere of gunpowder and it would not take long for the situation to erupt uncontrollably. The fear was palpable enough to prompt the masses to forego their desire for reclaiming the mosque (if any). The fear alone raises another query, which us the lack of trust of the masses in the police, but that is a story for some other time.
In a way, it can be well assumed that the fight for Babri was a fight for all other mosques that are under the radar of demolition and encroachment.
The verdict was read by the supreme court without any suspense sharp at 10:30 am. One by one, the claims of Shia waqf board and the Nirmohi Akhara were dismissed by the court. Further, the verdict acknowledged the offering of Namaz in the mosque till 1949 till the Ram idol was found established inside the mosque on the night of December 22.
The court also acknowledged the illegal demolition of the Babri mosque in 1992 and called it a grave wrong. The court further contended to the Muslim Board’s argument that absolutely no claims of Ram Janmbhoomi were made till 1989, which was the very first time that a suit was filed on behalf of Ram Lalla. The verdict sounded favorable to the Muslim claims till now when it was finally pronounced that keeping the findings of Archaeological Survey of India in mind and considering ‘Ram Lalla Viraajman’ a juristic entity, the entire 2.77 acres of land is to be reserved for the construction of the Ram Mandir and a special trust is to overlook the construction. To compensate for the wrongs committed against the Muslim community, 5-acre land is to be granted in Ayodhya itself to construct a mosque.
Funnily enough, the verdict hardly made any difference to the apprehension of the Muslim community. The questions still lay the same, will the other mosques be targeted? Why is there no provision of trust to overlook the construction of a mosque? If the ASI couldn’t prove that the Mosque was built after demolishing a temple, on what grounds is the mosque being relocated? If the judgment is not based on faith, then why is Ram Lalla seen as a juristic entity? Despite the compensation, has the apex court set a precedent to allow dispossession and eviction from the property by the use of violence? After acknowledging the multiple wrongs committed against the Muslim community, and yet turning the verdict in favor of the perpetrators, has the apex court endangered the safety of other mosques in the country? Several interesting facts in the verdict were not mentioned at the pronouncement like the ASI findings of the temple remains to date as far back as to a thousand years have not been mentioned.
The Muslim Personal Law Board appeared dissatisfied with the verdict and raised the aforesaid points in the press conference. It has not been decided whether they will appeal against the judgment. The judgment was largely called merely reconciliation and pacification instead of justice and news debates will tell you, the conversation is still not over. It can be well believed that the only relief to Muslims in this verdict has been the lack of violence which was massively feared. Other than that, the community has been left feeling betrayed and insecure about its future.
Perhaps the question to be asked is whether the court saw the same fear of mob violence and political volatility that the Muslim masses saw? And has that in any way affected the verdict?
Anyways, the verdict is more likely to start a chain reaction of doom in this country than put an end to it. It is perhaps the beginning of the end.
Signing off with a couplet my father recites every time he hears the ado over probable violence and escape,
“kahan bach kar jaoge, kahan sar chupaoge,
Kahin aisi jagah batao jahan aasman nahi.”
(where do you plan to run, cover your head,
Tell me one place that isn’t under the sky)