The Ayodhya Verdict: Rohini Hensman

This is a guest post by ROHINI HENSMAN

Reactions to the Allahabad High Court verdict in the Babri Masjid case have varied widely, from triumphalism from some actors, through appeals for calm and hopes of reconciliation from others, to expressions of disappointment and dismay from yet others. This is partly a consequence of the complex character of the split verdict. On the issue of whether a Hindu temple had been destroyed in order to build the Babri Masjid in 1528, S.U. Khan, in a minority opinion, said that it was built on the ruins of a temple, but nothing was destroyed, while Justice D.V. Sharma and Justice S. Agarwal held that a Ram temple had been destroyed in order to build the mosque. On the issue of whether it was the Ram Janmabhoomi, Justice Sharma, in a minority judgment, ruled that the site was the birthplace of Lord Ram, and therefore the entire property should go to the Hindu litigants. The majority judgment of Justice Agarwal and Justice Khan stated that Hindus believed it was the birthplace of Ram, and divided the property three ways, giving one-third to the Sunni Waqf Board and two-thirds to Hindu litigants. The status quo was to be maintained for three months, during which the parties were free to appeal the judgment in the Supreme Court (Allahabad High Court 2010).

It is entirely possible that the majority judgment was framed in the fear that giving outright possession to either Hindu or Muslim parties to the dispute could result in riots and bloodshed, while division of the property could lead to reconciliation. But good intentions alone cannot ensure a good judgment. For example, one of the Hindu litigants, to whom the area under the dome of the mosque was awarded, was Ram Lalla (Baby Ram), whose statue had surreptitiously and illegally been placed there in the night of 22-23 December 1949, after which the mosque was kept locked. But the title suit of the Waqf Board was deemed to be barred by the Statute of Limitation, despite the fact that it filed a suit claiming the mosque in 1961, within the statutory period of twelve years. What could the legal rationale for either of these decisions possibly be?

History and the Law

The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) concluded that a temple had existed at the site of the Babri Masjid, but professional archaeologists like Shereen Ratnagar, who also gave evidence before the court, concluded that claims about the existence of a temple were not credible (Mandal and Ratnagar 2007). Other professional archeologists who were observers of the excavation, like Supriya Verma of Jawaharlal Nehru University and Jaya Menon of Aligarh Muslim University, also felt there were doubts about the credibility of the ASI report, while D.N.Jha, history professor at Delhi University, alleged that the court had not taken the historical evidence into account (Jebaraj 2010). Even if a temple had existed at the site, was it demolished or had it fallen into ruin long before the mosque was constructed? On this point, even the judges of the Allahabad High Court did not agree. The lack of any documentary evidence of the destruction of a temple is striking. As Ram Puniyani points out, Goswami Tulsi Das, who wrote the story of Lord Ram in the popular Awadhi language, would have been around thirty years old when the mosque was built in 1528, and surely would have mentioned any demolition in his writings had it actually occurred.

It has to be conceded, at least, that the very existence of a temple at the Babri Masjid site, leave alone its demolition, is disputed by professional archaeologists and historians. As eminent historian Romila Thapar commented, ‘Since this is a matter of professional expertise on which there was a sharp difference of opinion, the categorical acceptance of one point of view, and that too in a simplistic manner, does little to build confidence in the verdict’. Are the judges, who are neither historians nor trained archaeologists, competent to adjudicate such an issue? Surely not. Nor should they be expected to, when the matter in court is the legal title to the land. And here, according to Justice Rajindar Sachar, since the site was a mosque for over 400 years, ‘a suit for declaration by Hindus claiming that it was a temple is hopelessly barred by time and must fail.’

Religion and the Law

The other main reason given for why two-thirds of the property, including the portion beneath the central dome of the Babri Masjid, was given to Hindu claimants was that Hindus believed it was the exact birthplace of Ram. Is it true that is the belief of Hindus in general? What about those Hindus who believe that Ram was born not in Ayodhya but in the village of Gharram near Patiala, in the palace of his maternal grandfather, since it was customary for a woman to return to her parental home to deliver her first child? What about Hindus like Swami Agnivesh, who in an interview said that he believed Ram was born in Ayodhya, but not on that particular spot? Indeed, there are other temples in Ayodhya that are claimed to be the birthplace of Ram. Furthermore, Swami Agnivesh added that he believed Ram was a man, not a god, and God is something quite different. Indeed, millions of Hindus believe that the ‘Lord does not reside in temples, structures or forms of deities.’ Was any survey done to ascertain how many Hindus actually believe that Ram was born in that exact spot, given that ‘it is obvious to the meanest intelligence that it is impossible to prove that the birthplace of Lord Ram was under the masjid’ (Sachar 2010), and that ‘It is only the Sangh Parivar which initiated and propagated this notion for mobilization of Hindus for its political objective’ (Teltumbde 2010)?

Clearly, being neither theologians nor sociologists of religion, the judges were not competent to decide whether the belief had any validity, nor whether it was shared by the majority of Hindus. In fact, the belief that Lord Ram was born on that particular spot under the central dome of the Babri Masjid was promoted assiduously only by an extremist section of Hindus who sought to pursue their agenda by bloodshed and terror. To equate this section with all Hindus is as grotesque as equating the Taliban with all Muslims or the Ku Klux Klan with all Christians. In any case, should the judgment be based on faith and belief rather than the law? Those who uphold this principle on the grounds that ‘discussion cannot simply wish away the forms of self-consciousness that have characterised Indian society’ (Mehta 2010) should follow this argument to its logical conclusion: that untouchability, caste atrocities, sati, communal pogroms and the gruesome crimes incongruously referred to as ‘honour killings’ can all be legitimised in the name of not wishing away such ‘forms of self-consciousness’.

However, it must be recognised that this is not the first time that a supposedly secular court has ruled on the basis of faith and belief. Indeed, this is inevitable given India’s peculiar definition of secularism. Correctly rejecting as unviable and undemocratic a definition which requires the prohibition of all expressions of religious faith, Indian politicians have adopted the equally untenable definition of secularism as ‘Sarva Dharma Samabhav’ (all religions are equal). The fatal flaw in this definition is its assumption that each religion is monolithic, whereas in reality there are irreconcilable contradictions within each religion: women’s rights activists versus patriarchs and misogynists, social justice activists versus apologists for social inequality and oppression, non-violent pacifists versus those who justify cruelty and murder. What often happens is that it is the reactionary section that is seen to represent the whole community.

The year 1986 provides a graphic illustration of how this definition works in practice. That was the year in which the government opened the locks of the Babri Masjid and allowed Hindus to worship inside it in order to appease Hindu extremists. This provided sufficient fuel to the Ram temple movement for it to proceed to the demolition of the mosque in 1992, accompanied by the slaughter of thousands of Muslims. In the same year, following massive protests against the Shah Bano judgment of 1985 by Muslim fundamentalists, the government passed the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act, which put Muslim women outside the purview of Section 125 of the Criminal Procedure Code. The most negative consequence was not the loss of the pathetic sum granted to Shah Bano by the court, but the insistence of the Muslim Personal Law Board and others that faith takes precedence over the law, and that Muslims shall not be equal before the law nor get equal protection of the law. Muslim voices against the bill, especially those of women, were drowned out and ignored. The parties that campaigned for this legislation cannot, therefore, protest against the Allahabad High Court’s Ayodhya judgment with any degree of logic or consistency, since it has given them exactly what they demanded at that time.

This definition of secularism urgently needs to be replaced by one that defines it as non-discrimination between persons on the grounds of their religion, and a state that does not interfere in religious matters unless it becomes necessary to do so in order to protect the fundamental human and democratic rights of its citizens. In other words, people of all communities would be free to practice their own religion in their own way so long as they did not infringe on anyone’s fundamental rights. Matters of faith would be excluded from the purview of the law, as it should be in a secular state. It should be clear that this definition of secularism, and the gender-just, secular family laws that would be part of it, would be perfectly compatible with liberal and progressive interpretations of all religions. Only those who espouse reactionary and extremist interpretations of their religion – for example, sexist, casteist or communal interpretations – would have problems with this definition.

Religious Extremism and Fascist Politics

The Allahabad High Court rewarded the criminals who placed the Ram Lalla statue under the dome illegally in 1949 and destroyed the mosque in 1992 by giving them two-thirds of the property they had stolen, thus undermining the rule of law. But these were no ordinary, trivial thefts. They were part and parcel of a larger agenda to annul India’s democratic constitution and turn India into a Hindu Rashtra, by actors who made no secret of their admiration for Hitler and especially the way in which he had dealt with minorities. As such, it has to be seen in the context of the other landmarks on this journey, such as the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi in 1948, and periodic progroms against Muslims and Christians reaching two peaks, one in 1992-93 at the culmination of L.K.Advani’s bloodstained Rath Yatra, and the other in 2002 in Gujarat. What emerged after the genocidal violence in Gujarat – the laboratory of Hindutva – after 2002 is as important as the arson, gang-rapes, and mass murder: the fascist transformation of the state and society, which is still evident in Gujarat today.

Beginning in the 21st century, a new Hindutva strategy emerged: carrying out terrorist attacks, often on Muslim targets, and then blaming innocent Muslims for them. These unfortunates were arrested and tortured, their families torn apart, their health, reputation and job prospects ruined, before they were finally released for lack of evidence. Moreover, the whole community came to be branded as ‘terrorist’: a truly ingenious and diabolical way of killing several birds with the same stone, so to speak. This was the modus operandi in the Thane, Vashi, Parbhani, Jalna, Purna, Malegaon, Modasa, Goa, Hyderabad, Ajmer, Samjhauta Express and possibly other terrorist attacks (Gatade 2010). One of the most disturbing findings in these cases is the extensive involvement or complicity of personnel in state institutions. While the rath-yatra-communal-pogrom strategy is an overt assault on secularism and democracy, this infiltration of the state apparatus and assault from within is arguably even more dangerous. When the government finally took cognisance of this menace, there were howls of protest from the Sangh Parivar, including assertions that Hindus cannot be terrorists and terrorists have no religion. Both propositions are patently false. When Maharashtra Anti-Terrorist Squad Chief Hemant Karkare unearthed incontrovertible evidence that saffron-clad Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur and Swami Dayanand Pandey had played key roles in the Malegaon terrorist attack of 2008, he was proving precisely that Hindus could be terrorists (Sify News 2008). And a quick glance through history and around the world shows that adherents of any religion and none can become terrorists if their interpretation of their own religion or political philosophy justifies such acts.

Building a Ram temple on the very spot where a mosque had been demolished carries a powerful symbolic value in this context, connoting the crushing of a minority community in order to establish the absolute dominance of Hindutva. The real issue is whether Muslims in India are equal before the law and have equal protection of the law as the constitution guarantees or not. The choice is not between masjid and mandir, but between democracy and Hindu Rashtra.

Justice Sharma’s judgment can be seen as a full endorsement of the Hindutva agenda, but the majority judgment is more complex. Its intention, perhaps, was to appease the Hindu extremists and avert a repeat of the ghastly violence of 1992-93 by giving them two-thirds of the land, while simultaneously pacifying the Muslim litigants by giving them one-third of their property. But it is a dangerous mistake to think that extremists can be appeased by giving them what they want. The lesson to be learned from what happened between 1986 and 1992 is that appeasement only encouraged the Sangh Parivar to engage in more violence. There are already indications that the High Court verdict is having the same effect, with demands by the VHP that the entire plot should be given to the Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas so that they can build a grand Ram temple there (Parashar 2010). If this judgment were to be the final word on the subject, it is possible that the fuel it provides to the stalled Ram temple agenda could plunge the country into bloodshed again. It is therefore fortunate that appeals to the Supreme Court against it are being planned.

Religion and Politics: Towards a More Progressive Union?

The Supreme Court judgment of 1994 stated that the demolition of the Babri Masjid was ‘an act of “national shame”. What was demolished was not merely an ancient structure, but the faith of the minorities in the sense of justice and fairplay of the majority. It shook their faith in the rule of law and constitutional processes’ (Andhyarujina 2010). We therefore have reason to hope that the Supreme Court, unlike the Allahabad High Court, will restore faith in the rule of law and the Indian constitution. Restoration of the status quo ante prior to December 1949, when Muslims worshipped in the masjid while Hindus worshipped in the outer courtyard, could perhaps serve the purposes of both justice and reconciliation.

It is not a foregone conclusion that a verdict in favour of the Sunni Waqf Board would have resulted in a bloodbath. Compared with the shameful complicity with Hindutva forces of the state government of UP and paralysis of the state government of Maharashtra and the Centre in 1992, there was far greater preparedness to quell any violence in 2010. Equally importantly, there is more opposition to the Hindutva agenda in civil society, partly as a result of the tireless efforts of anti-communal activists. For example, on 23 September a dharna was called in Bombay by the New Trade Union Initiative and others, and the speakers called on workers to organise in their workplaces and neighbourhoods in order to safeguard peace and communal harmony when the verdict was announced. There are also ongoing attempts to bring the perpetrators of the crimes of 1992 and 2002 to justice. Despite all this, however, there was palpable dread, especially among Muslims, during the build-up to the High Court verdict, and no one can guarantee freedom from communal violence in the future. What more can be done to ensure peace and communal harmony?

It is worth looking at the answer to this question provided by Lata Mani, a feminist and socialist who is also a Hindu believer. In her book SacredSecular (2009), she draws a clear line between fundamentalism or extremism of all types (including Hindutva) and genuine spiritual practice, characterising the former as ‘centrifugal’ and the latter as ‘centripetal’: ‘Where the latter encourages the divinisation of humanness and the sacralisation of all activity, the former is explicitly concerned with self-aggrandisement, with fortifying the ego. It is no wonder then that greed, hate, violence and untruth abound in Right-wing rhetoric and action while authentic spiritual qualities of love, compassion and dispassion are conspicuously absent’ (p.12). She sees herself as part of the ‘small, faith-based Hindu voice within and outside of the religious establishment which has sought to challenge the credibility and authenticity of Hindutva. Its strategy has been to unravel the lies of Hindutva while stressing the essential teachings of love, peace, unity and dharmic living that are inherent in Hinduism as in all other wisdom traditions’ (pp.125-126). There is an implied self-criticism in her admission that ‘It is time for those who live and move in faith to be more outspoken in expressing faith-based anti-communal perspectives… For, as we have seen, the danger to Hinduism, if ever there was one, comes not from without but from within’ (p.94).

However, she also criticises the Left in India for its understanding of secularism as the negation of religion, and an attitude to people of faith that is patronising at best, suspicious or hostile at worst. Such a view fails to understand that science cannot answer questions like: Why should I not kill and rob someone if I can get away with it? Why should I stand in solidarity with those who are oppressed? Nor does it acknowledge that both secular and religious ethical systems and moral philosophies (Kant’s categorical imperative as much as the Buddha’s precepts or Jesus’s parable of the good Samaritan) are founded on principles that are outside the realm of science, yet equally valid. ‘The Marxist premise that religion is a distortion of reality has led to a distorted view of religion,’ she comments (p.21). ‘The problem with the Swayamsevak Sangh, Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal is not that they are religious. The problem with these organisations is that they are fascist. Religion is no more inherently conservative or fascist than secular philosophy is, by definition, liberatory. Many contemporary forms of organised violence and discrimination have a secular basis’ (p.123).

Mani points out that ‘Contemporary discussions all too often pose the secular and the spiritual as diametrically opposed perspectives with little in common, either in substance or objectives,’ and questions ‘this assumption by examining alongside one another the beliefs that ground progressive secular activism with those that shape the spiritual journey’ (Mani 2009, 143-144). She notes, ‘Equality, inclusivity, interdependence: all three are central to both progressive secular activism and centripetal spiritual philosophy…The spiritual idea that our true nature is expansive and loving parallels the secular notion of one’s “humanity”’ (pp.148, 150). In other words, ‘the dividing line is not between sacred and secular frameworks so much as between philosophies that seek to tear asunder and separate, versus those that seek to heal and unite’ (p.144).

This analysis suggests a way forward for secular activism that avoids the appeasement of reactionaries inherent in the sarva dharma samabhav definition of secularism as well as the exclusivism inherent in defining secularism as the negation of religion. Both definitions make the mistake of lumping all believers together and ignoring irreconcileable differences within each religion between reactionaries and extremists on one side, liberals and progressives on the other. In the process, both ignore the very existence of Hindus who believe that ‘This country, today, does NOT require temples for Ram or idols of Ram. It requires everyone of us to be a Ram, perfect law abiding citizen. The best solution for the Ayodhya dispute is to remove the idols of Ram and Sita which have been placed inside the Babri Masjid structure against all Agama Sastras, by people drunk with Abhimana and Ahamkara (such people are called hoodlums/thugs) and let our Muslim brothers to decide what they want to do with that structure’ (TheBigThinkg 2010). The alternative definition of secularism as the belief that all human beings are entitled to equal respect and consideration, equality before the law and equal protection of the law, equal rights and opportunities, would result in including millions of humane and progressive people of faith under the banner of secularism. This in turn would marginalise extremists and strengthen secular activism to a point where it could ensure peace and communal harmony under all circumstances.


Mandal, D. and Shereen Ratnagar, 2007, Ayodhya: Archaeology After Excavation, Tulika Books, 2007

Mani, Lata, 2009, SacredSecular: Contemplative Cultural Critique, Routledge, 2009

7 thoughts on “The Ayodhya Verdict: Rohini Hensman”

  1. A comprehensive and finely articulated positions essayed by Rohini. There are a number of questions raised that needs discussion. Two questions are striking in my view. First, the need to change the way in which secularism is understood. This needs to be addressed from a perspective that does not make secularism as either a dogmatic or static term. The mainstream position on secularism seems to be limited by a self-made and fixed category. This makes secularism resemble a defensive terrain in the public realm. Together with changing conditions secularism has to change correspondingly in the expansive sense by relating to the practical dimensions of everyday life. What Justice Khan says in the concluding part of his `verdict’ makes eminent sense. Going back in time he observes a `unique and unprecedented situation’ inside the boundary and compound of the Mosque, Hindu religious actually being worshiped along with offering of Namaz by Muslims. Accordingly this highlights `the fact of joint possession’. This fact may well have been more common than unique for the principle underlined in it which is that of maintaining difference within unity. There are numerous examples that may be cited to show the nature of co-existence that used to be configured in consciousness. However, in contemporary times, consciousness does not matter in the face of ideology. Still it has to be taken into account for drawing out changed contexts and configuration for the presence of secularism. Matters may have been, as they indeed were, far more harmonious between believers of different religions then as compared to the present but that was owing to the weight of consciousness, as it mattered more then rather than now. Now, this is the kind of observation needed for advocating the principle of tolerance. In a broader framework this reveals the shifting configurations of what it means to be secular. For instance, it does not mean the same now to younger generations as it did in 1991-92.

    Second, the position of the left seems to be even more stuck up ideologically and politically. There is no distinct position on secularism in public/civic life within the mainstream left. It is even worse when it comes to the Maoists. It’s a bit strange to find that the left here doesn’t have a distinct position on the religious sphere [ also communal- fascism]. There is some exhibition of indifference if not discomfort when the left is faced with questions related to the place of religion in the public sphere. This may have to do with the dogma ridden existence of polarities handed down from one generation to the next. The association with atheism looks passive rather than argumentative, disputational or discursive. The secular sphere is marked out in terms of opposition between belief and reason. All that I have heard and seen is a stretching of these poles to extremes when there is need for mediation or a middle term that can settle the extremeties from being torn apart. As abstractions, the respective poles are bereft of content and meaning. Yet we find the states ruled by left governments seething with public display of religious celebrations. And precisely by non-intervening in such celebrations inter-religious tension is rare. Of course there are instances when it has intervened but that has always brought disaster in the wake. When accused of pandering to minority communalism, the left has nothing to say because it has nothing to say on its own. Isn’t it ironical , once you scratch the surface a bit to find that almost the entire mainstream left happen to be communists by faith by being faithful to all the bad insights which accompany their ideology ? As for the rationalizers or justifiers from a naive past and to those who theorize on difference in the manner of irreconcilable oppositions by tracing them all the way back to enlightenment, well, enlightenment means `pure insight’ and so does faith. The former is an insight into the usefulness of utensils, for instance, but more so, as insight into void, empty-ness, which is assured of returning back to itself. Faith claims to possess insights from the outside into the real world or culture where it looses itself rather than returning to itself for shedding some light. Those termed communists by conviction rather than by study or science, by Marx, exemplify the pure insight of enlightenment. One of the Justices from the panel of three made it clear that his judgment is `less concerned about facticity of claims and counter claims,having more to do with the spirit of religious tolerance and co-existence’, not delving into history and archeology since he wasn’t sure whether he would find `a treasure of truth or monster of confusion confounded’ due to the importance placed on advocacy, and using the occasion of deciding on `a title suit of a civil nature that has no room for historical facts’.


  2. It is quite possible that Babar regime after the invasion of India did not demolish the Ram Temple to build the mosque as many claim. Archaeological Survey is a highly technical and as laymen neither the Justices nor the people are competent to agree or disagree. But in the old days it was a common norm for conquerers to demolish religious places of the vanquished to build their own religious places to give a shock effect on the common people and also as a symbol of the victory. This was not unique of the muslims, the romans and christians did the same. The justices delivered the judgement taking into consideration majority’s sentiment, ground reality and also with a desire that this thorny issue be buried for ever. As far as the part of judgment of Mr.Justice S.U. Khan, he has rightly said a mosque cant be set up on a disputed place when there is no derth of place to build a mosque for prayers. To a muslim, Mosques are God’s (Allah’s) place and a muslim can pray anywhere as is quite visible on streets of many cities. Even though there many be many reservations on the judgement, should it not be appreciated as a small step to help initiate discussion amongst the litigants and thereby bringing two major communities closer?


  3. I will add one more to your questions about Hindus’ belief regarding Ram. If you ask Tamil Hindus (especially, the Saivites), they will consider Ravan to be more moral than Ram. You are spot on with that argument.


  4. @ Sadman,Civil law is lot more grey than stark and clear cut even though it is subjected or kept under pressure for delivering stark judgments.That is so because it’s based on private property and arbitration. In this case, the civil nature of the suit is of a nature that builds up, or constructs itself. Because the jury is out we know that construction of claimants were wrong and based on impossible premise, far removed from real time in which we live. From the civil law perspective, the none of claimants could produce title deeds though it’s strange why cognizance of such a title, such as it existed on a stone inscription which was destroyed in 1992 wasn’t taken into account. Anyway, the absence of title deeds rule out property claims. Only Justice U C Khan was clear about the nature of the dispute from a legal angle, as based within the framework of civil law. The norm of possession is only applicable in the absence of property rights.Any judgement flowing out of normative standards falls in the grey area.It appears to be arbitrary or a mix of un-codified customary laws and codified civil laws or as paradoxical. The division of the place by 2/3 measure is purely arbitrary, its relation with 1/3 is justified by the criteria of co-possession and the mixture of customary and civil code; and taken together the `verdict’ is paradoxical. What justice Khan did was to narrow the case down to simplicity, the preference for moving from the least known or unknown to a hypothesis of legal preference. The ethical criteria was derived from the civil realm as mutual tolerance.
    Simplicity preference instead of further complexification translates to a reasonable level of reception of the verdict by society at large.


  5. ROHINI,
    i have no doubt in my mind that there are atheists who are misogynists and supporters of capitalism, and theists who are neither against women nor for capitalism. but this only says that human beings are complex–a trivial truism. lata’s point is found in charles taylor’s tome–a secular age. now, taylor, incidentally once-upon-a-time prof. of mine, has been arguing against the marxist/anarchist/atheist-left for decades. he is a practising christian. so any argument against religion is taken against himself (as an ad hominem argument). i am mentioning this because it is true of believers we meet in everyday life. like taylor,their identification with religion cannot be disturbed; hence, negating that is an almost impossible task, which you recognize. but, however hard taylor may try, there is no good quintessence of religion. even if one grants him that, it is inseparable from religion’s historically developed instrumentalites of sexual repression,violence,power and domination. the poison that religion has spread for several centuries is too serious and dangerous to ignore. it has to be confronted and removed from the body politic. this is critical praxis that has to evolve; consequently, not an imposed negation. i must add that i completely disagree and distance myself from lenin/stalin/ mao kind of eliminatory politics.
    how does one walk along with progressive believers is a highly problematic agenda. politically speaking, i am not sure how far they would go. all major religions support some form of inequality especially, gender inequality. further, i think there is a thin line between them and religious fanatics( i am working on religion and fanaticism).


  6. lest i be misunderstood let me clarify something. religion will not disappear simply by shouting from rooftops. in other words, militant atheist’s dogmatic condemnation is not going to make people question religion(the key word is: dogmatic). atheists like peter singer, daniel dennett, julian baggini emphasize the importance of dialogue with believers( some of them you can watch on youtube).


  7. I’d like to start with a few caveats, to get them out of the way.
    1. I share Ms Menon’s And Ms Hensman’s shock, dismay and disgust at the verdict.
    2. I understand the need to debate its (il)legality and think G. Arunima, Biswajit Roy and Rajinder Sachar have done a good job of starting out in this direction.
    3. I also recognise pace Harsh Mander that this judgment is a question of how we see India (though i don’t go all the way with him).
    4. I, however, am more than a little uncomfortable with Lata Mani’s (and Roshini Hensman’s endorsing of her) many Hindus many Muslims all-be-happy-like-Gandhi-said solution. Although I agree with where a rose cellar is coming from, my discomfort arise more from the de-politicized nature of the imagined solution

    That said, I wish to make three small points. Firstly, How do we start thinking through the idea of religion/politics and therefore of secularism. Although the debate was generated by the HC judgement, can it enable a line of thought that moves past the legalist/stateist paradigm of secularism into something perhaps more political (revolutionary not conservative [which is what the judgement was: Moving beyond the legal into the conservative political])
    For instance, how does this judgement stand viz the debates around the UCC? If the Sharia is something that one would want to imagine into our social fabric then why not ramu lala? (I haven’t thought this through completely. Am just putting this out there as a thought.)

    Secondly, very little has been said by Muslim activists/intellectuals themselves. I don’t read much but the general tenor has been grave despondency, some relief and a deafening silence. The manner in which the debates have been proceeding have left the Indian Muslim in a rather passively objectified space. I understand that this space has been 60 years in the making and is the result of prodigious amounts of violence both physical and hegemonic.

    Which takes me to my third point. While much as been said on what is a Hindu after Why I am not a Hindu, the debate about what is a Muslim has gotten stuck either in the rabid Hindu right’s not-Indian-enough nonsense or in the security state’s terrorist nonsense. I think somewhere in this answer is a way through the mess this judgement has created.
    I refer here to the Pasmanda Muslim movements in Bihar and UP. In trying to think through Islam, to localise it, historicize it and revolutionise it, “low caste” Muslims are asking serious questions of the high and imam(ity), and in doing so are challenging both the Muslim orthodoxy and the conservative “upper”caste Hindus.
    This seems to be, to me, the only space other than the jihadi fringe that is making an empowered and serious political claim/ demand on state and society. (outside of Kashmir).
    Now where this offers some possibilities for secularism in India, is in its dual deployment of caste and religion both in political aggregation and in entitlement seeking. Now this a tad different from the Sachar entitlements for the “poor” Muslim.
    I feel that the expression of a working solidarity between the Bahujans and the Pasmandas will write a secular theory in practice (that is informed by cultural concerns that are finally not brahminical) that undermines both the religious right’s conservative politics and serves to de-ghetoise and de-terrorise (in the sense of being terrorised, not of being a terrorist) the vast majority of Indian Muslims.

    I don’t mean for this to sound like a solution, but i appologise that it’s come out that way.


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