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Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid Dispute: Time to Bury the Communal Cauldron!

The Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid Dispute has been fuelling polarization in the state of Uttar Pradesh along religious lines for almost more than half-a-century and rocked the state with frequent violent disturbances. It even spread to the whole of the country causing repeated religious violence threatening the very fabric of modern India.  This indeed became a bane of the country since partition inflicting economic and human losses.
Owing to its sheer potential for frequently causing communal violence and bloodshed disrupting economic and social life, the dispute needs to be resolved once for all, that too, at the earliest for enabling the nation to tread its chosen path of economic development and the concomitant eradication of poverty across the country.
Of course, as a rational analysis of the problem calls for its historical background, let us look at first things first: The dispute is all about the ownership of a plot of 2.77 acres of land in the city of Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh where the Babri Masjid was constructed by General Mir Baqi in the 16th century. This very piece of land is considered by Hindus as sacred for they believe it to be the birthplace of Lord Ram, the most revered deity of Hindus. They indeed argue that the mosque was built on top of Ram temple. As against Hindus, Muslims argue that the mosque is their sacred place of prayer and Hindus desecrated it by placing idols of Lord Ram inside the mosque in 1949. Following these arguments, the gates of the mosque were locked and it thus remained shut for the next 40 years.
In 1986, during the tenure of Rajiv Gandhi as the Prime Minister, the gates were opened, of course, at the behest of the court. Within two days from the date of opening the locks, a group of Muslim lawyers filed a petition in Lucknow on February 3, 1986 praying for ordering that nothing more happens to the site. Accordingly, the court ordered for maintaining the “status quo.”
Later in 1989, just before the elections, Rajiv Gandhi evinced further interest in Ayodhya issue by sending his Home Minister, Buta Singh to Ayodhya to participate in a “shilanyas”—the symbolic temple foundation-laying ceremony. All this obviously escalated the dispute from a local issue to a national one—indeed placed the Hindus and Muslims on a collision course.
Finally, this collision ended up in the demolition of the Mosque by the participants of a rally that assembled at the premises on December 6, 1992. This stirred up communal riots across the major cities of north India. Notably, the Hindu-Muslim riots of Mumbai, the financial capital of India, caused 900 deaths and damaged properties running into thousands of crores.
Immediately after the demolition of the mosque, a makeshift temple to Ram Lalla, was built by Hindu activists. In the meanwhile, a new law was enacted by the Government of India to acquire a large area of land in Ayodhya that included the site where the mosque stood. It also set aside all the suits that claimed title to the site, but allowed Hindu worship to continue there. Simultaneously, a presidential reference was made to the Supreme Court: Did a “Hindu temple or any Hindu religious structure” exist where the mosque had been built in 1528?
The legality of this enactment and the Presidential reference were challenged by Muslim representatives stating that the government cannot acquire a holy site. The Supreme Court, by a majority decision, upheld the law acquiring the land, but declined to answer the question— Did a “Hindu temple or any Hindu religious structure” exist where the mosque had been built in 1528?—in the presidential reference, saying it was “superfluous and unnecessary”. Finally, law suits relating to property were transferred to the High Court in Lucknow from Faizabad.
In September 2010, a three-judge bench of Allahabad High Court, setting aside a lower court’s order, allocated two-thirds of the disputed site to Hindu groups, with the remainder going to Muslims. It also gave a ruling—obviously, based on a 272-page report submitted by the ASI which summarized its findings as: “indicative of remains which are distinctive features found associated with the temples of north India”—that the disputed spot was Hindu God Ram’s birthplace, that the mosque had been built after the demolition of a temple and that the mosque was not built in accordance with the tenets of Islam. But both parties appealed against the order in the Supreme Court.
Now, it is at the request of BJP MP Subramanian Swamy to constitute a bench to expedite the disposal of petitions filed challenging the judgment of Allahabad High Court order that the Supreme Court, observing that “These are issues of religion and sentiments”, suggested on March 21: “These are issues where all the parties can sit together and arrive at a consensual decision to end the dispute.” The Court, volunteering to mediate, if required, between the negotiators, directed the petitioner to inform the court about the outcome on March 31.
And thus, we are back to square one, for nine such attempts at arriving at an out-of-court settlement failed earlier. Although a solution for such a dispute of religious nature has to necessarily emerge from a perspective of generosity and a spirit of accommodation, there appears to be no such possibility, for warring groups are already airing their opinions in a belligerent tone.
In the light of this reality, the Court that has earlier stayed the High Court’s decree may have to expedite its hearing and give its verdict on the findings of the lower court and the merits of the appeal. For, it is apparent that negotiations over such strongly held religious passions would only vitiate the atmosphere further, and hence needs to be settled once for all by the Court alone. And sooner the better, for the aspirational India does not want to be pulled down by religious disputes any longer! 
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