City City Bang Bang, Columns

The other reconciliation

It seems like India has moved on, is the general consensus. We have seen no violence either before or after the Ayodhya verdict and truth be told, the various prescriptions by different stakeholders to maintain peace have seemed a little unnecessary given the general lack of interest in the subject today. The surprising High Court verdict has created a sense of possibilities in an issue where it seemed that nothing new was imaginable. Of course, the matter is being appealed and we are back to the court again, so materially nothing has changed on the ground.

Has India really moved on? It is easy to say so when it comes to Ayodhya, for as an issue it has moved well beyond its glory days. Nobody has been agitating for a verdict and not many would shed tears if the Supreme Court takes another 18 years to deliver its final verdict. But the distrust between those whose espouse the secular view and those who do not is a deep and growing one and one in which mutual abuse has replaced dialogue as the preferred mode of interaction.

The secular anxiety about those who carry the Hindutva banner, in whatever form, is easy to understand. Both Babri Masjid and Gujarat are good reasons why this should be the case. One has only to scroll down to the comments section of any article on the internet that espouses the secular cause and see the amount of rabid abuse that this worldview attracts. It is difficult to treat this kind of a diatribe as part of any rational discourse, but not everyone on that side of the fence holds such extreme views and tarring anyone who believes that there is a case on the Hindu side with a single brush is a bit extreme. In any case, the implicit certainty that the liberals have in their own belief system too stands on shaky ground.

Take the reaction to this verdict, for starters. Why has the decision to allow both the temple and mosque to come up on the disputed site met with such widespread liberal approval (there is a section which does disapprove of the ‘panchayati verdict and more of that later)? In the build-up to the verdict, when the same people were asked to imagine a solution, hardly anybody would have argued in favour of a temple. There were enough suggestions of an inter-faith structure, a park or a hospital but few that envisaged the accommodation of a temple at the site. And yet, now that the court has said what it has, why does it seem fair to the same people?

The truth is that the secular minded find it very difficult to acknowledge the legitimacy of any demand couched in terms of religion when it come to the Hindu view but extremely easy to do so when it is framed through other faiths. Part of the reason for the same is the responsibility felt by the majority community to go out of its way to protect the interests of the minority and this is a noble instinct. But it does lead to many instances where the arguments start bordering on the intellectually dishonest and where we can see double standards being blatantly employed. At a fundamental the idea of secularism has come to mean a deep anxiety about anything that smacks of majoritarianism rather than a focus on separating religion from actions of the state. As a result, the secularist often ends up defending that which is not secular in an attempt to provide balance and prevent the majority from overwhelming the less powerful minority.

Take the case of the Kashmiri Pandits, for instance. Here is another minority group that has visibly been uprooted from their homeland, but the instinct to protect the minority seems strangely lukewarm in this case. For that matter, can we imagine a secular championship of the cause of the Hindu minority in Pakistan? Anyone doing so would be instantly labelled a right wing extremist. The inconsistencies are many; we rail at gender inequality issues but carefully skip those related to the Muslim community. The moral police too gets differential reactions; few defended the lecturer who could not teach in Bengal without a veil and Taslima Nasrin has found it difficult to find refuge even among the Communist-run government.

There is a strand of opinion that argues that this court verdict is unjust because it sacrifices history for faith. To accept that because Hindus believe this is the site of Lord Rama’s birth it is indeed worthy of being recognised as such, is to open the floodgates on many such ‘imagined’ contentions. In a strictly technical sense, there is merit in this view. But in a larger sense, isn’t this true of all faiths? When the Danish cartoon controversy broke out, that too was based on the belief that the Prophet could not be represented in any pictorial form; if that faith-based belief could be respected, why should the verdict be held to another standard?

The fear of the ‘other’ community is not restricted to Hindus, or any one religious group. Matters of faith create divisions across the world and have always done so. By hardening the lines between those who acknowledge the role of religious identity in our lives and those who don’t, we are creating a climate where dialogue becomes increasingly difficult. The Ayodhya verdict is an excellent opportunity to attempt some sort of a reconciliation not only between the communities but between those who call themselves secularists and those who don’t.

At the end of day, neither the masjid nor the mandir are meaningful by themselves. Both are symbols of larger ideas- the re-building of the masjid signifies the right that all faiths in India have that in the India of today, no faith can be trampled upon in a fit of majoritarian frenzy and the building of the mandir an acknowledgment of the resentment harboured by a faith for their perceived historical repression. By building both the masjid and the mandir, we have the opportunity of recognising that faith continues to be an important part of our lives, and that we cannot sidestep it by building some other structure, as well as providing some closure to the historical baggage carried by both communities. This would work of course, if this ended all such debates permanently. Build one masjid and one temple and then let us move on for all time to come.