Shorts In The Dark

Civility and the Ayodhya verdict

Compared to three decades ago, the response to the recent Ayodhya judgement has been muted.

 |  Shorts In The Dark  |  5-minute read |   16-11-2019
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Let’s flashback to 1992, the year the Babri Masjid was demolished. I am in Allahabad, now Prayagraj, a student of class 11 in Boys’ High School.

My best friend is Sanjay, the son of a local businessman. We are both musicmad teenagers; it’s Sanjay who introduces me to the Pet Shop Boys’ Introspective album, and David Bowie and the Tin Machine. In the evenings we do the usual small-town things, hang out at downtown soft-drink booths and drink Lehar Pepsi, wait to catch a glimpse of our crushes in Civil Lines, go browsing in the four cassette stores in the area.

A change from 1992

In the days leading up to the demolition of Babri Masjid, I see Sanjay changing. At close quarters. I see the saffron radicalisation of my close friend.

The Bruce Springsteen poster in his bedroom goes down and an ‘Om’s poster takes its place. A sticker bearing the legend ‘Mandir vahin banayenge’ replaces ‘Make love not war’ on Sanjay’s Kawasaki Bajaj. In the evenings, Sanjay hits the right-angled roads of Civil Lines on his bike; gangs of middle-class English-speaking Hindu lads, all clad in saffron t-shirts and bandanas, chanting the slogan on the sticker.

The conversations have taken on a different hue: Rampant Islamophobia twinned with the sense of a triumphant Hindu resurgence. India has changed. India Today’s cover headline sums it up: ‘India’s Shame’. Sanjay, an avid reader of the magazine, is disappointed with the issue. I tell this anecdote because compared to those days, the response to the recent Ayodhya judgment has been muted. 

There were no obscene celebrations on the streets. In the 17 intervening years, the Ram temple, it seems, has lost some of its emotive power. Prime Minister Narendra Modi sounded more like Jawaharlal Nehru when he stressed on unity in diversity while addressing the nation. Baba Ramdev declared on national TV that Hindus shouldn’t tease and provoke their Muslim brethren: “Musalman bhai ko chidhao mat.” He said he would donate money for the new mosque to be built on five acres and requested Hindus to donate as well. Lip service, even if not sincere, is important in a democracy. It lends an air of civility to public discourse.

All sections of society in general, all major political parties, as well as all pillars of our democratic edifice deserve to be commended for this.

As a confirmed atheist, I believe that religion can only take us backwards. I know religion has given us music, architecture and literacy but it’s also responsible for a lot of spilt blood, which could have been avoided.

The Hindu Right’s obsession with the past prompts the question: Will there be an end to it at some stage? Or have we entered a stage of permanent infinite regress: after Ayodhya, Kashi and Mathura, and so on? A grand Sita temple is being built in Phalswari, Uttarakhand, where Sita is supposed to have taken Samadhi. An ancient religion starts from scratch again.

India’s ‘Holy land’

It’s a leap of faith to insist that Ram Lalla was born at that very spot in Ayodhya. If millions believe it so, then so be it. As far as faith goes, the Supreme Court judgment puts to rest Hindu anxiety about the historical validation of mythology. The judgment fixes the historicity of Ram, bringing him on a par with Jesus Christ and Prophet Mohammed. Ayodhya then becomes the equivalent of Bethlehem and Mecca. The next step is to yoke Ram to material progress. More than faith, Ayodhyawasis are certain that the Ram temple will bring in religious tourism, which will be good for everybody concerned. The religious tourism industry employs people of all faiths.

In this view, the Ram temple is less about cultural hegemony and more of an economic booster shot for the region. Around the time the judgment was delivered, a news snippet appeared about tourists being charged a £100 for a couple of hot dogs in Rome. The owner defended the high prices on the menu, citing the eatery’s proximity to the Vatican. Will a samosa now cost Rs 500 in Ayodhya?

No end to animosity 

Two days before the judgment, in a Dehradun barbershop, I came across a Muslim barber and his Hindu customer gently ribbing each other. The barber was amused that the Hindu gent didn’t eat rice on Thursdays. “But why,” asked the barber. “Because on Thursdays each grain of rice is like a worm,” responded the customer. Everyone in the shop giggled. The conversation moved seamlessly to Ramzan and impending Eid. On the ground the two communities co-exist, like they have for centuries.

The BJP’s stated goal of Hindu Rashtra is realised in some measure every week. Except that in Kashmir the locals are voluntarily keeping shop shutters downed and absorbing hits to the business. In Ayodhya, Muslims cancelled the Barawafat feast and took down illuminations. Clearly, one side is happy and the other is not.

When Muslims try to ‘mainstream’ that too is met with resistance. In Banaras Hindu University, the appointment of a young Muslim as a lecturer in Sanskrit is being opposed by the RSS-affiliated Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, on the grounds that a Muslim cannot teach them their ‘dharma’.

The BJP needs to draw a line in the sand. Meanwhile, it will do well to remember that one day, when even the worm will turn.

(Courtesy of Mail Today)

Also read: Supreme Court verdict on Ayodha tells the nation it's time to move on

Writer

Palash Krishna Mehrotra Palash Krishna Mehrotra @palashmehrotra

The writer is the editor of 'House Spirit: Drinking in India'

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