The landmark verdict by India's supreme court regarding the former site of the famous Babri Masjid, which was demolished by a large mob of Hindu nationalists in 1992, has raised concerns both in the country and beyond. The court's having awarded Hindus with control over the disputed site to make way for the construction of a temple while awarding Muslims with five acres of separate land for a new mosque is certainly a controversial decision favoring one religion over another. The decision goes against not just residents of Ayodhya, but people across the region, who are proud of the heritage of its Mughal past – a pride that found symbolism in a mosque built by the empire's own founder, Babur. The decision flies in the face of those who find in the Mughals a source of pride and hurts both Muslims and secular-minded individuals across the world.
THE HISTORICAL PROCESS The Ayodhya issue has been a long debate among Hindus and Muslims over how to share land in the location of both Rama Janmabhoomi (the deity Rama's birthplace) and the Babri Masjid mosque, with roots that are political, historical and socio-religious. While many Hindus believe that the Babri Masjid was actually constructed on the site of a Hindu temple the Muslim invaders demolished at the birthplace of Rama, Muslims claim that they worshipped at the mosque until December 1949, when some Hindus placed an idol of Rama in the mosque.
The dispute has led to several riots in India since 1855, but the 1992 riot occurred mainly due to the demolishing of a mosque by a large group of Hindu activists belonging to the Vishva Hindu Parishad and allied organizations, resulting in deaths of more than two thousand Indians – mostly Muslims. THE START OF LEGAL DEBATE As is well known, the historic Babri Mosque issue then went into court. In September 2010, the Allahabad High Court awarded the site equally to the Hindu denomination Nirmohi Akhara, the Hindu Mahasabha party and the Sunni Waqf Board, but the latest verdict totally disregards the Muslims’ reasonable claim and indirectly supported the 1992 act of desecration instead of punishing those responsible for the destruction of such a historical site. While it is true that Ayodhya was a Hindu dominated region before the arrival of Muslims, there is no convincing evidence, as per the archaeological survey-based observation of the Indian Supreme Court and some historical facts, of a Rama temple having been built at the disputed site before the construction of the famous mosque. With the verdict, the rule of law has, thus, been determined not by reason, but rather by hard-line Hinduism reflecting the long anti-Muslim agenda of Indian Hindu fundamentalists including the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) and the Vishva Hindu Parishad, which have long been seeking to form a conception of Indian nationality based on Hindu religious lines.
Indeed, all related interventions – from the placement of Idol in 1949 and the government’s order prohibiting Muslims from entering the mosque to the 1986 decree by the district judge of Faizabad allowing general Hindu to enter the mosque, the 1992 demolition of the mosque bykar sevaksand the 2010 verdict providing lands to Hindus and Nirmohi Akhara – reflect the encroaching Hinduist agenda shown in just the latest faith-based verdict. A relevant question then arises: Will the verdict put an end to past religious hostilities or close gradually deepening religious splits? I think it will surely not, even if the aggrieved parties have all, without exception, called for calm in light of the decision. On the one hand, Indian Muslims have not taken the verdict positively, even if they have not yet declared any movements nor engaged in communal conflict. Indeed, the All India Muslim Personal Law Board has rejected the court’s decision, while the Muslim Waqf Board, which initially accepted the decision, also expressed dissatisfaction. Additionally, Indian Muslims, who generally perceive the mosque as a holy site, may nourish deepening antagonistic attitudes toward Hindus due to deprivation and insult the verdict implies. On the other hand, the latest verdict, which has done away with the country's long-nourished secular ideology encompassed in the Nehruvian ideal and decisively led to the triumphalism for those who cling to a Hindutva ideology and could make Indian Hindus more fundamentalist and aggressive toward Muslims signaling intensifying religious fissures, which can sequentially have long-term negative impacts on the status of the minority Muslims. This could occur despite a large portion of Indian scholars/intellectuals, politicians and average Hindus holding pluralist views and being tolerant toward other communities, including Muslims. Indeed, India has a long history of communal harmony between Hindus and Muslims across various states. The grounds for further religious division and the possibility of additional oppression against Indian Muslims has been formed thanks to a number of other religiously biased initiatives – such as the 2019 Assam NRC and the Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019 targeting Muslims with repeated threats of possible encampment and deportation of unlisted Muslims – as put forth by the ruling BJP (or Bharatiya Janata Party), which holds extreme Hinduism and is well known for its hard-line standing against Muslims and promoting anti-Muslim sentiments since its coming to power in 2014. Within its current tenure (up to May 2014), the BJP, I further think, may leave no stone unturned for the firmer establishment of Hindutva ideology and its raucous supremacy over other religions, including Islam, at every possible turn. After all, the fact that the Babri mosque was built by an emperor who had the ultimate say in administering India, there is a legal basis. If the emperor’s order was wrong on religious grounds, the latest verdict, which is influenced by Hindu ideology, is subject to be the same conclusion. Since the Babri mosque is not only a religious site but also crowned the historical glory of the entire region, rebuilding the mosque, along with punishing the culprits who destroyed it, is more justifiable. Simultaneously, the Indian government and others – including politicians and scholars/intellectuals – have some undeniable roles to play for securing rights of and changing attitudes of Indian Hindus toward Indian Muslims. *Researcher on social, political, environmental and international issues based in Bangladesh