Pushing bigotry to the margins

The bhumi puja on August 5, 2020, at Ayodhya was the culmination of a long-drawn court battle that led to the Supreme Court’s final verdict on November 9, 2019. We may agree, disagree, celebrate or critique the verdict, but I stress its procedural correctness because this signifies that we are a democratic country that adhered to a judicial process. That is the only way we can hope to find some way of leaving behind animosity.

However, this does not mean we forget the injustices of the past. The Supreme Court was well aware of this pitfall and hence had this to say in its judgment, “The destruction of the mosque and the obliteration of the Islamic structure was an egregious violation of the rule of law,” and that “Justice would not prevail if the Court were to overlook the entitlement of the Muslims who have been deprived of the structure of the mosque through means which should not have been employed in a secular nation committed to the rule of law.” These are very important statements that send a clear message to the citizens of this country.

Yet, over the past few weeks, there have been articles in certain sections of the press that remind us of the sacrifices of the kar sevak s, turning those who lost their lives on that fateful day of December 6, 1992 into martyrs. Any loss of life must be mourned. But that should not take away from the illegality and immorality of the actions committed by those involved in the destruction of the Babri Masjid.

Reconciling with the past

I would place the blame for these deaths on the powerful individuals and organisations that instilled hate and anger across India. There were those who actually took part in the kar seva but many more stayed back at home and cheered. In some ways, these non-physical participants were more culpable than the actual participants because they provided the community impetus for such an action. While we need to move forward and not let old wounds fester, it cannot be by papering over the past. It has to come from publicly acknowledging and taking responsibility as a society for the injustice.

Organisations that encouraged, planned and executed this violent socio-religious movement have to be seen for what they are. Any attempts to use the construction of the Ram temple for their image makeover must be resisted by civil society. They use expressions such as ‘Sanatana Dharma’ and ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ to lure us into becoming part of a herd that promotes ‘othering’.

I am saying all this now, only because we are already hearing voices from their quarters that Mathura and Kashi are now ‘on the cards’. Even the Supreme Court judgment is being twisted into a vindication of the events that led to the demolition of the Babri Masjid. If we allow this to happen, we will be trapped in a very dark tunnel, leading to another cycle of deaths.

The Supreme Court warned us against such a possibility, by pointing to the Places of Worship Act, 1991: “Cognizant as we are of our history and of the need for the nation to confront it, Independence was a watershed moment to heal the wounds of the past. Historical wrongs cannot be remedied by the people taking the law in their own hands. In preserving the character of places of public worship, Parliament has mandated in no uncertain terms that history and its wrongs shall not be used as instruments to oppress the present and the future.”

Resisting polarisation

This message must reach every nook and corner of the country, enter our textbooks and become part of our cultures. We cannot allow anyone to push forward another religiously polarising agenda. For this not to happen, the judiciary too should uphold its dharma . Unless the people responsible for the demolition of the Babri Masjid are brought to justice, wounds will not heal. And this needs to happen soon.

But Ayodhya is only emblematic of the deep religious gorge that has divided our society from before Independence. We have to be cognisant of our own partaking in this culture of suspicion. We need to unlearn the falsities, half-truths and parochial ideas that have been implanted in our mind. But for tangible transformation to take place, places of learning have to look inward.

Secularism in the sense of a respect for every faith inheres in every religion, and we would realise that if we had an open mind. Educational institutions have to become places where inter-religious understanding is nurtured as it must be in a place of sensitivity. When that happens, students will come upon the beauty in all faiths. If our schools and colleges help children hold on to those moments of splendour, we will create an entirely new generation that will push bigotry to the fringes where it belongs.

T.M. Krishna is a musician and author