​​Ayodhya Judgement: The struggle of remembering against forgetting

Feb 01, 2024
By PUCL Bulletin Editorial Board

The inauguration of the Ram Temple by the Prime Minister of India in Ayodhya marked a seminal moment in Indian history. The Prime Minister in his speech repeatedly invoked the birth of a new era, the end of an era of slavery and the beginning of a golden era. The act of consecration of the temple as part of the history of India, must be read as an act of erasure of the secular history of a plural and diverse Indian republic devoted to the constitutional ideal of equality of all persons regardless of faith or creed. 

The attempt to forge a national spectacle of pomp and power where the power of the state merges with the power of religion goes against the tenets of the Constitution. What was core to all our founding fathers was the foundational notion that in the Indian republic, the state would not be identified with any one religion.

Gandhiji in 1946 wrote in Harijan, ‘I swear by my religion. I will die for it. But it is my personal affair. The State has nothing to do with it. The State will look after your secular welfare, health, communication, foreign relations, currency and so on, but not my religion. That is everybody’s personal concern’

Jawaharlal Nehru in 1945 wrote, ‘I am convinced that the future government of free India must be secular in the sense that the government will not associate itself directly with any religious faith but will give freedom to all religious functions.’

Babasaheb Ambedkar was prescient in his warning that, ‘If Hindu Raj does become a fact, it will, no doubt, be the greatest calamity for this country.’

The Supreme Court in SR Bommai v Union of India, laid down that secularism was part of the basic structure of the Indian Constitution. As Justice Verma observed, ‘whatever the attitude of the State towards the religions, religious sects and denominations, religion cannot be mixed with any secular activity of the State. In fact, the encroachment of religion into secular activities is strictly prohibited.’

It is this understanding that the Indian state will represent all Indians and not just one section of Indians which is forgotten.  The inauguration of a Hindu temple by the Prime Minister is a symbolic erasure of the very core of the principle of secularism. The message being unequivocally communicated from the top is that the state is identifying itself with one religion and even more specifically, a singular interpretation of the Hindu religion.

The Narendra Modi administration pulled out all stops in making this inauguration a state affair. The union government declared a half day holiday closing all central government offices, hospitals, PSU banks, central institutions and other central industrial establishments. In Assam, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Uttarakhand and Madhya Pradesh, it was announced that the day will be observed as a dry day in view of the event. While UP and Rajasthan state governments declared that all meat shops must remain closed on the day, several other states imposed restrictions on them to operate only for half a day. Since the Maharashtra state government declared a public holiday, both domestic stock markets remained shut. The official Facebook page of the UP state government invited people to rallies leading up to the inauguration. The state tourism and culture departments worked in concert to have bhajans sung from Makar Sankranti Day, January 15, to January 22 at temples across all 75 districts. These are only the tip of the iceberg in terms of actions taken by governments for this religious event.

Multiple Hinduisms 

This is nothing but an attempt to convert plural Hinduisms and make it a monotheistic state ideology. There are multiple interpretations of Hinduism itself. Not all believe that Ram was born in the spot where the temple is. Within Ayodhya itself there are multiple temples which as a matter of faith claim to be the birthplace of Ram. Other traditions make the  point that worship of God should mean not the construction of a temple but perfecting oneself as an ideal human being. As 12th century social reformer, poet and founder of Veerashaivism, Basavanna put it:

The rich
Will make temples for Siva
What shall I
A poor man,
My legs are pillars,
The body the shrine,
The head a cupola
Of gold.
Listen, O lord of the meeting rivers,
Things standing shall fall,
But the moving ever shall stay.

In fact Basvanna’s poem is an apt response to the emotional conclusion  of the Prime Minister at the inauguration when he is reported to have stated, ‘Our Ram Lala will no longer live in a tent. Our Ramlala will now reside in this divine temple’. Clearly India’s plural and diverse faith traditions, with Basavanna as an exemplar, explore a deeper idea of spiritual faith by eschewing  temples which are seen as centers of pomp and wealth and turning inwards in the search for God. 

The history behind the Ram temple which was inaugurated at Ayodhya should be remembered.  It is not just a temple which represents the  pomp and  power which would have been so alien to Basavanna,  but also draws from a history drenched in blood, deception and violence. January 22, 2024 represents a coming together of force and the law, where force successfully bends the law towards its unconstitutional objectives. 

As the Prime Minister acknowledged, January 22, 2024 would not have happened without the green signal being given to the building of the temple by the Supreme Court judgment which awarded the entire land on which the Babri Masjid stood to ‘Ram Lalla’. The tragedy of the judgment was that it chose to overlook two acts of illegality, the illegal installation of the idols in 1949 and the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992  and rewarded the ideological forces who were behind these illegal acts.

Illegal installation of the idols 

The first important event in independent India which signified that the secularism of the Indian state would be challenged was the illegal installation of the idols and the consequent legitimation of that illegal act by the Indian state. The FIR on 23. 12. 1949, filed post the installation of the idols read:

A group of 50-60 persons have entered the Babri Masjid by breaking open the locks of the compound and also by scaling the walls and staircases and placed an idol of Shri Bhagwan in it and scribbled sketches of Sita, Ramji etc in saffron and yellow colours on the inner and outer walls of it. …Committers of crime Ram Das, Shukla Das, Sudarshan Das with 50-60 persons names not known have desecrated the mosque by trespassing the mosque through rioting and placing idol in it.  

What is acknowledged as a crime of desecration and forcible entry as per the FIR by the State is not treated as one by other arms of the state. The day the FIR was lodged was also the day the District Magistrate allowed two or three persons to offer ‘bhog’ at the disputed structure to the idols which were illegally installed.  

This alteration in the status quo which was done in collusion with the executive authorities finally received a judicial seal of approval in 1951 with the Civil Judge, Faizabad granting a temporary injunction to the Hindu plaintiffs, ‘restraining from interfering with the pooja as at present carried on.’ 

The judiciary legitimized the illegal act by granting a temporary injunction against removing the idols on the ground that the ‘status quo should be maintained’. Thus the chain of events unleashed by the placing of the idols under the domes of the Babri Masjid in a move which the state recognized as criminal results in the Executive recognizing limited rights of worship for the Hindus in the mosque itself. With the legitimisation of that illegal act, a mosque was forcibly turned into a temple, albeit with limited rights of worship. 

The right wing forces had tasted blood and were not satisfied with the status quo. The locks were opened in 1986 through a judicial decision which was questionable in law. As Justice Khan’s succinct opinion in the High Court opinion on the Babri Masjid legal dispute put it, ‘The opening of the locks catapulted the dispute at the national (rather international) level. Prior to that no one beyond Ayodhya and Faizabad was aware of the dispute. The order dated 01.02.1986 triggered a chain reaction leading to the demolition of the structure on 06.12.1992.’ 

The demolition of the Babri Masjid 

The ambition of Hindutva organisations to escalate what started as a land dispute to a hate-driven demand for complete ownership of the property was evident in the nation-wide campaign they ran. Karsevaks across the country organised communally charged rallies inciting hatred, threatening violence against Muslims. On December 6, 1992, the nation watched in horror, as more than one lakh people vandalised and violently demolished Babri Masjid turning it to dust. It is estimated that almost 2,000 people, most of whom were Muslims, died in riots that followed across the country. 

The Liberhan Commission set up to probe the demolition was categorical in its conclusion that:

The leadership provided by the RSS, BJP, VHP and the other mutating and constantly transforming organizations like the Hindu Mahasabha and the Jan Sangh, in furtherance of the suspect theories of the founders  of these organizations were consistent and unabashed. The ends are all that matter to the core group of thinkers and the destruction of the disputed structure was only one victorious battle in their ongoing campaign against secularism and the multicultural society, clothed in the grab of religion…    

As Justice Liberhan notes, the entire UP administration under Kalyan Singh colluded in the demolition of the Babri Masjid. The new fact which had been established on a ground drenched with blood was that there was no disputed structure anymore and instead the dispute was over vacant land in which the Ram idols continued to be there. 

Taking advantage of two illegalities 

It is these two illegalities which the Supreme Court ignores in its judgment handing the vacant land (because the mosque has been demolished) to ‘Ram Lalla’. The judges take advantage of the change in status quo effected by wholly illegal means to award the land to ‘Ram Lalla’. 

The only reason the idol of Bhagwan Ram exists as a claimant is because the idol was illegally smuggled in 1949. Idols have a legal personality and are represented by the Shebait or any worshipper. In this case the next friend of Sri Ram and Janam Asthan was Deoki Nandan Agarwal who as per the documents before the Court was a member of the VHP.

The Supreme Court in its judgement on November 9, 2019, made observations that ‘the desecration in 1949 leading to the ouster of Muslims and the eventual destruction on 6 December 1992 constituted a serious violation of the rule of law.’ Nonetheless it handed over the entire land to the Hindu petitioners, reasoning somewhat speciously that the Hindu petitioners had a better title to the entire land.  

The law followed force, clothed naked force with the garb of legality and legitimized it. It refuses to stand for the principle that no wrong doer can benefit from a wrong he or she has perpetrated. The difficult question which should have been alluded to at the very least was the fact that the demolition was the outcome of a concerted campaign carried out by the Sangh Parivar since independence. At each step along the way, the Sangh was aided and abetted by elements of the state. Right from the installation of the idols to the demolition of the Babri Masjid, the state was complicit. The wrong doer (who installs the idol and demolishes the Babri Masjid) is rewarded. 

The final imprimatur on this business of allowing law to legitimize force is by the Supreme Court in its unsigned opinion handing over the land to ‘Ram Lalla’. The only lingering and inadequate recognition of injustice done, lies in the Supreme Court directing the ‘allotment of alternate land to the Muslims for the construction of a mosque and associated activities.’ The allotment is deemed necessary as the ‘Muslims were dispossessed upon the desecration of the mosque on 22/23 December 1949 which was ultimately destroyed on 6 December 1992.’ 

It is this history of wrongs, deceptions and illegalities which are the very foundations of the Ram Temple. At this moment of overwrought sentiment, it behoves us to pause a minute to reflect on whether foundations of blood, violence and deception can bode well for our collective future.