The long-pending verdict in the Ayodhya case is out. The Supreme Court has ordered the construction of a Ram temple on the disputed land and ruled that a five-acre plot must be found for building a mosque in Ayodhya for Muslims as an alternative to Babri Masjid. I have tried to record the anxieties and reflection of the Muslim youth.
Every article on Babri Masjid demolition starts by talking about the age of the writer on December 6, 1992, and the author’s memories attached to the time of demolition. I was born in 1992 and was an 8-month-old at the time of demolition. For me, to imagine the fear and anxieties of Muslims who faced demolition of the Masjid in a democratic and secular country is impossible, but I wonder how difficult it must have been for those who kept their belief in democratic institutions after the direct and open attack on the place of their worship. Muslims need to be appreciated for the fact that they fought constitutionally for their rights on the land of the mosque.
Although I don’t have any memory of the demolition incident, I do remember when, in 2008, I asked my father (a secular person, who never let anyone in my family eat beef out of respect to the faith of fellow Hindus, and who says that faith does not have any logic and should be respected mutually) “why don’t we give up the land and settle the issue as our politics always remains surrounded by emotive issues, let’s talk about problems of our bread and butter?”. My father explained, “It’s not only about the mosque, but it’s also about the morale of a community because they have been directly attacked.”
At the age of 16, it was difficult for me to understand the essence, meaning, and sentiments behind his statement. At that point of time, the only thing that I wished was to close the chapter of emotional politics on temples and mosques forever. I did not think about the implications of such actions.
Before joining M. Phil in Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), I did not get an opportunity to read about the broader functioning of society and its processes. Prior to TISS, incidents were just events for me, and the process of liberation of thoughts started after joining TISS, and I started understanding the process of marginalisation of communities and how nation-state functions in a democracy. I got to understand what democracy means. In democracies, communities get the chance to be ‘heard‘, but this capacity evolves only when the communities acquire a capacity to ‘aspire’. Regular attacks on the cultural autonomy of the Muslims; frequent communal riots, mob lynching, and manifested hatred towards the Muslims witnessed in daily interactions dampened the spirit of Muslims, affecting their aspiration. The recent verdict will only further diminish their capacity to ‘aspire’.
I am not surprised by the verdict and was anticipating it because I visited one RSS Shakha (camp/branch) on November 7 in Mumbai and found the Shakha Pramukh (the head) going home-to-home requesting people to not react to the verdict and to maintain peace. The thought that struck me was that those who demolished the mosque in 1992, who used the path of violence to claim right over land of Babri Masjid, who murdered democracy in open daylight of December 6, are today preaching peace, knowing very well that the judgment has a high possibility to go to their favour.
For many, this verdict only impacts Muslims but I feel it has changed India forever. This verdict failed to address the violence that has been fomented by those who demolished the Babri masjid in 1992. I am aware of the fact that both the cases are different, but to win over religious minorities’ belief in democratic institutions, firstly, a verdict on the demolition would have come, and punishment would have been given to culprits. Today, many of them are in constitutional posts and enjoying benefits from the state.
The reason why I stated that the judgment would demoralise Muslims is that we do not have appropriate leadership to guide the community at this time of emotional cultural crisis. Leaders, who can show the right path to take and extend appropriate support, leaders who can assure Muslims to not lay down morale in a crisis situation.
In general, we can see two types of leaders who represent the community at various public platforms pertaining to the state and the civil society. On the one hand, we have an elite leadership who can speak good English and has excellent networks in the liberal civil society, who love to call themselves liberal but fail to understand the aspiration of the community and, many times do not even know the language through which an association with the community can be established and strengthened.
On the other hand, we have a clergy leadership who are champions of narrating how a Muslim should look like but do not understand that Muslims in India define themselves as Muslims in different ways. They do not understand the language that modern democracy requires for the purpose of effective communication and negotiations, a language that can force the wider society to listen to the concerns of the community.
The toughest part is to write about way forward for Muslims as it is not the first time that socio-political institutions have failed to respond to the problems of the community. Earlier, in the case of communal riots, people who fomented the riots, in the rare instances where they were under police or legal custody would get acquitted by the court. Perpetrators of mob lynching are, in general, living freely, even getting VIP treatment from the government.
So, one should not see this particular verdict in isolation, rather, it is a chain of similar actions that haunts Muslims in India again and again. I have stated earlier also, that what matters most is the morale of the Muslim community. It should not be compromised at any cost. We have to find a way beyond the emotionally-charged issues of ‘temples and mosques’, ‘Quran and Gita’.
My request to the youth studying in universities would be for them to visit their villages and towns, and talk to their families or neighbours and try to assure them of a better future through education. They should try to boost the confidence of the community members by narrating stories of their journey of success through education and lucrative jobs and try to convince the community members to required internal reforms. I know it is one-sided and not enough to address the present crisis in totality but is the first step in the way forward.
Anything and everything should be done to sustain the morale of the community because if that shrinks, then the process of marginalisation of the community cannot be addressed.
This article was first published here.