InternationalVOLUME 15 ISSUE # 08

Ayodhya – A challenge to secularist India

“The larger project of denying that people of all faiths enjoy equal rights under the constitution is now nearing completion,” observed The Hindu a day after the Indian Supreme Court made its landmark judgment in the Ayodhya case.

This is the best commentary on the famous Babri Mosque case, given by the Indian Supreme Court. How this court order would shape India’s image in the world is anybody’s guess! One doesn’t have to be a genius to predict the future of India. With this judgment, rightwing domination of last bastion of executive branch, the higher judiciary, is almost a foregone conclusion.

The BJP has never shied away from any confrontation with long cherished Indian values of secularism throughout its political history, especially while making its manifesto in 2014 and 2019 elections. Construction of the Ram Temple was a major campaign promise. In 1992, it was viewed as having facilitated in destruction of the Babri Mosque. L K Advani, a senior BJP leader and ex deputy prime minister, led the 1992 Rath Yatra, which brought down the 16th century Babri Mosque. The Supreme Court had called it a “crime” that “shook the secular fabric of India”. The demolition scarred Indian constitutional secularism forever.

The BJP ruled India from 1998 to 2004 under Prime Minister Vajpayee, whose government saw the Gujarat riots of 2002, the worst communal violence the world witnessed in recent times. About 2,200 Muslims were killed, mostly burnt alive, while the police and other law enforcement agencies looked on. Modi is the only person who was banned to travel to the US under the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) provision of the US Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) in the aftermath of the Gujarat carnage. The ban was only lifted when Modi became Prime Minister.

The riots brought Modi into the negative spotlight, but paved the way to his ascent to being the undisputed leader of the BJP. He also projected himself as a Hindu leader who could redeem the lost glory of Hindus by “confronting and defeating the ignominious history of enslavement of Hindus by Muslims”. Rightwing politics just discovered its poster boy in Modi.

Mob lynching has risen astronomically post-2014. Studies say 90% of hate crimes against minorities have occurred since his rise into power. Cow vigilantes are at liberty to pick and choose their targets since the state and people accept it to be new normal. Fires of communal hatred, stoked by rightwing nationalist Hindu funambulists have started to burn its own house. Mere a Muslim-sounding name became the reason for mob lynching of Sahil, a 23 years old Delhi resident this year. His crime: he dared to stop a street brawl between high caste and low caste Hindus, in an area inhabited by high caste Hindus. He was taken to be a legitimate target of lynching. Only when his identity was revealed that the press reported the gory details of his violent death. Bigotry eats its own children.

It appears as this atmosphere of fear is deliberately created by circulating videos of mob lynching of Muslims and other weak sections of society. Any attempt by families of victims to take recourse to law to punish perpetrators is yet to meet success. In August, courts released all offenders of a lynching case that occurred in broad daylight and was recorded live in a video. All six defendants of mob lynching a Muslim, Pehlu Khan, in Rajasthan were set free, since courts refused to accept mobile phone recorded videos as an evidence.

To add another dimension to the atmosphere of fear is the latest citizenship law, National Register for Citizen, which appears to be targeting Muslims in Assam and Bengal. After a deliberate exercise to ascertain as to who is “genuine” citizen of India and who is not, a final list was released, which excluded majority of Hindus, declaring them as non-citizens, along with Muslims and few others. The list scared Hindu voters and created a political storm for the BJP government. The BJP has assured Hindus that the law would be amended and only Muslims would be considered as “aliens”. The reason cited for the amendment is the difference between emigrants (Muslims) and refugees (Hindus), who moved from erstwhile East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, to India during the violent year of 1971.

Putting together all the pieces of the puzzle reveals a fascinating plan to marginalize minorities, especially Muslims, who were angered when in July this year, their personal law of instant divorce was amended by the parliament. Muslim social and political bodies considered it an encroachment of state into their personal law, which to them was against the spirit of a secular constitution. The BJP declared it another step towards introducing uniform civil code for all Indians, in utter disregard of religious or social sensitivities of minorities.

August this year saw the curtailment of the constitutional status of the disputed state of Jammu and Kashmir from a state to a Union territory. This is the only Muslim majority state in Hindu majority India and has been seething with centrifugal tendencies for 30 years. Indian Parliament bulldozed the law in hurry and without consulting the Kashmir Assembly. A curfew and communication blockade have been enforced in IOK since August 5. Angela Merkel, German Chancellor, terms the situation in IOK as “unsustainable.” That’s the softest way of conveying concerns to a huge trading partner.

Domination of legislative and executive branches by the rightwing party is now a matter of fact. But recent judgments of Ayodhya cast an ominous shadow of a creeping influence of rightwing Hindu fundamentalist ideology within the ranks of the highest judiciary in India. To quote Scroll, an Indian daily, “What tilted the scales in favour of the Hindu side in the Ayodhya case was Supreme Court’s willingness to consider exclusive possession by the Hindus of just one part of the disputed site as valid grounds for awarding a title over the entire site (emphasis added).”

India has been torch-bearer of pluralist, secular and non-exclusionist state policy since Independence. It has prided on unity in diversity to accommodate minorities and marginalized communities. Any embrace of religious extremism and fundamentalism would neither be good for Indian democratic model nor would be conducive to regional peace and prosperity.