18 March, 2010

The Babri Masjid

The Indian Muslims have suffered grievously in several crucial areas of life due to sad aspects of the sub-continent’s history, specifically the partition. For all fine democratic traditions of India, the country’s Muslims undoubtedly face serious discrimination in virtually every sphere from security of life and property to employment, banking, education, civic amenities. Gujarat genocide and its aftermath are a painful example. Muslims, even capable and accomplished, are forced to live in ghettos and are deprived of the fruits of modern life, thereby perpetuating obscurantism.

I have been working for the innocent victims of the gruesome communal riots of Gujarat and have seen the helplessness and deprivation of these Muslims. Hundreds have been killed, thousands injured and the livelihood of lakhs jeopardized. Over two hundred Muslim religious places have been desecrated. When their survival, their livelihood, their own mohalla's mosque are at stake, surely they have a say in national disputes affecting them. I am not a religious Muslim, nor an Islamic scholar and, therefore, have no representative capacity to speak in the name of Islam. But since I have cried with the suffering Muslims and sacrificed much to share it by choice, I have a right to express my point of view on the Babri Masjid Ram Temple dispute.

The current status of the Babri dispute is that there is no conclusive evidence of Ram Janmbhoomi nor of the mosque having been built on Ram Temple, that the dispute is sub-judice, that the Muslim activists have undertaken to abide by the court verdict while the Hindu activists have not. The law as it stands is in favour of the Muslims.

Some Hindu leaders and political parties have successfully managed to project the disputed structure as the Ram Janmbhoomi, its acquisition and conversion as a symbol of Hindu resurgence. The large mass of Hindu conscience cannot be pacified without building a Ram Temple at the disputed site. And without the goodwill of the Hindus Indian Muslims cannot have a good future.

The Babri Masjid has become for the Indian Muslims, even if erroneously, an icon of their identity and an acid test of their tryst with the state of India. Its demolition has broken many a Muslim heart, mine included, and dented their patriotism. Its forcible conversion will necessarily alienate many Muslims which will augur badly for the nation. Without whole hearted Muslim participation India cannot attain its rightful destiny.

But Babri Masjid, in strictly religious terms, is fortunately no more special than the thousands of other mohalla masjids. Forsaking a claim to it doesn't necessarily impair the practice of Islam in India, if the political and psychological implications of the site's surrender are taken care of.

What is needed, therefore, is to strike a balance between these two extremely hostile and directly contradictory perceptions. And the objective being religious harmony and focusing the nation's attention back on the developmental agenda, it is necessary to eliminate and preempt all troubles of this sort. For a lasting solution the religious leaders, the civil society and the government must work in tandem. I propose the following action plan.

Since both the litigant parties have taken tough postures publicly their present representative bodies cannot now sign a peace accord. New bodies, even if ad-hoc and symbolic, must be formed.

The Hindu Trust [HT] could comprise one or more Sankaracharayas, one present or recently disassociated senior member each of the RSS and all its major affiliates, one or more widely respected senior Hindu statesmen like Dr Karan Singh or Swami Agnivesh etc.

The Muslim Trust [MT] could comprise one or two present or former members each from the Muslim Personal Law Board, BMAC, leading Muslim theological institutions, chief care-takers of the famous dargahs such as Ajmer and Nizamuddin, a respected Muslim scholar like Maulana Waheeduddin Khan or Maulana Parekh.

These two trusts / representative bodies on behalf of their communities must publicly commit to do the following which the government must recognize officially.

1. The HT should unequivocally apologize to Muslims for the act of demolition of the mosque as illegal, unconstitutional and not in keeping with the ethos of Hinduism.
2. Even while denying that the mosque was built on a destroyed temple site, the MT should admit that in the past temples have been destroyed by Muslim rulers and express regret on this bad ancient practice, specifically regretting Somnath desecration.
3. Both trusts should declare that no conclusive archaeological evidence or legal verdict is yet available to fortify the Hindu claim for the mosque site.
4. Both should recognize that a perception exists in the minds of a large number of Hindus that the disputed place is the birthplace of Shri Ramji and it is necessary to respect this sentiment.
5. The HT should unequivocally forsake all claims to any other religious place of Muslims, specifically naming major sites like Mathura, Kashi, Bhojshala etc and declare that the Hindu community withdraws all claims to all other existing Muslim religious places throughout India asking all Hindus to honour this promise as a religious enjoinment
6. Both trusts should agree to symbolically participate in the construction of whole or part of the mosque and the temple, remaining within their religious dictates.
7. Acting on a government sponsored bill the parliament must enact suitable legislation, inter alia, making it a seriously punishable, non-bailable offence to lay claim to any other place of worship, throwing open all ASI mosques for Muslim worship, declaring with a list all such on-going local disputes throughout India unlawful and restoring these sites to Muslims, and undertaking to reconstruct and repair, at its own cost, within a reasonable time-frame all mosques and dargahs desecrated throughout India since 1992 during communal disturbances
8. The HT should symbolically return the site to the MT and the MT should symbolically shift the mosque structure to a mutually agreed site about 10 KMs away, ceremoniously handing over the present site to the HT
9. This action plan with specific deadlines should be publicly announced and officially patronized.

Irrational disputes call for unconventional responses. If peace and harmony can return to India even through this act of give-and-take the teeming millions of India - Hindus, Muslims and others -exert pressure upon us to do so and to begin to fight the real enemies: poverty, illiteracy, disease and exploitation.

The author runs a voluntary organization SPRAT and is reachable at info@mysprat.org

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