November 24, 2019

Ayodhya and the consolidation of Hindu Nationalists, 1855-1992

Archana Prasad

THE Ayodhya verdict is finally out and as expected, it displays the influencing of the Hindu right on the judicial system to legalise a long history of illegal encroachment by powerful ‘Hindu interests’ over a mosque that was demolished on December 6, 1992. In its final analysis the judgement adjudicates the title suit by arguing that the so called ‘Hindu’ side has been able to prove its uninterrupted worship at the site since the pre-1856 period also.

This claim is wrested on the report of the Archaeological Survey of India against whose conclusions were disputed by many eminent historians and archaeologists. These experts had challenged the dating of a Hindu structure as well as the several pillars that were used to show the existence of the temple thus showing that archaeological evidence, which can be subjected to convenient ideological interpretations by powerful interests, can not be used to resolve a political dispute. The court ignored this longstanding observation and termed the report of the historians as ‘mere opinion’; instead the judgement gives greater credence to colonial history and historians whose documentation was based on a selective recording of oral evidences. Needless to say, that such a selection was based on the colonial governments need to maintain its own interests through a policy of divide and rule. It is therefore telling that the counsel for ‘Ram Lalla’ uses the motivated colonial accounts from 19th century onwards to establish its juridical claims, thereby legitimising the lethal content of colonial histories. This shows that the political interests of ‘Ram Lalla’ and his followers were closely aligned with the colonial State, which institutionalised his existence through so called ‘native narrations’. There is no doubt that these narrations were Brahmanical in character and used to destroy the amity that existed between inhabitants in order to maintain and expand their own power.

 The evidence presented in the judgment shows that this was done by curtailing space of the mosque in the name of ‘peace’. That the so called representatives of Hindus aligned with the colonial State to marginalise a minorities right to worship. This is explicitly stated in the judgement which acknowledges that the division between the ‘Hindu’ and ‘Muslim’ worshippers was created by a railing constructed by the British after the violence broke out in 1855; seven Muslim worshippers were killed by those who claimed that Muslims had encroached on the birthplace of Ram. Thereafter an officer of the government was appointed as the receiver of the land. This was the first act of encroachment which was legalised by the colonial government through the construction of the ceiling. The place ceased to be a daily space for Muslim worship and the domes of the mosque were damaged in the riots of 1934. Hindu worshipers and their priests continued to obstruct worship and that Friday prayers could only take place with protection from the police. This period coincides with the growing influence of the Hindu Mahasabha since the 1920s. It is surprising that the judgment refuses to recognise the political impact of the cow slaughter movement, under whose auspices so called Hindu nationalists launched an attack on the Babri Masjid. Though the court itself points out, this was an illegal act it curiously refers to the event as a ‘communal disturbance’ after which the Hindus were fined. Once again, the court does not identify who were these ‘Hindus’ who used cow slaughter as an excuse to target Muslims and the mosque. However histories of Ayodhya by several prominent scholars point towards the targeting of the mosque in order to advance the agenda of Hindu nationalism.

The second important admission of ‘illegality’ and forcible denial of the right to pray at the mosque was on December 2-23, 1949. The judgment goes into details of this incident and states that: “The events preceding December 22/23, 1949 indicate the build-up of a large presence of Bairagis in the outer courtyard and the expression of his apprehension by the superintendent of police that the Hindus would seek forcible entry into the precincts of the mosque to install idols. In spite of written intimations to him, the deputy commissioner and district magistrate(K K Nayyar) paid no heed and rejected the apprehension of the superintendent of police to the safety of the mosque as baseless. The apprehension was borne out by the incident which took place on the night between December 22/23 1949, when a group of 50-60 persons installed idols on the pulpit of the mosque below the central dome. This led to the desecration of the mosque and the ouster of the Muslims otherwise than by the due process of law. The inner courtyard was thereafter attached in proceedings under Section 145 CrPC 1898 on December 29, 1949 and the receiver took possession” (p.813)”. This statement clearly shows a clear collusion between the officials and the so called Bairagis (who in other accounts have been identified as being people connected with the Hindu Mahasabha).

Once again the judgement does not identify the Mahasabha as the culprit, a fact clearly stated in Krishna Jha and Dhirendra K Jha’s book Ayodhya: The Dark Night. Further the K K Nayyar(the district magistrate who refused to remove the idols and book the people responsible for illegally placing the idols) was a known sympathiser of the RSS and later became an MP from the Jan Sangh. However, these crucial factors are not recognised or given any place in the analysis of the judges. In fact the judgment is quite opaque in explaining why only the inner courtyard and not the entire site was not given to a ‘receiver’ after the attack on the mosque in 1949. Thus there is an apparent conversion of a mosque into a place of Hindu pilgrimage, and that too a site of worship for Hindus owing allegiance to the Hindu Mahasabha, thereby making the whole conflict, political rather than religious in character.

In addition, Gopal Singh Visharad, the first person to institute the first suit in 1950 is only described as merely a “Hindu devotee” who entered into legislation because he was a follower of the “Sanatan Dharma”. No where is it mentioned that petitioner was the president of the Faizabad Hindu Mahasabha. This continuous denial of the role of the Hindu Mahasabha as the main culprit in the encroachment of the right to worship in the mosque is ominous and paves the way for making a case that the Muslims cannot prove ‘continuous possession’ of the mosque and the cases of 1989 where Ram Lalla Virajman has been considered a legal entity whose presence is itself proof of continuous prayer and possession.

However, this conclusion is based on the suppression of a history of dispossession where politically powerful Hindu forces have continuously sought to attack the rights of the Muslim believers in Ayodhya. That such an assault on rights of one section is not merely an illegal act by some miscreants or random religious groups, but has been part of an organised and continuous and pre-meditated attack, is crucial to recognise in order to highlight the injustice perpetrated by the judgment. Those who have harassed the followers of the mosque for more than half a century have been rewarded for the possession that they have gained through a long process of encroachment and harassment. The recognition of the omission of these historical realities is crucial in understanding how the judges have rewritten history from a highly biased majoritarian perspective which has been continuously pushed by politically powerful Hindu forces. The scientific interpretation of history which forms the basis of a secular society is massively undermined by this misguided and motivated judgment.