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Ram Temple in Ayodhya: A matter of faith or a matter of respecting the faith?

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Saket Suryesh
Saket Suryesh
A technology worker, writer and poet, and a concerned Indian. Writer, Columnist, Satirist. Published Author of Collection of Hindi Short-stories 'Ek Swar, Sahasra Pratidhwaniyaan' and English translation of Autobiography of Noted Freedom Fighter, Ram Prasad Bismil, The Revolutionary. Interested in Current Affairs, Politics and History of Bharat.

The discussion of supposed fight for supremacy of Hindu majority, has once again taken center-stage with the Hindu religious guru and political leader, Yogi Adityanath winning the election in the most populous state in India, under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The media, in its own wisdom and driven by its own self-interest, shocked, surprised and saddened by a definitive win by right-wing ideology, as the intellectuals, prodigies of carefully crafted communist ecosystem calls it, went into overdrive to denounce the results.

The usual trend of nitpicking began. Some were smartly obtuse about it, with fake stories, mistaken identity and stuff like that; others, too shocked to hold on to the pretense of neutrality declared war, claiming to take the role abandoned by a week, wily opposition. The sight of a man clad in saffron was enough to make these self-proclaimed guardians of collective national intellect melt down like sudden shame. A decision by the Apex court in this backdrop asking the concerned parties to look for out of the court settlement for the Ram Temple was the last straw for an already despondent priesthood of leftist ideologues.

I call them leftist only because that is what they pretend to be, although the lines have been thoroughly messed up; and it would seem not only in India. We live in a world where George Orwell’s 1984, which criticizes the absolutist communist state of Russia in the days of Iron Curtain has been proclaimed and annexed as literature opposing Right Wing, the lines are all muddled. The unscientific, orthodox right-wing  implements demonetization to promote cashless business, and the supposedly logical and modern left-wing pushes for old-fashioned cash-based commerce; those in power, want political accountability and transparency, anti-corruption crusaders threaten riots.

Those in power and by implication, corrupt, and better placed to manipulate the primitive system, want modern Electronic Voting Machines, which cannot be tempered; those who are supposedly weaker as challengers, who can use the safeguard offered by automated, technologically advanced system, want primitive ballot papers as mode of election, known in the history for darkest dangers faced by democracy, loots and fraud in election; the liberal, animal-lovers advocate killing animals for taste and as a mark of liberalism, and the traditionalists want to preserve the environment. We hardly can know which is which.

Let us know get back to the matter of Ram Temple. It is a disputed site in Ayodhya. I mean, to be fair, it is a matter of argument between two parties. To be more accurate, one party, the majority Hindus have faith that the place under question was birthplace of Lord Ram, and there was a temple to commemorate. Lord Ram, is for the matter of records, as per Hindu faith, a God, and being God is a step above any man who represents God or is a messenger of God. So one party has faith that the site is of highest religions importance to it, another disputes it. The party disputing it, the Muslims of India, disputes the contention of the Hindus.

On their own, they have no claim to make. So if we consider it a plain property dispute, as Muslim leader Asaduddin Owaisi claims (I call him Muslim leader, since that is how the name of his party translate, irrespective of his clever attempts to position himself as guardian of secularism, his party’s name, All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul Muslimeen literally translates to All India Council of the Union of Muslims); the dispute is about one party occupying a property, another party wants the occupying party to abdicate their claim. Now, the occupying party, Muslims who had the mosque there, wants the claimant, the Hindus to justify their claim, substantiate it with scientific evidence. Thus essentially, this is an unequal claim. The one who occupies has no evidence to present justifying his occupation of the property as there is no historic glory or religious sensitivity attached to the Mosque.

This is irrespective of the fact that political parties interested in using it to consolidate Muslim votes might be wanting to present the going down of the Mosque as a huge damage to Muslim identity and Muslim self-respect. Many have even used it to justify Jihadi terror in the country, without any justification, given that world’s worse such attack on Muslims happened in Meccca itself and of late, with Blasts at Prophet’s erstwhile house. It was sad that the Mosque was forcibly brought down, no denying that. But it is even sadder that the Mosque had to be brought down.

The contention of the Hindu majority is that the structure which was a mosque earlier stands on what was a temple once. The mosque was made by Mir Baqi, General of Mughal emperor Babar. Babar was the founder of Mughal Empire in India. The fact remains that out of all the later emperors, Babar was the one who never came about to love India. India was never more than a source of illegally won riches for him, and he always longed for Samarkand. Whether he was a devout Muslim or used religion as a unifying force to draw the fanatics together, we can never know. From such a distance, History is often not what was, rather it is what has been written. Most of the time, the writers of ancient world were interested party and even the historians of modern world were interested parties.

So this Mosque was put up by one over-zealous lieutenant of Babar, named after the emperor, probably in an effort to please him. The argument of the location of temple being the birth site of Ram goes back to about a century or so. Freshly political Congress PM Rajiv Gandhi did the inauguration of the temple and rekindled the hope of thousands of Indians. Matter went into litigation and then in 1992, as the simmering resentment of majority Hindu population culminated into the final act where the 16th century mosque was brought down, the tension reached its zenith. I was in engineering college at that time and felt much disturbed with the event. I was disturbed not only by the fact that the mosque came down by force, rather also by the fact that it had to come down by force.

I have had my own time of liberal ideas like why not make the controversial area into a school or a hospital, as a secular structure. But then I grew up. I read, I watched the world. It was a world which did not respect the goodness of an innocent human soul, rather it sought to manipulate it. It was a world where structure was set and the order was unchangeable. The opinions were made to ensure the continuance of pre-established order of power. Politics thrived on Muslim insecurity. Jinnah was probably the first to use it successfully for political purpose, but unfortunately, he was not the last.

I am always confounded by this logic of eternal sense of victimhood among the Muslims. Muslims, today are around 18 Percent of population in India, with Hindus being around 80 percent. It must have been scary to rule over a nation where the majority was people of different faith, a faith which ran contrary to the basic tenets of middle-eastern Islam. This could also explain the extreme cruelty with which Mughals crushed any rebellion which had even slightly religious flavor. It was a matter of existence, whether it was the case of skinning of Shivaji’s son or killing of the sons of Sikh Guru who refused to embrace Islam.

That deep-rooted fear, consciously cultivated by those whose business rests on continued Ghettoization of Muslims now is evident in the way most Muslims have responded to the court’s directive on out-of-court settlement of the Ram Temple matter. I would however, have preferred if the courts had decided. Still, the way Muslim organizations ruled out settlement was odd. What was further interesting was that they claimed there was no scientific evidence that there was earlier a Ram temple there and they could forego their claim if some factual proof could be presented. A religion which stands on a book of revelations, made in 7th century in a world and an environment totally foreign to India, seeks proof to justify the claim of another religion.

In seventies, there were excavations done on court order. While the communist historians ganged up making claim under oath, in the courts that no evidence has been found of a temple beneath the Babri mosque, facts spoke otherwise, and while those who made testimonies in the sensitive matter countering the claim of Hindus, told the court that they went by news reports; KK Muhammad claimed that remains of the temple were found in the excavation, and blamed the cabal of communist historians for messing up the matter.

While his book and his contention of fourteen columns of a temple makes a strong case of Hindu temple at the place, my argument is not that at all. As a Hindu, I might not believe in the revelations of Prophet Mohammad, and I would quote Thomas Paine. Thomas Paine writes in his treatise, The Age of Reason, on revelations claimed to be made by God

“..The thing so revealed (if anything ever was revealed, and which bye the bye, it is impossible to prove) is revelation to the person only to whom it is made. His account of it to another person is not revelation rather hearsay.”

He goes further on the matter, though he doesn’t refer to any one religion in particular, and writes –

“When it is revealed to me, I believe it to be a revelation; but it is not, and cannot be incumbent upon me to believe it to be a revelation before; neither is it proper that I should take the word of a man as the word of God, and put that man in place of God.”

But then this is what Thomas Paine says. It might not apply to a man of faith. A man of faith may believe the revelation to be true, consider the medium as source. We cannot object to it. We must not object to it, particularly if the person in question is our friend. Sometimes faith is all that keeps the world, for some, from falling apart. We cannot adopt that faith, but we must respect it nevertheless. But in any society, in any human exchange, that is always reciprocal. I should respect your faith even when I do not believe in it, but when it comes to my faith, you will respect it only if the foundation of my faith is factual.

This is the beginning of unfair and unequal relationship. When I do not believe what a friend tells me, and seek evidence, even when I know that my friend’s belief in the world around him, belief in his own existence, depends on his faith; I am valuing my doubts more than my love for him. And if I demand all proof and evidence from my friend, knowing well that all he has is faith; I am further destroying the delicate balance of the relationship, which will eventually snap, often with violence. If I were to demand respect for my faith, unquestioned, I must offer the same in return. In the context of societies, such breaks will always be violent, and if the wronged party is larger in number, the impact of such falling out will always be disproportionate to the reason.

So we have pillars which have been found. What if there was no pillar to be found because Babar’s officer had decided to crush the structure into raw building material, removing any art which was present and build a mosque. Worse still, what if there was no temple. Will that impact the faith? Or would it mean that the faith of a segment of people means nothing because they are a majority which was always ruled for centuries in past, for so long a time that what they believed in or didn’t believe in made no difference to the power that be.

I could understand the dilemma of Muslims in this matter, if this Mosque were in middle-east and had some connection to the history of Islam. There is no soft issue attached to the Mosque from religious perspective of Muslims, except maybe an age-old fear of having been a ruler in the middle of overwhelming majority with a new faith which ran counter to those you ruled over and a sudden reversal of power equation. It is also based in the false feeling that it was Mughal power and later British power, and not the inherent flexibility of faith in Hinduism that kept Muslims safe amid overwhelmingly huge Hindu population.

The logic of riding over a tiger which one fears getting off for the worry of getting eaten up by the same tiger. Only those who understand Hinduism know that it was not brutal domination that kept Muslims safe, rather the basic Hindu philosophy which accepted multiple contrarian views, which kept them safe and will continue to do so.

This is a mosque like any other hundreds and thousands of mosques spread across the nation. Ram, on the other hand, for Hindus, even for near-atheist ones, and by extension, even a larger mass of Muslims of India, represents the possibility of goodness that every person should strive for. He is an anti-casteist at the height of casteism; he is a committed one-woman man in a world of Polygamy (Dashrath had three wives); he is the Dharma, he is the Hope. Allama Iqbal’s verse explains, what Ram meant for India, not today, but always:

है राम के वज़ूद पे हिन्दोस्ताँ को नाज़

Hai Ram ke Vazood pe Hindostaan ko naaz

अहले नज़र समझते हैं इसको ईमाम ए हिन्द

Ahlen azar samajhte hain isko imam-e-Hind

 (Ram is a matter of pride for India,

And for men of vision,

Ram is always the first among the men)

When you are of a religion for which idols and fixed religious structures are antithesis of your religion, this insistence to stick to the Mosque, which is a dead structure for you, in Ayodhya, is nothing but a matter of ego. From the perspective of a majority, who has long been ruled by the minority, defeating the principle of numerical superiority, it is merely an attempt to establish the old order again.  The unwillingness to accommodate the faith of those around you, your refusal to abdicate the place whose only worth for you is as a testimony to the imperialistic and somewhat colonial glory, to leave space for the faith of Hindus, is nothing but an ego, a vanity and a challenge to your own sense of goodness. It hardly matters if the pillars of Hindu temple were in the foundation or not. What matters is that you want Hindus to explain why you should vacate, while you have neither substance nor intent to justify why you should not?

If one looks at this, the same logic applies to the cow politics. There is a vast Hindu majority. If your taste offends those around you, why insist on it? Why insist on beef and why insist on a mosque, when it is not a matter of faith for you, and it is for the other person. That is what is called accommodation, when those offended and troubled are less in number and pragmatism, when those offended are majority. Atheist liberals will always come out with the idea of Hospital or school, in place of the temple, but then if you are an atheist, you are not a part of discussion.

You have nothing to do with the matter of faith. Hinduism is not absolutist, it is not belligerent, but it has emerged as last line of defense against fast-spreading fanaticism and absolutism.  There is another brilliant idea of re-building a Mosque on the other side of Sarayu river. There is a basic flaw in it. If this question of Ram Mandir is to be treated as a property dispute and if it is to be decided through the courts, the question of compensation does not arise. If facts and not Goodwill is the basis of decision allowing construction of Ram Temple, it will only prove illegal occupation. Why should centuries of illegality be responded with compensation and not with penalty? If courts were to decide, then the bodies opposing the construction of temple should be penalized to contribute towards construction, instead of the courts doing monkey-balancing.

Let the man have his piece of faith in his own country. The nation belongs to him as much as it does to you. He has been silent for long, don’t tire his silence out. This temple does not impact your faith (or lack of it) or your livelihood or your existence. Let the temple be. Societies are not perfect. Life is not always bearable. Lord Ram represents the possibility of a society that is perfect and of a life that is bearable. A least for those who believe in him. His worshipers do not insist that you offer evidences to revelations to accommodate them in Indian environment, Muslims also owe it to their Hindu brothers to respect their faith as a friend and co-nationalist. It is faith that holds people together, that keeps societies together if it is respected by those who believe in contrary things. I need to respect your faith even when I do not believe in it and you must do the same. That is how mature societies prosper, that is how the magical grows out of the mundane.

Even Immanuel Kent said, “I had to deny knowledge in order to make room for faith.” It is not a fight to win, it is a fight to be loved, to be believed in. You cannot do it by insisting on being a better lawyer and demanding evidences. A Muslim who works everyday with his Hindu brothers will not be worried. Truth is often easier for those to understand who aren’t corrupted by education. This is a matter where faith is the only truth. It is too important to be left to ballistic Brahmins and starched sherwanis. It is a matter of faith and in words of Khalil Gibran-“Faith is an oasis in heart which will never be reached by a caravan of thinking.” Faith is about feeling, it is never about thinking.

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Saket Suryesh
Saket Suryesh
A technology worker, writer and poet, and a concerned Indian. Writer, Columnist, Satirist. Published Author of Collection of Hindi Short-stories 'Ek Swar, Sahasra Pratidhwaniyaan' and English translation of Autobiography of Noted Freedom Fighter, Ram Prasad Bismil, The Revolutionary. Interested in Current Affairs, Politics and History of Bharat.
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