August 5th has become one of the most important dates in Indian history. The foundation stone of the grand Ram Mandir was laid down by the prime minister in an event that galvanized a large section of the country. The issue of the Ram Mandir has been in our collective conscious for a long time. The struggle of the devotees though has been going on for much much longer. As Abhinav Prakash has mentioned in his article, when the Ram mandir was destroyed, the south was ruled by the Vijayanagar empire, Nuno da Cunha was the governor of Portuguese India, Spanish conquistadors were stepping into Texas, and Suleiman the magnificent was inaugurating the era of Ottoman supremacy.
The struggle ha been fructified after almost five hundred years. The sheer persistence and perseverance of the Ram devotees to keep fighting for the cause goes on to show the commitment that us Indians have towards civilizational continuity. And that is the angle I want to look at this momentous day with. There is enough said about this issue from religious and political angles. I don’t want to vilify any religion or culture but want to assert the importance of this event on the Indic culture from a civilizational vantage point.
We all are aware of the riches that Indians in the past have enjoyed. The prosperous past got India the influence she deserved by virtue of a strong economy, military, technology and mostly her culture. We take pride in the fact that we have never been an aggressor in a battle. Yet we have enjoyed a great deal of cultural influence in several parts of the world. The same prosperity and influence though invited hordes of dastardly invaders. The conquest started by Mahmud of Ghazni, whose army was repelled by a coalition led by king Suheldev, was ultimately completed successfully by Muhammed Ghori. This marked the start of en era of one conquest after other of India by many many invaders predominantly the Turkic Muslims and the European Christians.
Thousands of temples were destroyed, millions of people were killed, raped and enslaved, hundreds of universities which were the source of India’s wisdom were plundered. There was a clear effort to eradicate the Indic culture from the Indian subcontinent. It is in this effort that the temples of Somnath, Ayodhya, Kashi and Mathura were razed to the ground. The events find proud mentions in the memoirs of the conquerors. I believe they would be turning in their graves to see the shameless effort to secularize them. Of course we were not the only culture which was invaded and plundered. Before the onset of the Abrahamic religions, most of the world was once ‘pagan’. Although all other pagan cultures were wiped out quite violently. What’s different about the Indics is that we survived. Our ancestors never gave up. Thus making us the only major pre bronze age pagan culture to be thriving.
Survival did not mean that we have not had any major effect on us as a people. It is no secret how deleterious the damage has been on our psyche. As we entered into the modern age as a republic, we were physically divided, emotionally battered and psychologically devastated. The nationalist thought of the Indian freedom movement gave us a free state that had Indic underpinnings to a large extent if not exclusively. It was promised that despite the roots of Indian nationalism the Indian state would be a secular one. The nature of Indian secularism was deliberately kept open ended by the framers of the constitution.
But this consensus was broken many times over by the ruling dispositions which went on to show that the attacks on the Indic culture were not yet over. It started with the dilemma that the Indian state faced. On the one hand the state was supposed to maintain a distance from any religious affair but was also responsible for providing the special concessions to the religious minorities. It began with the state reformation of the Hindu religion with the introduction of the Hindu code bill while conveniently leaving other religions to themselves. This also brought in the era of ‘progressive’ politics in India which resulted in Indira Gandhi injecting the term secularism in the Indian constitution during the emergency. Nehru’s belief- as expressed by his biographer S. Gopal- was “The problem of the minorities is for the majority to accommodate. The test of success was not what the Hindus thought but what the minorities felt..”
This implied that Nehru and the subsequent governments expected the Hindus to behave in line with the subjective lived experience of the minorities and never assert themselves politically as it might end up offending the minorities. This was a grossly out of line with the secular thought that the republic was built on. Several other events like the Shah Bano case, the control of the Hindu temples by the government, the expulsion of Kashmiri Pandits from their homes and the deafening silence of the secular parties over the issue brought a lie to the myth that is India’s pseudo-secular values. Even after a suffering of around a millennium, the Hindus were still branded as fascist bigots by the progressive left just for standing up for themselves. The frustration eventually was channeled in the Ram Mandir movement. This is not to say that I support the unlawful demolition of the mosque, which was condemned even by the people who started the Ram Mandir movement.
The Ram mandir movement is civilizationally important as it brought in not only the mainstream Hindu voices but also many subaltern voices that did not have a voice in the broader national discourse. It is after a long time that people stood up for something casting aside their caste and even religious divisions. It is generally believed that mass movements erupt when the economic incentives are skewed against them. Although material benefits are a powerful motivation, an even stronger motivation is a denial of dignity for their identity. We have seen many movements around the world revolving around the sense of identity and dignity like the civil rights movement in America, the LGBTQ movement around the world and many more.
This movement has been a result of the resentment against the indignity that the Hindus have faced for centuries and continue to do so. As India became prosperous and its people more confident it resulted in a growing awareness of our civilizational expanse and depth. They saw the wrongs that have been done and are still being done to them. It thus became important for the meek and submissive Hindu to become a active one who takes pride in his history and culture. This movement does not demean any religion or community. It is simply for seeking an equal treatment for all and not taking any community for granted. With this movement we have moved a step closer towards a civilizational resurgence that is plural in its true sense where people of all religions, castes, creed, colour would be able to lead a life of dignity and grace. As Abhinav Prakash rightly puts it, ‘this is the twilight of the first Indian republic’.