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What was the demolition of the Babri Masjid significative of?

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Samved Iyer
Samved Iyer
Eternal as evolution is, I cannot purport to have grown in thorough measure, and I am hopeful of augmenting my perspicacity in the company of beings far more erudite than me.

It is at first an arduous task to adduce a justification for the demolition of the Babri Masjid; purely from a law-and-order perspective, it was certainly unjustified. Were the incident to serve as an encouragement, there emerges the peril of defacement of monuments in large numbers, going unpunished either owing to an intimidating numerical immensity, or to a sympathetic view of the act by the administration. If I may, however, venture to abstract the situation from its law-and-order dimension, if so morbid a thing could be possible and permissible, I would say that, at length, the demolition has had and is likely further to have, quite a liberating effect.

This is not a realm, so far as I know, the media has sought to explore. One ought to converse with the participants of the Ram Janmabhoomi Movement, and I did with such few people as temporal and geographic constraints would deign to permit. It was the decade of caste virulence — the Mandal era — or certainly a decade that could be said to have precipitated caste virulence with a vengeance. As if in contempt of this, it must have been naught short of a sentiment of a fraternal, civilizational buoyancy, to have a countless multitude, transcending caste barriers, unitedly agitate for the symbolic manifestation of an ideal. And none with the slightest probity could overlook how dear symbols are to the efflorescence and continued existence of a culture.

A preponderance of the Hindu population happens to be born into, what we have, in my view in odious effect, institutionalized as ‘low’ castes. The evil of being doomed to a specific occupation is all that, legally, stands demolished; caste is still made to matter. Yet, no such pan-nation movement could possibly succeed in the absence of participation by that numerical preponderance. There is no mistaking that the Ram Janmabhoomi Movement appealed to the depressed castes and classes. Viewing through that lens, one would justly regard it as a truly subaltern movement.

This, in my comprehension, was a signal that, provided the Hindus had a compelling cause, they could bring to fruition what was Ambedkar’s ultimate desire, expressed so unequivocally in the title of his book, ‘The Annihilation of Caste’. That something so civilizationally-rooted, Hindu-rooted, could be so decisively anti-caste, was perhaps a surprise to those, who viewed their affected sophistication alone capable of and I daresay destined for achieving. How dare the intellectually dormant but physically infighting canaille transcend caste barriers? We the elite alone are enlightened; we alone reserve the rights to think beyond caste! And therefore, we shall assiduously encourage canaille infighting in perpetuity!

And, candidly, if we are to appreciate candour as a virtue instead of an exercise in offending sentiments as if we were entitled to eternal puerility, the symbolism of the Babri was by no means positive. That much-hated monument was a source of bedevilment and indignity to Hindu civilizational memory. Its demolition, one may presume, was a sight to behold and a news quite mellifluous to hear, for numerous if not most of the participants in the Ram Janmabhoomi Movement; a symbolic obliteration of tyranny. The sentiment is apt to have transcended caste divisions.

The only weapon, potent to a degree, in the sullied armamentarium of the entrenched elites, was the communalization of the incident. The caste card, in this regard, would not have worked. The true bigots mendaciously apportioned all of the bigotry to the Ram Janmabhoomi Movement. For it is they who were so presumptuous as to regard the demolition as a slight to the Muslims. It is they who supposed that the Muslims in India oriented the entirety of their existence, and the health of their sapience, around the timeless existence of the Babri, the demolition of which portended doom for their very lives. It is they who presumed to think on behalf of the lay Muslim, convincing him that he was not to be content with the mosques he had; that he was not to commiserate with his Hindu brethren; that the sight and positive news of the Babri alone was his psychologically nourishing victual.

And if a pan-India movement witnessed a few unfortunate Hindu-Muslim feuds in localized settings, what basis had anyone to extrapolate it to the national whole, and to thus characterize the whole of the movement as premised on inveterate contempt towards Muslims?

The Nobel laureate Sir V.S. Naipaul could explain it in words and discernment far better than mine, in context of the Babri demolition and the Hindu awakening:

  • “Today, it seems to me that Indians are becoming alive to their history… [the invaders] were conquering, they were subjugating. And they were in a country where people never understood this…Only now are the people beginning to understand that there has been a great vandalising of India. Because of the nature of the conquest and the nature of Hindu society such understanding had eluded Indians before…What is happening in India is a mighty creative process.”
  • …“I don’t see the Hindu reaction purely in terms of one fundamentalism pitted against another. The reaction is a much larger response… Mohamedan fundamentalism is essentially negative, a protection against a world it desperately wishes to join. It is a last ditch fight against the world.”
  • “..the sense of history that the Hindus are now developing is a new thing. Some Indians speak about a synthetic culture: this is what a defeated people always speak about. The synthesis may be culturally true. But to stress it could also be a form of response to intense persecution,”
  • …“The people who say that there was no temple there are missing the point. Babar, you must understand, had contempt for the country he had conquered. And his building of that mosque was an act of contempt for the country.”
  • “I think India has lived with one major extended event, that began about 1000 AD, the Muslim invasion. It meant the cracking open and partial wrecking of what was a complete cultural, religious world until that invasion. I don’t think the people of India have been able to come to terms with that wrecking. I don’t think they understand what really happened. It’s too painful.”
  • “I think when you see so many Hindu temples of the 10th Century or earlier time disfigured, defaced, you know that they were not just defaced for fun: that something terrible happened. I feel that the civilisation of that closed world was mortally wounded by those invasions. And I would like people, as it were, to be more reverential towards the past, to try to understand it; to preserve it; instead of living in its ruins. The old world is destroyed. That has to be understood. The ancient Hindu India was destroyed.”
  • “If people just acknowledged history, certain deep emotions of shame and defeat would not be driven underground and would not find this rather nasty and violent expression…And I think we should simply try to understand this passion. It is not an ignoble passion at all. It is men trying to understand themselves.”

The normalization of the defacement of public monuments as a means of expressing discontent, bodes ill for a nation-state. But is it, that is, the demolition of Babri, nonetheless apt to lead to something positive in the long run? That it shall is my earnest hope.

As I am no one but one of the unwashed canaille, obsequious to my narrow perspective, I must pose the enlightened and peripatetic elite, “Would it be heretic of me to think of, and too phlogistonic of me to express either in written or spoken, the words ‘good riddance’ in that regard?”

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Samved Iyer
Samved Iyer
Eternal as evolution is, I cannot purport to have grown in thorough measure, and I am hopeful of augmenting my perspicacity in the company of beings far more erudite than me.
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