Lt Gen.Zameer Uddin Shah,PVSM,SM,VSM,Dep.Chief of Army Staff(RETD)

Lt Gen.Zameer Uddin Shah,PVSM,SM,VSM,Dep.Chief of Army Staff(RETD)

‘Al-Sulhu Khairan’ (Reconciliation is Best) -- Holy Koran.

‘Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.’ ----Martin Luther King (Jr)

There have been two major Judicial verdicts on the vexed problem of the Babri Masjid - Ram Mandir. The Allahabad High Court in its judgement, in September 2010, divided the disputed land in three parts between the main contending parties ‘ Ramlalla Virajman’, the ‘Akhara’ , both representing the Hindu sentiments and ‘Sunni Wakf Board’ representing Muslim Interests. The Supreme Court of India has heard the appeal against the Judgment of the Allahabad High Court on a regular, day to day basis and will, within a few weeks, deliver its judgment on the appeal. It is hoped that they will deliver a clear cut verdict and not a fractured judgement, like the one delivered earlier by the Allahabad High court. There will be a winner and a loser and animosities will not be buried. The ideal solution will be a compromise, through dialogue. This had been tried many times before but the urgency of the problem necessitates that one last attempt be made in that direction. There are many takers to this solution, on both sides, but they remain the silent majority who have been forced into silence by the powerful hard liners. In order to get an idea about the problem it is necessary to delve into the genesis.

Genesis of the Problem

The Babri Masjid (‘Bābur’s Mosque’) was constructed in the early 16th century by the Mughal Emperor Babur on a site reportedly Hindu deity, Ram’s birthplace and supposedly the exact location of an ancient Hindu temple, the ‘Ram Janmabhoomi’. This was a cause of a centuries long bitter dispute between Hindus and Muslim. On 6 December,1992, the three-story mosque was demolished, in a few hours, by a crowd of Hindu ultra-nationalists. This was followed by widespread communal riots which brought down the Government of the State of Uttar Pradesh. It was estimated that more than 2,000 people died in the rioting that swept through India, following the mosque’s demolition.

The Indian PM, Narasimha Rao, in a redeeming act of penance, declared to the Nation that the Masjid would be rebuilt. A law, the ‘Places of Worship ( Special Provisions) Act’ 1991 was enacted which declared ‘That the religious character of a place of worship, existing as on 15 August 1947, shall continue to be the same as it existed on that day’. Section 5 of the Act however excluded the demolished Babri Masjid from its purview. This Act has no teeth and is an ineffective deterrent against future mis-adventures.

Subsequent to the demolition a makeshift Hindu Temple was established at the site and a full-fledged workshop is busy carving out stone pillars which are intended to be used in the construction of the proposed Ram Temple. Legislation, governmental action and judicial intervention, till date, have failed to bring about an equitable solution to the thorny issue which has polarised the country and moved it away from the inclusive path set by the founding fathers.

Rewriting History and apportioning blame for and seeking to correct perceived and/or real historical wrongs has merely increased the communal divide and kept India perpetually on the communal boil. This highly emotive religious issue had been the driving force behind the ruling BJP’s drive for political power, which was achieved for a few months in1998, a full term in1999, and a double term in the national elections of 2012 and 2017. India has become close to abandoning its position as a secular, democratic republic and is close to becoming a ‘Hindu’ nation, certainly no problem with that, seeing the emergence of ‘Islamic Nations’ on the periphery. This concept, however, overlooks the fact that 20% of the population consists of other religious minorities. The country has got so polarised and divided on communal lines that even the main opposition party, the Congress, that always espoused secularism, has changed colours and is now following soft ‘Hindutva’.

Historical Perspective

Desecration and conversion of places of worship have been the constant endeavour of mankind following conflict between differing religious groups. The most notable of these was the fall of Christian ‘Constantinople’ to the invading Ottoman Army in 1453. This was followed by the conversion of the magnificent churches into mosques. The reconquest of the Iberian Peninsula (Spain) from the Moors by the Christian armies of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella in 1492 led to the reverse conversion of Muslim Mosques into churches, the most notable being the conversion of the mosque, in Cordoba, to a cathedral (Mezquita de Cordoba). There have also been conversion of places of worship following social upheavals such as conversion of Catholic churches into Protestant places of worship in Britain. Very rare have been cases of conversion, by force, during times of no conflict.

India, too, has had a history of conversion of places of worship. The fact that the Indian subcontinent, the birth-place of Buddhism, has few remaining adherents in the land of its birth gives credence to the fact that several Hindu temples were established on Buddhist Stupas. The Pala Dynasty, the last empire to uphold Buddhism in India, fell in the 12 th century and with it Buddhism began to wane. It became almost extinct following the Muslim conquests of the 13 th Century

Royal temple complexes of the early medieval period were pre-eminently political institutions. Temples was where human kingship was established and contested. The main reason for desecration of places of worship was the historical bonding between king, god, temple, and land, in early medieval India. The central icon housed in a royal temple's ‘sancta sanctorum’, expressed the shared sovereignty of king and deity. Decoupling a former Hindu king's legitimate authority from his former kingdom, and more specifically, decoupling the former king from the image of the state-deity was considered essential. Temples were thus natural sites for the contestation of kingly authority, well before the Muslim conquests of India. Given these perceived connections between temples, images, and their royal patrons, it is hardly surprising that, as historian, Richard H. Davis has recorded, early medieval Indian history abounds in instances of temple desecration that occurred amidst inter-dynastic, not inter religious conflicts. Temples were destroyed and deities therein plundered and displayed as trophies of war. In the late eleventh century, the Kashmiri King Harsha made plundering of temples an institutionalised activity; and in the late twelfth and early thirteenth century, Paramara dynasty kings attacked and plundered Jain temples in Gujarat.

In short, it is clear that temples had been the natural sites for the contestation of kingly authority well before the Muslim invasions of India. Not surprisingly, Muslim invaders, when attempting to consolidate their own rule in early medieval India, followed and continued this established pattern of temple desecration with the annexation of newly conquered territories.

Around 1000 AD, Muslim hordes from Central Asia systematically raided and looted major urban centres of South Asia, sacking temples and hauling away rich treasures to their own territories.

This was followed by Mughal conquest of India which began in 1526. Unlike earlier Muslim conquerors they chose to stay and establish a kingdom in conquered territories.Their attempt was to build an indigenous Muslim state and society in North India with two principal components namely state patronage of an India-based ‘Sufi’ order, the ‘Chishtis’, and a policy of avoiding plunder of temples. There was, undoubtedly, selective temple desecration that aimed to de-legitimise and eradicate defeated Indian rulers or when Hindu officials, patrons of prominent temples, committed acts of treason or disloyalty. Otherwise, temples lying within Mughal domains, viewed normally as protected state property, were left unmolested. Much of the contemporary evidence on temple desecration during the Mughal period is derived from the translation of the eight-volume ‘History of India as Told by its Own Historians’, of 1849, by John Dowson and edited by Sir Henry M. Elliot, published during the British occupation of India. Elliot, keen to the highlight peace, justice and humanism of British rule in India underlined the cruelty and despotism of the Muslim rulers who had preceded that English rule. In this effort he exaggerated the alleged atrocities of the Mughal period of Indian history. Conversely, Indo-Muslim chroniclers, seeking to glorify the religious zeal of earlier Muslim rulers, sometimes attributed acts of temple desecration to such rulers even when no contemporary evidence supported the claims. As a result, the precise number of temples desecrated will never be known, but they certainly don’t come anywhere near the figure of 60000 bandied by hard core ultra Nationalists.

Solution to the Problem

The ideal solution to every dispute lies in reconciliation and compromises in a spirit of mutual give and take. The Babri Masjid - Ram Temple issue has sunk into the quicksand of religion, history and law. There cannot be a strictly legal solution acceptable to all. Reconciliation is the only way to ensure lasting peace and social amity.

Adopting the ‘forgive and forget’ policy for the sake of ensuring peace will not be repugnant to the religion of either community. Islamic texts and history indicate that making compromises on reasonable terms will not be fundamentally un-Islamic. It will not violate Quranic teachings and sayings of the Prophet . ‘Those who condone and reconcile, for them there is reward from God’ --The Quran (XL:42) proclaims. The message of ‘Al-Sulhu Khairan” (reconciliation is best) finds a place in several verses of the Koran.

The explicit and implicit injunctions of the Quran on the advisability of condoning and reconciling in conflict situations are highly significant for the ongoing efforts for a consensual settlement of the Ayodhya dispute; so are numerous historical instances in which the Prophet had preferred compromise to conflict. The most prominent reconciliatory agreement which the Prophet entered into was the celebrated ‘Sulh-e-Hudaibiya’ — Hudaibiya Agreement — encompassing a 10-year plan in which, with a view to secure lasting peace, he had agreed even to some conspicuously adverse conditions.

A court order will lead to heightened communal tensions because there will be a winner and an aggrieved party. If the judgment is in favour of the Hindus it will fan the flames for more similar demands. If the Muslims win they will never be allowed to take possession of the site where the mosque once stood. Attempting to do so would trigger further bloodshed and violence. Relinquishing claims at that stage would be abject surrender. The Muslims, also, would have lost the chance of winning over the good will of the majority.

An honourable settlement would entail the Muslims, facing reality, to give up claims to the site. The Hindus, being the majority, should be magnanimous by giving cast iron constitutional guarantees that there will be no more conversions to places of worship. It is for the citizens of the country to bring pressure on the hard liners on both sides to achieve an out of court, peaceful and honourable settlement. That is what any religion would prescribe.