We must free ourselves from mind-numbing slogans like “majhab anhin sikhaata aapas men bair rakhana”, “all religions teach peace” and “all religions are equal”. They definitely teach animosity; they certainly teach strife, often violent, and they are not equal in their bigotry and hatred for others. Presently they all, particularly two major ones in India, are spreading hatred and are attacking the constitution with impunity. Exaggerated lamentations of atrocities on Muslims, snatching their rights, and ‘dara hua musalmaan’ on one side, and underplaying of Muslim belligerence and atrocities where they are more numerous, on the other, fuel this fire further. In response to such narratives the hardliners among Hindus preach their historical grievances narrative more aggressively and more vociferously. The hardliners among the Muslims thinks that their Sharia supported bigotry is either condoned or is legitimate, therefore, pronounce their threats in a more confident and venomous manner. Unless the saner elements in the nation raise their voices in a balanced manner, condemning all atrocities and all bigotry equally, this evil duet will continue escalating.
The Bhumi Pujan
The world has seen a very loud and gaudy Bhumi Pujan for Ram temple in Ayodhya on 5th August 2020. In this hyped drama we have witnessed excessive and dramatized news coverage, the victory narrative emphasized, blowing up importance of Ram to eclipse everything else in the long cultural history of India, and equating Bhumi Pujan for a temple with the freedom of India, an atrocious comparision. This exhibits narrow imagination of India, belligerence of a section of Hindu population and did away with all possibility of spirituality in the occasion. This seemed to be a fit example of reclaiming the body by losing one’s soul. One TV channel creates a whole nautanki set of Rama Mandir in its studio. Rama was proclaimed to be in the heart of every Indian.
I never understood what this metaphor means. Yes, Ram is widely worshipped, and believers have deep respect for various narratives built around him. Ram is part of the culture, in large parts of the country even the routine greeting is “Ram Ram” among the peasants, or “Jai Siya Ram” among the more religiously rooted. Respecting sentiments of people who believe in Ram is a demand of behavior in civilized society. But does every Indian believe in Ram as an avatar? Does every Indian believe even in the historical fact of existence of Ram? The answer is an unambiguous NO. And still anyone who raised these questions was painted as an enemy of Hindus and India. Ram is one deity among dozens of similar importance in Hindu-dharma.
One can still understand that devotees of Ram must be genuinely elated and may genuinely believe that a bigotedly destroyed Ram Temple is being restored. Destroying someone’s place of worship is definitely insulting, demeaning and traumatic for the devotees. Thus, a sense of restoring one’s self-respect also may be understood. But flaunting of such an event as a victory is certainly a deed of a sallow and hateful mind.
There is an ambiguity regarding the site. There is a high probability on the basis of archeological evidence that there was a temple at this site, but it is not certain that the temple was destroyed to erect the mosque. There is no ambiguity that the mosque was destroyed deliberately in 1992. Thus, this occasion demanded a civilized reconciliatory tone from supporters of Ram Mandir, not belligerence and victory narrative. The Ram devotes would have earned much more respect through a widely reported but sober ceremony, without blowing the trumpet of victory. Frequent reference to Supreme Court judgment and heart felt appreciation of acceptance of that judgment by the Muslim population of India would have shown them in better spiritual and humanitarian light. But they chose a victory narrative with belligerence.
The Bhumi Pujan and shilanyas by the Prime Minister is a new low for Indian democracy and secularism. No, I am not singing in tune with so-called secularists that Indian democracy and secularism are dead. They have a habit of declaring Indian democracy and secularism dead on drop of a hat. By their reckoning both secularism and democracy died thousand times; one wonders how do they find them alive to die the next death a few weeks later! To me Indian democracy and secularism both are robust, alive, and kicking; the unabashed maligning of India itself is a proof of that. Yes, there are aberrations from the supporters of the ruling party, as well as misinterpreting secularists to a lesser degree, but the debate on Ram Temple itself proves strength of the democratic fabric of the nation. However, it is of concern that the Bhumi Pujan of a religious place by a Prime Minister is one more act against the secular constitution, and the most damaging so far. These acts weaken democracy and secularism; and even if they are not dead yet, they are pushed a step closer to death.
Whenever a state functionary in his/her capacity as a state representative goes to Babas, Dargahs, Temples, Mosques, holds iftar parties, celebrates religious occasions; the secularism takes a hit, and is chipped a little bit. This has been competitively going on in India since independence itself. Even the very secular PM Manmohan Singh is on record participating in a temple inauguration. But Bhumi Pujan and shilanyaas of a temple by a Prime Minister are the biggest blow so far. However, I will repeat: secularism is not dead, neither because of Bhumi Pujan nor because of Ram Mandir being built where once Babri Masjid stood. Yes, it is weakened and is under serious strain, but we can still make it all powerful. But only if we recognize all forces that have reduced respect for secularism in India, Sangh Parivar is a major culprit, but by no means the only one. Islamists and so-called liberals are no less responsible.
But we are jumping the gone, we will come to this point later in this essay.
To be continued tomorrow ….
9th August 2020