India’s Supreme Court ruled in favour of Hindus on November 9th, 2019 in a decades-old dispute over a holy site contested by Muslims. This holy site is in Ayodhya, a city in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, and is the birthplace of one of the most revered Hindu gods, Lord Ram. At the centre of this dispute is a 16th-century mosque that was demolished by mobs in 1992, sparking riots that killed nearly 2000 people. This violence was instigated by the belief that Babri Masjid, the mosque, was built on the ruins of Hindu Temple demolished by Muslim invaders. This dispute, which dates back more than a century, is still one of India’s most divisive court cases and is at the heart of its identity politics.
This dispute, which dates back more than a century, is still one of India’s most divisive court cases and is at the heart of its identity politics.
The Supreme Court’s decision was unanimous and was made on the basis of the report presented by the Archaeological Survey of India. The decision states that the disputed land should be given to Hindus to build a temple for Lord Ram, while the Muslims should be given land (of double the size of the contested land) elsewhere in the city to construct a mosque. The court also added that the demolition of the Babri Mosque on 6th December 1992 was against the law.
Over 150,00 people are believed to have been involved in the demolition of the Babri mosque. Karsevaks, members of the Rashtriya Swayam Sevaks (RSS), were sent by the organization to demolish the Babri Masjid on November 9th. The RSS, India’s most prominent right-wing socio-political organization, is at the root of the Hindutva ideology and the BJP is, in fact, a political offspring of the RSS. A few hours after the barricades were breached, the three domes of the mosque were taken over by the Karsevaks and a few hours after that, the domes that loomed so large in the horizon were broken down, leaving behind a cloud of red dust and “the myth of Hindu tolerance”.
The violence from the riots following the demolition of Babri mosque saw the greatest amount of deaths due to religious conflict since the partition in 1942. The dispute over the plot has polarized India; it is touched by both politics and faith. Violence over the past century and the legacy of pain and animosity between the Hindus and Muslims has been passed down through generations. In fact, it can be very well claimed that the BJP’s rise as a national political party was fueled by the polarization and majoritarian fear of a Muslim takeover that the right wing groups flared with this agitation. With the verdict finally being out, there is hope for closure but with the current government deepening religious fissures, it is essential that India’s main communities avoid triumphalism.
With the verdict finally being out, there is hope for closure but with the current government deepening religious fissures, it is essential that India’s main communities avoid triumphalism.
Ever since the Hindu nationalist BJP, led by Narendra Modi, first came into power in 2014, India has experienced escalating social and religious divisions. The call for the construction of a Hindu temple in Ayodhya was one of many religious issues that MPs and leaders from the BJP, since taking office, chose to speak out about. The Beef Ban, enforcement of restrictions on the sale and slaughter of cows — considered a holy animal by majority Hindus — is another change brought about in a BJP-led India. This policy has led to multiple vigilante killings and lynching of mostly Muslim cattle transporters. Critics are worried by the display of Hindu nationalism as it not only challenges the secularism India has been proud to claim in the past, but also signals rising religious tension that could change the dynamic of the entire country.
Narendra Modi’s ruling Hindu nationalist party swept elections this past May campaigning on a Hindu nationalist agenda, making the court case an emotionally charged turning point. They aimed to build a temple in an attempt to wipe away the centuries of oppression Hindus experienced at the hands of the Muslim Mughal empire and British colonists. Another goal in the BJP’s campaign was achieved in the past three months by stripping the Muslim majority Kashmir of its autonomy, making it more like any other state of the Indian union, but also alienating its people who have long cherished their autonomous status.
Critics are worried by the display of Hindu nationalism as it not only challenges the secularism India has been proud to claim in the past, but also signals rising religious tension that could change the dynamic of the entire country.
Following the verdict on the Babri Mosque, India’s Muslim population was divided between those who wanted to challenge the judgment and those who just want to move forward in the spirit of achieving harmony. Those who wish to contest come with the belief that this decision will permanently relegate Muslim’s to second class citizens and wish to reclaim their position in the Indian community through the restoration of the mosque.
While the short-term fear of communal tensions has garnered multiple precautions by the government, religious organization belonging to all faiths, as well as police forces, there is the long-term worry that non-Hindu minorities, particularly Muslims, will begin to feel like second class citizens, creating deep division between communities. India has always been considered a miracle land where democracy came before development, unlike the rest of the world. The founders of the modern Indian nation were carefully built into a free democratic constitution of rights and freedoms that were inclusive of all the diverse communities in 1949.
…there is the long-term worry that non-Hindu minorities, particularly Muslims, will begin to feel like second class citizens, creating deep division between communities.
Today, one must ponder over whether this miracle land will be able to achieve that which its founders so ambitiously set as its goals, or if it will get overshadowed by the fast growing majoritarian and nationalist tendencies that we see developing around the world.
Edited by Sruthi Sudhir.
Photo credits: “Devant Hanumangarhi temple” by Lionel Viroulaud. Published 28th of October, 2013. This work was sourced under a Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license. No changes were made.
Mehak Balwani is in her third year at McGill University, currently pursuing a B.A. in International Development and English Literature.