Friday, October 1, 2010


The Ayodhya verdict that was delivered yesterday showcased considerable maturity on the part of the Indian judiciary. I won't get into the specifics of how justice could be achieved on the issue of Babri Mosque, simply because that requires a discourse on Indian domestic politics from the 1980s onwards. Politically speaking, however, the decision to divide the land, and the manner of division, made absolute sense. Had the courts made a decision in favour of either side, there would have been violence and rioting, to say the least. A pro-Muslim decision would have been like gift wrapping more votes for the BJP, while a pro-Hindu decision would have spoiled the Congress' supposedly left-of-centre image and caused riots across the subcontinent.

My only objection to the verdict is the some of the issues on which it was based. The first question the court considered was whether Ayodhya was truly the birthplace of Ram. What business is it of the judiciary to be making statements about whether or not someplace was the birthplace of a god? It firstly assumes a belief in the divine, which strictly speaking, a secular state can not do. Secondly, it presupposes that such a divine figure had a physical birth place. Even if the court was making this decision based on theological advice from religious authorities, there is still no absolute way to prove where anybody was born, least of all for a court of law.

Secondly, it asked whether the Babri Masjid was built according to the tenets of Islam. Islam forbids the building of mosques on desecrated religious sites, which the spot in Ayodhya may indeed have been in the fifteenth century. On that count, the mosque might have been un-Islamic. However, the motivations of the Sangh Parivar in wanting to tear it down were certainly not the preservation of the true Islamic character of the mosque, so the issue should not have been treated as such. Also, it plunges the present Indian judiciary into the murky territory of litigating issues that arose literally centuries before the birth of the modern Indian state. How far back can one possibly litigate? Does this mean crimes committed in the colonial era are also for the Indian and Pakistani courts to decide on today?

The issue of Babri Masjid was deeply symbolic, and the judges in Lucknow did a good job of providing a reasonable verdict keeping mind the charged nature of the problem. However, if it had been treated like a case of disputed territory from the very beginning, rather than the ideologically-based struggle the RSS had hoped it would become, a great deal of communal tension might have been defused years ago.

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