Thursday, 28 October 2010

The only time I have liked seeing a traffic jam

Today I took off from Mumbai for Chennai. I usually heave a sigh of relief when I do that, glad to be leaving behind traffic snarls and dusty, hot trips, eating a lot of dust and breathing smoke. Chennai is pleasanter simply because I usually have a car to take me where ever I want to go. And when I don't, I do have the luxury of simply refusing to budge. There's also dear mommy to fuss over me and daddy to crack all the jokes and a bunch of relatives who can be hilarious and exasperating at the same time. However, this post isn't about why I like Chennai and I've been rambling on here.

So anyhow, my flight took off and I was sitting in a window seat as usual (I refuse to sit anywhere else in a plane. I just love window seats!) and was staring intently out the window. Not that one could see much, at least until we took off. And once we did, I saw one of the most gorgeous sites ever. A thousand, maybe more, twinkling in a four lane band across the city. I do have my fair share of pity for anyone who did happen to be a part of that band of light that seemed to light up Mumbai for it must have taken them many hours to get anywhere at all, but from up above, it truly was a wonderful sight. Almost as though the city was lit up for Diwali. I wish I had not put my camera in the offboard luggage this one time! Sigh! So yeah, this time I have no picture to put up with my post (finding an appropriate one on corbis or something ain't gonna work this time). :(

Monday, 4 October 2010

Oh, but of course, we must prove we are secular!

The recent Allahabad High Court judgement on the land dispute at Ayodhya is to be commended (I refuse to call it the Babri Masjid case because this is NOT the criminal trial associated with the demolition of the mosque. This case was concerned with determining the ownership of the land on which the Mosque stood). It is to be commended because it does the only sensible thing that any court of law, that has the interest of the majority of this nation, can do. It split the land three ways between all the contenders and expressed its opinion on the numerous evidences present before it.

The judgement however, has come in for much criticism from some noted intellectuals of Indian society. Two in particular stand out in my mind and I find them very problematic. The first was a criticism made by lawyer Rajeev Dhawan on NDTV on the day the judgement was announced. According to him, the judgement is panchayati because the judges acknowledge the historical veracity (in the face of evidence presented by the Archeological Survey of India) of the Hindu claim that a temple once stood in the place where the Mosque was. He also has a problem with the fact that the court accepts the Hindu belief that Ayodhya is indeed the birthplace of Lord Ram. Today, a friend sent me a link that led me to this article. Historian Romila Thapar, in an op-ed article in The Hindu, criticises the court judgement stating that the ASI evidence is faulty (without once saying why it is faulty) and that while the Mosque is an integral part of Indian culture, the beliefs and historicity of India's largest religious community has no bearing on Indian culture.

I find the grounds on which these two criticisms have been made worrisome because it seems to me that the intellectuals of the country are in a constant effort to prove that they are "secular" and "broad minded" by siding with the party that has the fewer numbers. The idea of being secular is not the unquestioned protection of the miniority but the acceptance that all communities (including the majority community) have equal rights. It saddens me that in the name of secularism, we have made the majority discourse of this country the minority discourse; that people are afraid to stand up for the Hindu faith for fear of being called fascist or non secular. Why are we so belligerent in our secularism and in our stand on equality? Why can we not be broad minded enough to give the majority its due as well? Why must that always be branded as Hindutva or fascism? It is this pandering to the minority that has, in my view, caused a certain section of the majority to rise up in violent protest. While this does not make their protest right, it should give us cause to think about how we approach notions of secularism.

The land dispute in Ayodhya is first and foremost, a religious one and secondly a historical one. In a religious dispute, faith must be taken into account for the simple reason that none of us can prove or disprove the existence of God. God is a notion we subscribe to on faith and so the historical belief in Rama and Krishna too is based on faith. Second, from a historical point of view, the court only says that a temple once stood on the land where the Mosque was. No where in its judgement does the court say that the Hindus must build a temple in that spot. It only allocates one third of the disputed land to the Hindus. The claim to build a temple has been made by political leaders. It does not augur well for a noted historian to discredit the judgement of the court based on a factually incorrect and biased reading of the judgement.

Lastly, the court is not condoning the act of demolishing the mosque. There is a separate criminal trial pending in court for that. It is only sorting out a civil dispute over the ownership of land. To tie the two issues to each other is to take away from the mandate of the court in this particular case and discredit its prudence. The court has, in my opinion, done admirably in ensuring that Ayodhya does not once again become the cause for a blood bath. It has, in its judgement, upheld the essential equality of all communities in a secular state and has accepted and given legitimacy to two historical facts: that a temple existed in that spot and that a mosque existed in that spot.

In terms of upholding religious faith, perhaps Romila Thapar and Rajeev Dhawan and anyone else who feels the court has been one sided should consider this - only one of the parties has a religious culture and mythology associated with Ayodhya. That community happens to be The Hindus. It is right that their faith should be upheld. The Muslims built a mosque there. That is a historical fact which has not just been recognised but also awarded. However, they do not have any religio-cultural mythology associated with Ayodhya. And therefore, try as the court may, it will find no faith to uphold. These are things we should recognise before we cry foul and rail eloquent about minorities being wronged and secularism being cast aside. Given the tensions and diversity of our society, we cannot afford to be so insecure and defensive about what it means to be secular.
 

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