Sunday, 4 October 2020

Minorities support Hindus' right to three holy sites ( Sunday Guardian)



So deep is the belief that Hindus do not deserve to get their three holy sites restored to them that opinion continues to grow that regards such a desire as evil.

Why is it that only those against the desire of Hindus to get back the three holy sites that had been despoiled in the past get called upon to write or declaim on television? The overwhelming majority of Muslims and other minorities will support such a move for justice to a billion citizens of India. Given the length of time that has elapsed between the 6 December 1992 event and the present verdict exonerating all those charged with the destruction of the Babri Masjid, it is possible that lack of surviving evidence linking those charged with the destruction of the structure was the reason why the balance of advantage was given to every accused. To claim as some do that photographs of happy faces were sufficient proof of wrongdoing seems an inference too far. The worldwide reaction to the event has been as though the entire edifice of justice towards a particular faith was torn down with the Babri Masjid. The reality is that India’s 200 million Muslims are an example to the world for their moderation. Barring the locations where Wahhabism was permitted to run riot. From 1989 onwards, almost every month temples were being vandalised in the northernmost tip of India, without any media or other blowback, whether within the country or outside. Such lack of reaction is no surprise, as the period following the horrific assassination of Mahatma Gandhi was seemingly marked by an effort to efface through the governance mechanism any of the rights associated with belonging to a majority community anywhere in the world. In effect, the majority community in India was treated by policymakers in the manner minorities have been across several parts of the world. The majority community has been subject to discriminatory laws that have continued to be enacted. There was a period in India when civil servants who visited temples every week or who wore a mark on their foreheads were considered to be “Hindu fanatics”. In case of many, such a classification had significant effects on their careers in a manner not seen in the case of those of other faiths who regularly went to their places of worship. The adherence to some of the rituals of the faith of the majority were de-legitimised and portrayed as evidence of fanaticism, whereas political parties and groups that explicitly championed only what they perceived to be the interests of a “minority” faith were accepted as secular. The justice—indeed, the right—to places of worship that are at the core of a given faith is difficult to dispute. Yet the fact was that in a country that was explicitly divided on the basis of faith by those in a community who fell into the colonial trap of “Divide and Leave” no action was taken to restore to longstanding tradition just the three sites that are considered to be at the heart of the Hindu faith. After decades, one of the three sites is on track to being returned to ancient traditions. Yet across the world, not to mention within the very country partitioned on the basis of religion and which is the home of a billion Hindus, this is seen as an act of gross injustice to a faith that has the privilege of its own holy sites being nurtured and protected in the manner that Mecca and Medina are. Or Jerusalem is for Jews or Bethlehem or the Vatican for Christians. So deep is the belief that Hindus do not deserve to get their three traditional holy sites restored to them that opinion continues to grow that regards such a desire as wholly unacceptable and indeed evil. Partition was seen by the British colonials as being the method of preventing bloodshed. Instead, it caused a massacre. Coming to the present, the return to ancient traditions of Ayodhya, Mathura and Kashi will ensure rather than damage harmony between faiths.

Better effort by those prosecuting the Babri Masjid case may have resulted in at least some individuals being found culpable and made to pay the penalty for their actions nearly three decades back. However, this does not take away the lack of justice in the “intolerant tolerant” regarding as wrong and evil the return of the Ram Mandir to the traditions that were rudely interrupted by the destruction wreaked by excesses that finally caused the collapse of Mughal rule. Not just at Ayodhya but at Mathura and Kashi as well, the existing structures were razed and replaced with structures that are still extant. Aurangzeb was one with present critics of the Ram Mandir that Hindus had no right to their holy sites. What is extraordinary is that so many commentators across the world agree with him. Whether during the period of Mughal rule or during the period of the British empire, it would be fanciful to argue that Muslims or Christians were disadvantaged and discriminated against by the Hindus. As for the period before that, there were hardly any Muslims or Christians in the subcontinent at the time, and no record exists of persecution against them. This being the case, the anger within sections of the commentariat at the suggestion that Hindus be given the right to the restoration of their three holy sites shows the persistence of a past syndrome that considered this community to be unworthy of equal treatment, the very treatment that is the foundation of secularism. Whether it be in cities in India or outside, the innate justice of such a claim by a community that has seen its land vivisected seems to be a concept alien to the thought processes of several policymakers, scholars and commentators who exhibit Zero Tolerance to this fundamental right of Hindus to their three holy sites.

Words such as “genocide” or “extermination” are frequently heard in conferences across the world that purport to describe the situation in India. But where are the mass graves and the sites where such mass killings have taken place? Certainly there have been isolated instances of the killing of individuals by majority community bigots angered by the diet or lifestyles of their minority victims. Each such action needs to be condemned and punished. Zero Tolerance for bigotry and injustice should extend to situations such as what took place at Hathras, where the police seemed to have been less interested in punishing the perpetrators than in usurping the rights of the family of the victim in the matter of last rites. As Prime Minister Narendra Modi indicated, such an outrage needs to be severely punished. However, the conflation of isolated acts of vengeance and cruelty into a narrative of pan-Indian genocide does no credit to those retailing such falsehood. India needs to stand together with other democracies in protecting each other against the threats they severally and jointly face, and only enemies of democracy will welcome a drumbeat that demonizes Hindus and their right to what Christians and Muslims have.

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