By Aijaz Zaka Syed
If the bizarre Ayodhya verdict of India’s Supreme Court is a classic case of adding insult to injury, on the one hand, it marks the final and total surrender of the country’s democratic institutions to Hindutva, on the other. But this had long been coming and should have been apparent to all those watching the meltdown of the republic under the current order.
Ideological infiltration by RSS, BJP
After long years of ideological infiltration by the RSS and BJP, no institution has been able to escape the pernicious influence of the Parivar. This apparently includes the blind lady promising justice to all and favour to none.
Over the past six years or so, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has personally seen to it that all arms and levers of power and governance remain locked in the iron grip of his party and its extended Parivar.
Despite all the setbacks to democracy and collapse of the rule of law over the past several years — seen in the frightening normalisation of lynching of Muslims — many had hoped that India’s judiciary would stand up to powers that be. Clearly, that was not to be.
Jammu and Kashmir
From its deafening silence on the abrogation of Jammu and Kashmir and continuing lockdown of its entire population, to its indifference to the open victimisation of opposition leaders, the highest court in the land has repeatedly let down the Constitution and rule of law.
With the strange Ayodhya verdict, the SC done away with all notions of equitable justice and rule of law. It has rewarded the aggressor and the Hindutva mob for destroying the 16th century Babri Masjid, signalling that from now on it is not the rule of law but the majoritarian sentiment that will govern India.
This even as the honourable judges acknowledged that the Babri Masjid had not been built by demolishing a temple and that Muslims had prayed in the mosque for four centuries until the night of December 22, 1949 when the idols of Ram and Sita were installed in the mosque.
The top court also censured the Hindutva groups, led by folks who are senior ministers in the government now, for razing the Masjid. Yet the court chose to magnanimously give away the land on which the mosque once stood to the same groups, advising them to build a Ram temple at the same site!
Instead of confronting and punishing all those who destroyed the Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992, sparking nation-wide riots and savagery that killed thousands of Muslims, the top court bent over backwards to appease the mob, justifying and legitimising the demolition of a house of God.
Back then, the Babri Masjid demolition had been rightly condemned by India’s top leaders, including by the SC, as an act of vandalism that brought great infamy and disgrace to the country. December 6, 1992 was defined as the darkest day in India’s history.
Yet the SC verdict, delivered this month amid such fanfare earlier this month, seems to celebrate that act of vandalism, ordering its perpetrators to do what they had always wanted to do – demolish the mosque and build a temple at the exact same site!
Do you call this justice, milords?
Is this what India’s peace-loving Muslims had waited for all these years? They repeatedly reaffirmed their faith and confidence in India’s courts and hoped and prayed for fair and equitable justice even as the other side brazenly displayed the brute power at its disposal openly refusing to accept anything that did not go their way.
India’s Muslims continued to repose their faith in the country’s courts and rule of law even after the Babri Masjid was razed to the ground in full view of the world despite all the promises made to the Supreme Court by the governments at the Centre and in the state and Hindutva leaders.
Muslims continued to believe in the judiciary and its much vaunted independence and objectivity even after seeing how courts have failed Zakia Jafri and other victims of the Gujarat 2002 pogrom and how people like Maya Kodnani, Babu Bajrangi and DG Vanzara have gotten away with murder, thanks to their protectors in power.
No wonder the Ayodhya verdict has come as such a shock to India’s increasingly marginalised and dispossessed Muslims. They did not in their wildest dream expect anything like this from the country’s highest court. For this is anything but justice.
We should have perhaps guessed the outcome given the fervent and loud appeals for “peace and communal amity” being made by the top brass of the BJP, RSS and VHP combine in the run-up to the Ayodhya verdict. Parivar and peace? Come on, gimme a break!
The question is, what do India’s Muslims do now? Where do they go from here? Where do they go for justice? In Faiz’s words:
Bane hain ahl-e-hawas muddai bhi munsif bhi
Kise wakil Karen, kis se munsafi chahen?
Of course, Muslims are going to appeal against the judgment for what it is worth besides rejecting the humiliating 5-acre plot being offered in restitution for the Babri Masjid site. Although there is little hope of justice or any dramatic outcome from this lot, you’ve got to take this process to its logical conclusion. However, their faith in India’s courts has been grievously shaken and injured, if not totally destroyed.
Let us get this straight. This had never been about a mosque or temple or the ownership of a piece of land. As I argued in these columns before, at stake had been the very future of India as a democratic and law-abiding society and constitutional democracy where the rule of law, not the mob rule of ‘jiski lathi uski bhains’, reigns supreme.
As the Ayodhya judgement demonstrated in no uncertain terms, India has undergone a watershed change. You can longer be sure that the affairs of the republic will be governed by the secular and democratic Constitution of India. The republic is more likely to be guided by the majoritarian sentiments and whims and fancies of the powerful.
The Idea of India, as we know it, is in peril. And this is a tragedy perhaps far greater than the destruction of the Babri Masjid or the subsequent SC verdict awarding the mosque site to those who demolished it.
This is the new reality of the so-called ‘new India’. This is the India of Savarkar’s dreams, and not the country that Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Maulana Azad and countless others worked for.
And this may just be the beginning. Things may get even more difficult as the BJP pushes ahead with its mission to totally disempower India’s Muslims through fascist designs like the National Register of Citizenship (NRC).
The sooner India’s Muslims wake up to this new reality, the better for them. It can no longer be business as usual if they are to survive in this fast-changing country. They must awaken immediately and organise and empower themselves on a war footing. Setting themselves new goals, they need to empower themselves — educationally, economically and politically. Just as the Dalits and Christians have done after long years of oppression.
They must also reach out to the Hindu majority of the country to win back its trust and confidence. They must work harder to address the misconceptions about Islam and Muslims sown in the minds of people by the Right over the years. Their very future and survival in India may depend on it.
Aijaz Zaka Syed is an award winning journalist and editor. Email: [email protected]. Twitter @AijazZak