Hindu Vivek Kendra
Is the Ram Janmabhoomi movement Anti-Muslim?
Ashok Chowgule
President, Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Maharashtra

The Ram Janmabhoomi movement is the most important event of the post-independence era of India. It has completely altered the complexion of the politics, as well has drastically altered the reference point for evaluating many other aspects of our society. Hindutva has become the focus, instead of Marx. Those who have been in the forefront of the movement are rightly claiming that the Hindus are no longer ashamed of identifying themselves as Hindus. Given the correct emphasis, the movement can lead to the rejuvenaration of our society and make India occupy her rightful place in the world. It will make the prophesy of Shri Arnold Toynbee come true: “Today we are still living in this transitional chapter of world's history, but it is already becoming clear that the chapter which had a western beginning, will have an Indian ending, if it is not to end in self destruction of the human race. At this supremely dangerous moment in human history, the only way of salvation for mankind is the Indian way - Emperor Asoka's and Mahatma Gandhi's principal of non-violence and Sri Ramkrishna's testimony of religions.” (Foreword to 'India's contribution to world thought and culture', 1970.)

However, at the intellectual level, the issues are perverted, and the whole movement is termed as a programme to teach Muslims of India a lesson. This is because the Babri structure, supposed to be a place of worship for the Muslims, was sought to be shifted and a temple for Lord Ram was to be built in its place. The history of the site has been so mixed up with the political issue, that the question of whether a temple was destroyed in 1528 AD and the Babri structure built in its place is never adequately answered in a public debate. Similarly, the public has not been told that the Hindus have made sincere efforts to recover the site through a dialogue in December 1990. The events of December 6, 1992, enabled these intellectuals to further confuse the issue. Additionally, they suddenly discovered a sublime Hinduism and tried to use it to denounce the destruction of the Babri structure.

The funny part is that these same intellectuals have been saying all these years that there is nothing in the Hindu civilisation to be proud of. In fact, they tried to establish that Hinduism is a modem 'construction', and that prior to the eighteenth century there was nothing called Hinduism. The social ills of our society were also sought to be placed at the doorsteps of the Hindu philosophy. Now, people like Swami Vivekanand, who were denounced as reactionary, have suddenly become people of great wisdom. If the Ram Janmabhoomi movement has woken them up to what Hinduism is all about, then that itself will be the biggest gain of the movement.

This note will put the communal issue in the right perspective. The history of the site has been well established and documented. What needs to be understood that this is not a mere ordinary site - it is the Ram Janmabhoomi. What needs to be understood that what is sought to be reconstructed is not a temple for Lord Ram - but a temple for Lord Ram at the Ram Janmabhoomi. What needs to be understood that the destruction in 1528 AD was because it was the temple At the Ram Janmabhoomi. The issue here is not of bricks and mortar, or real estate either.

Every conqueror from outside tries to establish symbols which will remind the people who is the master and who the slave. At the time of the first Russian occupation of Poland (1614-1915), the Tsars built a cathedral for the Eastern Ortodox Church in an avowedly Roman Catholic country. In 1918, after the country became free, the Poles pulled down this structure, because the purpose for which the Russians had built it had been not religious but political, and the purpose had also been intentionally offensive. Even though the cathedral was to offer prayers to Jesus Christ, a free Poland could not tolerate monuments of slavery in their land. In this way it is ensured that true nationalism has its rightful place in the remaking of the nation.

The construction of the Babri structure was meant to be an ocular reminder that Islam ruled over the Hindus, and even the holiest of the holy Hindu sites are not immune from vandalism. Armies can win the geography, but demolition of the national symbols (physical and spiritual) will complete the victory by destroying the civilisation and culture. No invader can afford to allow these symbols to survive, since they can well be rallying points for the freedom struggles. Similarly, an invader has to ensure that the memory of the people's ancestors is also wiped out as quickly as possible.

It is natural that a free people should recover their own symbols. The problem is created when this inclination is sought to be thwarted, under the guise of modernity and allegation of trying to revive old wounds. However, what these opponents are attempting to do is to frustrate the legitimate aspirations of the people. Often, these opponents have their own agenda, which involve denying the past of the people, particularly the past that involves the period prior to the invaders. In effect, they try to uphold the memory of the invaders over the ones of the heroes of an earlier antiquity.

An article in The Illustrated Weekly of India on Rana Pratap Singh, Chatrapati Shivaji, and Rani Laxmibai of Jhansi, created quite a ruckus at the time. 'Re management of the publication had to tender a public apology for the distortion that was sought to be made. However, the real intent of the writer can be seen from the following statement: “History is 'a luxury that a colonised population on the threshold of freedom cannot afford. It thus becomes imperative for a nascent nation to produce a costume drama for itself, in lieu of the past. The nation's origins and antecedents are explained away by means of a series of tableaux vivants, splendidly mounted by adept ideologues within the proscenium of mythology. The first function of this nationalist mythology is the creation of exemplars, role models. For this purpose, cultural heroes and heroines are abstracted from the intricate cross-weave of their original context. Deprived of the political and cultural specificities of which they were actually the creatures, they are converted into larger-than-life figures.” (Myths and Supermyths, Nancy Adjania, Illustrated Weekly of India, April 10- 16, 1993.)

What is sought to be stated is that the heroes arc created out of thin air, and there is no historical basis for it. The same game can be seen in the case of the Ram Janmabhoomi, because the denial of the reconstruction of the temple is sought to be justified not only on the basis of the alleged holiness of the site for the Muslims, but also on the basis that the Babri structure is a monument of our secularism and composite culture. How does a structure which came up after destruction of a temple, and which had a Political purpose, can have such significance is not answered.

In making the demand for the return of the Ram Janmabhoomi, the VHP had said in January 1991, “We do not even demand the return of the thousands of places of worship that have been forcibly replaced with mosques..... We merely want three places back, three age-old sacred places. And we would prefer getting them back from the Muslim community, to getting them back by an official decree..... Muslims should understand what kind of message they are sending by insisting on continuing the occupation of our sacred places, an occupation started by fanatics and mass-murders like Babar and Aurangzeb. We do not like to think of our Muslim compatriots as heirs and followers of such invaders and tyrants. It is up to them to make a gesture that will signify a formal break with this painful past.”

What is being posed here is how does a demand for the return of a holy Hindu site, usurped by force, can be anti-Muslims? What is being posed here is how does a usurped Hindu holy site can have any religious significance for any other religion? What is being posed here is what does one think of a person who upholds the memory of the invaders over those of our own cultural and civilisational heroes?

The Ram Janmabhoomi movement is not designed to open old wounds but to heal them. These wounds are those that have been inflicted on the Hindus. Anyone who wishes not to see them healed are only perpetuating the memory of our slavery. Similarly, this movement is not that is something that has been created by the leaders of Hindutva. Shri V S Naipaul said, “What is happening in India is a new, historical awakening. It seems to me that Indians are becoming alive to their history. Romila Thapar's book on Indian history is a Marxist attitude which in substance says: there is a higher truth behind the invasions, feudalism and all that. The correct truth is the way the invaders looked at their (own) actions. They were conquering, they were subjugating. And they were in a country where people never understood this. Only now are the people beginning to understand that there has been a great vandalising of India. Because of the nature of the conquest and the nature of Hindu society such understanding had eluded Indians before. What is happening in India is a highly creative process. Indian intellectuals, who want to be secure in their liberal beliefs, may not understand what is going on, especially if these intellectuals happen to be in the United States. But every other Indian knows precisely what is happening: deep down he knows that a larger response is emerging even if at times this response appears in his eyes to be threatening. I don't see the Hindu reaction purely in terms of one fundamentalism pitted against another. The sense of history that the Hindus are now developing is a new thing. (To prevent emotions from spilling over and creating fresh tensions), it is not enough to use that fashionable word from Europe: fascism. Wise men should understand (the historical significance) and ensure that it does not remain in the hands of fanatics. Rather they should use it for the intellectual transformation of India.” (The Times of India, July 19, 1993.)


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