So the Ramajanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid verdict has been postponed and it’s time yet again for doing what we’ve been known to do best: push problems as much as you can until they explode as they must. Meanwhile, the attitudes in the secular camp that prevailed in the ’90s remain unchanged. In some cases, they’ve gotten more strident. In the 90s the field was clearly marked: the secularists who supported the case of Muslims and the Hindus. Today, we have another voice that seems to have a considerable spread in the Web world at least. This is the liberal voice that comes in various garbs: liberal Hindu (I’m a Hindu but I’m a liberal), the humanist Hindu, the atheist Hindu, and so on.
Here’s one variant. Great Bong is a blog I immensely enjoy for its no-holds-barred-funny film reviews and some on-the-spot observations and commentary. But this one comes as a dampener.
His chief “contention is one cannot roll back history without incurring heavy costs in the present.” And I agree broadly but he posits this in the context of the Ayodhya issue but how he goes about to arrive at the conclusion presents several problems. The first of which occurs in this line:
So Babur knocked down a Hindu temple and built a mosque over it. It happened a long time ago. Get over it.
This isn’t a new or terribly original line and I wouldn’t have bothered responding had it not been for the flippant manner the rest of the post continues.
The Ayodhya issue is not a lover’s quarrel or separation to “get over it.” It concerns the history, civilization, and future of an entire subcontinent and a religion with a tradition that continues unbroken for 5000 years. If not resolved properly, the Ayodhya issue impacts the survival of that continuity. Indeed, the reason for the mess this has become is one of the indicators of such a potentially fatal impact.
Which is why it’s important not to get over it. To get over something, you must understand it inside out. In this case, it means developing a keen, insightful sense of history. And that can’t be developed without studying history and how it has and/or continues to shape the present. I’m all for getting over it and moving on but not at the cost of ignoring the past. And I see this frivolous attitude about history in a large number of otherwise well-read and educated Indians. If we lost the sense of history, we wouldn’t know why Pakistan has named its missiles Ghauri and Ghaznavi. This is one of the answers to Great Bong who elsewhere asks us to
…forget what happened in the 1520s because no one is alive now who feels any of the pain.
The symbolism behind these missile names is an open expression of intent to revisit upon India what those historical figures did. And by the same logic, we must also advocate closing down the Holocaust museum because hardly anyone is alive today who has undergone and/or witnessed that pain firsthand. Great Bong’s prescription hovers close to asking us to ignore history but not in so many words. Ignoring something won’t go make it away. As Emerson said, it’s better to pay your debt now than later because later would be too costly.
His other argument that it’s futile to try to right the wrongs of history also stands on weak ground. That makes us ask him why the US helped Japan’s rebuilding. This is not about righting historical wrongs but reconciliation as we shall see. And it’s all the more reason to sharpen the historical sense. Besides, Great Bong doesn’t care to tell us how the Ayodhya issue culminated in the majid destruction. The destruction happened because of wilful and fraudulent telling of history. The anti-Mandir camp spent years trying to “prove” that the Ram Mandir didn’t exist and that Babar was a peace-loving ruler. When they were proved wrong, they changed track and resorted to shrill personal attack and petty politics, which is what ultimately hastened religious polarisation. The secular historians who infiltrated the media and academia over the decades vocally asserted that the “goal” of history should be to ensure communal harmony but what they achieved was its exact opposite. Which meant suppressing unpleasant historical truths. Secular history writing dates back to when Nehru became the unquestioned champion. That is also history and that history is in a very large part responsible for the demolition of the Masjid. etc. The goal of history as in any human endeavour should be to tell the truth however unpalatable it is. To quote Dr. SL Bhyrappa, a robust and healthy society can’t be built on a foundation of untruth.
No sir, you cannot move on without knowing the complete truth. Babar was an alien invader who destroyed non-Islamic places of worship because that’s what his religion ordained him to do in order to obtain religious merit. And it is this religious commandment that continues to motivate the destruction of temples going on in today’s India, news that the media blocks. It’s the same commandment that motivated the Taliban to blow up the Bamiyan Buddha idols despite the fact that there’s not a single Buddhist in Afghanistan. It’s also the same commandment that motivates Pakistan to allot well-chosen names to their missiles, and send their gun-toting boys across the border from time to time to amuse themselves. It’s still the same commandment that motivates incidents like chopping off the poor Kerala lecturer’s hand. And this commandment was laid down sometime in the 7th Century A.D. And how do we know this? Because history informs us. So you see when something that was laid down in the 7th Century has ramifications even today, it’s kind of hard to simply move on. The danger of future Babars arising in the world is clear and present.
But let’s see how Great Bong frames history.
Lest people misunderstand, I am not saying we forget or not care for giving justice to those who died as a result of the riots that happened post-Babri mosque demolition. Those things aren’t history. We saw it. Families who lost a loved one are still alive. They remember and they deserve justice. But whether a Ram temple stood there at the site of the Babri mosque when Babur came a-visiting—-that’s what I do not care about.
So there. The here and now (give or take ten or twenty years) is what is important. Unfortunately, that’s a very skewed way of defining history. History is history whether it is five decades, or five centuries old. Even yesterday is history. I say this with utmost politeness, but it really doesn’t matter what you care. There is such a thing as shared cultural consciousness. Babar’s temple demolition is the open wound upon one of the most sacred symbols of this cultural consciousness. You may not care about it, but please refrain from speaking for the millions of those who do.
It is surprising that Great Bong omits mention of the rebuilt Somanath temple. Had it not been built back then, it’d have most certainly been Ayodhya Part 2 because here’s an important part in the story of Somanath reconstruction.
The ruins [of the mosque] were pulled down in October 1950 and the mosque was moved to a different location. In May 1951, Rajendra Prasad, the first President of the Republic of India, invited by K M Munshi, performed the installation ceremony for the temple…added “The Somnath temple signifies that the power of reconstruction is always greater than the power of destruction”
In 1950, a mosque was pulled down–yes, demolished–and a replacement mosque was built on a different site. And it evoked not a whimper of protest or untoward incident. And in 1992, the Babri Masjid was forcibly demolished and large scale communal violence broke out in its wake and a similar threat looms what with the impending judgement. So what changed between 1951 and 1992? I leave the answer to your intelligence. Maybe Great Bong would like to answer why Patel et al were successful in demolishing that mosque, rebuilding the Somanath temple, and getting a replacement mosque while he, Great Bong, needs to write such a poorly-thought out post.
Great Bong further confounds the post by drawing irrelevant parallels.
And what about the wrongs taking place now, as we speak? Have we reached a stage that our present is so perfect that we need to look four hundred years back to correct something bad done then? Why worry whether Babur looted us in the middle ages when there are a gang of Commonwealth Master Gogos in Delhi, under the guise of organizing an international sporting event, pillaging the coffers of our country at this moment?
It takes quite a leap of logic to spot a symmetry with Babar and the CWG pillagers. People’s outrage over the CWG banditry has to do with the violation of ethics, decency, etc while Ayodhya is an emotive issue for a very different reason. And no, Babar didn’t merely loot. Like I said earlier, he deliberately destroyed the Ram Mandir because his faith commanded him to do that as a means to earn religious merit. Does Great Bong seriously contend that Hindus want to rebuild the Ram Mandir for the same reason that they want the CWG robbers to be brought to book, the money recovered, etc? Is he saying that Hindus want to recover all the money Babar had looted back then?
I do not buy this need to address generational hurt argument because it is most frequently used to perpetrate historical wrongs
Agree. But then doesn’t it ever occur to Great Bong that you know, maybe there’s something called “healing the wounds?” A little give and take will build the bridges and all that jazz. I’m consistently amazed that folks who always argue like Great Bong never fail to invoke only the negative side. The “generational hurt argument” helps actually because it enables us to trace the root of the problem and apply the balm that heals the hurt and try and apply our minds to ensure that it doesn’t open up avenues for abuse. Why insist on only looking at the potential for abuse?
And then he brings in the Constitution angle.
It’s the Constitution stupid. What is being deliberated is not the divinity of Ram or whether he existed, but whether a temple stood there or not.
Yes. And the temple did exist. Now what? He doesn’t answer that but inexplicably jumps to:
And in any case, the law in a secular state is obliged to care two hoots for your sensibilities. There are laws. And you have to obey them.
As for the Constitution, it might interest him to know that our Constitution is ill-advised, and not well thought-out. It’s pretty much a cut-and-paste job and it’s an alien Constitution not suited to Indian realities. If the Constitution took into account the Indian people’s aspirations, Ayodhya wouldn’t have been an issue at all. And that’s where we need to start. Did Great Bong ever stop to think about why despite so many safeguards, etc in the Constitution, every single rule, precept, prescription, and article is flouted with impunity and nobody has been punished for such flagrant violation in these 60+ years? Or the fact that every Constitutional body is today an enabler of corruption?
And that “secular state” remark is laughable to say the least. Is that wishful thinking on Great Bong’s part or does he actually mean the Indian state is secular? A truly secular state would’ve prevented such communal flashpoints, not created conditions that foment them.
There are laws. And you have to obey them. If your sentiments are hurt and the legal framework does not give you remedy for your “hurt”, go suck your thumb.”
This is an excellent argument if only our laws didn’t suck so badly. In other words, does he advocate obeying unjust laws? I’m reminded of the quote that says something like “in a country of crooks the only place for an honest man is the prison.” I’ll use an extreme example because I think it makes the case more effectively: does Great Bong advocate that we obey “laws” like say the one Indira Gandhi made, which put her above the law? Here again, I find the penchant for looking at only the negative side rather amusing and dangerous. Instead of making laws that prohibit the possibility of hurt sentiments, you want people to obey laws that have the potential to actually hurt sentiments. Most laws that lead to communal conflicts–not to mention the Indian state that encourages vote bank creation–are designed to lead to conflict. Good examples include state interference in Hindu temples while granting almost limitless freedom to minority institutions. There you have, the seed for communal conflict right within the law.
And then to be fair, he does diss the Constitution but for a different reason.
In this respect, our constitution is also to blame since it says free speech is fine as long as it does not hurt people’s sensibilities. But as I have seen before in this blogspace many times, “free speech” that actually needs to be protected by law is by definition hurtful of someone’s sentiments. This is why India really has no concept of protected speech, unlike say what US citizens have under the First Amendment. Which is why even in any case that can be determined on the basis of the law, “sentiments” will be considered, even though what may come out might well be a travesty of justice.
This bolsters my case for properly defining, redefining and revamping some of the most fundamental and vital principles that are currently governing this land.
I’ve seen Great Bong’s definition of free speech (underlined) in countless blogs, articles, etc. But the question here is not about free speech. The question, rather questions are: why didn’t the concept of free speech (as we know it today) exist in India until we adopted it from the West? And why does the West prize free speech so much? For that we need to go back to history again–the same history that Great Bong wants people to move on from. The West fought for centuries, at great cost, against the Church’s oppression of free expression and when they completely unshackled themselves, they realized that what they had earned had to be eternally, fiercely defended. In India however, since the Vedic times, we freely poked fun of our Gods and Goddesses and we continue to do so. This tradition of openness, tolerance and accepting differences with a smile continued to thrive even during an age when the Christian West was busy burning innocent people at the stake for blasphemy, a “crime” that’s as momentous as stepping on rat shit. It’s no coincidence that the West made rapid scientific and economic advancements only after its fight with the Church’s oppression gained momentum and mass. Similarly, during the same period, it’s also no coincidence that India continued to enjoy its status as the world’s most prosperous and sought-after trading destinations. Only a free country–in every sense of the word–makes this possible.
A cursory reading of Indian history would’ve made all this very clear to Great Bong. But he chooses to lament about the lack of a US-style First Amendment that protects free speech. This state of affairs is pretty tragic because it shows a paucity of Indians who can’t draw solutions from their own past but look to borrow stuff from elsewhere. More appropriately, they can’t draw solutions from our own past because they exhibit no interest in doing so. I have nothing against the First Amendent but then it’s probably good for America because it solves the problems unique to the people of America. I’m all for adopting it here but not before first delving into how we had solved similar problems on our own. There’s a reason Constitutions of two democracies are not alike. It’s ill-advised to prescribe the same medicine for all ailments.
Very briefly, India had solved the problem of guaranteeing free speech by raising it to a philosophical and spiritual level: when the same universal spirit lives in all of us–including animals and birds and insects–fighting over who or what is better is an insult to that spirit. This was ingrained in our cultural and/or national consciousness for millenia and is why we never needed Constitutional guarantees. You might argue that times have changed today but that makes the need for revamping he Constitution more urgent. As it stands today, the Indian Constitution does not represent the will of the Indian people.
As for Great Bong’s closing prescription that a mall should be built on the “disputed” site, it is entirely in keeping with the same flippancy that I mentioned earlier.
Here’s why I advocate that the Ram Mandir be built on the site: temples by themselves do not do anything. But they go a very long way in cultivating the spirit and fostering character. It was the historical temple culture in India that enabled it to withstand and repel sustained attacks from alien invaders without and barbarians within. Temples were centers where fine arts were further refined, where education thrived, and where the spirit of social harmony was nurtured. Oh yes, there was the dreaded caste system but which system could prevent a Kanaka and a host of such saints from entering a temple?
The Ram Mandir is not just a place for Hindus to go and worship their God. There are cultural symbols and heritages and monuments that we need to preserve even if they don’t yield any material benefit. What’s the bet that if a barbarian destroyed Mount Vernon or Westminster Abbey, the US and British folks wouldn’t spare all their energies to rebuild it? And will Great Bong agree to replace say–if it was destroyed–the Jallianwallah Bagh with a shopping mall? I do pray at the Jallianwallah Bagh just as scores of other Indians do. And the Ram Mandir is as much a symbol as is the Jallianwallah Bagh. But then a mindset that dubs every such symbol along the lines of “religious nonsense” and “waste of resources” or whatever, won’t really understand this. Which is why, with utmost respect, I say that Great Bong’s prescription to build a mall is deplorable to say the least.
As for Capitalism and malls as the Gods of today’s India, Great Bong needs to get on the streets and villages and ask the vast Indian masses what they really regard as God: the mall or Ram. Urban, mall-going India is not India. And even if malls were India’s Gods, we’ve seen how they’ve created a vast crowd of selfish, deracinated and barely-articulate zombies whose definition of worship is hopping into the next pair of Levis jeans. The Capitalist God may not discriminate against anybody but he fuels greater and greater hunger for material consumption, which is not advisable for the mental, spiritual and ethical health of the society. Capitalism is no guarantee against greed, which can be quenched in both ethical and unethical ways. The end result might be a society that may find it too late to realize the truth in Yayati’s realization that desire is never quenched by indulgence any more than fire is by pouring ghee in it but without his wisdom that he has to renounce it.
And no, Great Bong, Rama doesn’t discriminate whether or not you regard him as God. Ramayana has a gem of a verse that says, you make your God according to the food you eat. If unbridled capitalism is the food we eat, malls become our Gods. As for me, thinking about Rama–as God or human–may not yield riches but it’ll certainly make my life more valuable. Valuable, derived from value.
Tags: Ayodhya, Ayodhya Verdict, Babri Masjid, Bloggers, Communism Watch, Democracy, Fundamentalism, Great Bong, Hinduism, Hindu-Muslim Conflict in India, Historical Sense, History, India, Indian Philosophy, Indian Politics,Islam Watch, Politics, Ram Mandir, Ramajanmabhoomi, Sanatana Dharma, Secular, Secularism