Last weekend was the 27th anniversary of the Babri Masjid demolishment and a few weeks earlier the Supreme Court had finally settled the centuries old dispute over the site. It seems a suitable time to take a few moments and explain my views.
But to do that let me take you back-approximately 1300 years and to a land far far away from our shores – the lovely and beautiful city of Toulouse the birthplace of the Airbus A-380. But 1300 years ago, it was a very different place.
Muslim Arabs were ruling present day Spain then called by them as Al Andalus and thrusting into Europe, they were simply following their edicts conquering territories and spreading their word. Their brethren would do the same in different directions. However, at Toulouse in 721 they would be halted before they could spread into modern day France (Some decades later they would be badly defeated at the famous Battle of Tours). And so, began from the 700s a long period in history known as Reconquista. After many ups and downs over nearly 700 years the final Muslim rulers of Spain would be pushed out only in 1492. And where once stood beautiful minarets calling the faithful to namaz, now rose cathedral towers with bells toiling away. Despite evidence that the Arab or Moorish rule of Spain was actually very liberal and open minded. Similarly, a few hundred years later the Ottoman Empire would rule a massive spread of current day Europe from the east right up to Vienna. And from the fall of Constantinople, the lands they conquered were cleansed of symbols of Christianity. However, slowly and surely, they were defeated and lands under them were ‘liberated’ and now it was the turn of Islamic symbols to be ‘cleansed’.
So why is this history lesson important to us—Do I desire a Reconquista of India. Absolutely NO.
However, it is foolish to deny the brutal Islamic conquest of India. I believe not recognizing or white washing such things causes more angst. While one can argue that most medieval conquests were brutal after all modern beliefs didn’t exist then- what happened in the Indian subcontinent was not just a usual conquest. Entire cities being burnt, queens and common women were made prostitutes, boys castrated to work as slaves, towers of severed heads. And it didn’t stop at the conquest of the land- the innocent Sahibzaadas were buried alive, Guru Arjan Dev & Guru Tegh Bahadur were tortured and killed. This conquest and the resultant rule were not for geo-politics it was to humiliate and subjugate evil idol worshipers such as us. The driving force behind the conquest of India was often not politics but religion as mentioned in the multiple auto biographies of the conquerors.
There are other fanatics too-fanatics on the Hindu side exist who want to punish today’s Muslims for the atrocities of a few centuries back which is ludicrous and dangerous. We cannot undo what has been done. But we must recognize it.
So why recognize in a temple-why not a school or a hospital or even a museum? I must confess-growing up in a middle-class home with modern value, I often felt the same. But slowly I developed a deeper sense of empathy. For millions of people faith is really important. Faith is that lamp that helps us in the darkest of times. It’s no coincidence that in the worst of slums one finds random idols beneath a tree and other makeshift temples. Faith propels most of us. Its correctly said that atheism or ‘agnosticism’ is the child of prosperity, but faith is its parent. And for millions of Hindus, grand temples are an embodiment of this faith. We may not agree with this, but we must recognize that its really important for millions. It gives people strength. And these people believe the said land in Ayodhya to be holy.
And these millions did come out for this land– in the largest grass roots campaign since the independence movement to restore the temple. That this campaign resonated with all is pretty much evident. 100s of common men and priests were shot dead by the police in 1990s during a march in Ayodhya. Incidentally, Rajiv Gandhi had launched his reelection campaign from Ayodhya with a promise to rebuild the temple. This grass roots campaign would take a non-entity like the BJP from 2 seats to 100+. And this wasn’t just in Hindi speaking North India. The movement spread to Gujarat and Maharashtra too. I may not be a big Ram worshiper, but I can’t ignore the feelings of millions of my country men. Further it wasn’t just faith that the land of that temple was important, Archaeological excavations found evidence of structures like those of a temple beneath the foundation of the mosque.
But now what- there have been some elements who have called for Kashi and Mathura temples too. I strongly believe we should not go down that path. As mentioned above we can’t undo the past-we have to draw a line somewhere. Unlike Ayodhya, Kashi Mathura have shared worship rights and importantly Ayodhya was a mass movement across large swathes of the country mainly due to the importance of Ram in the Indian ethos. In the last 20+ years no such movement has sprung up about these temples and neither are people vocal about it. So, lets draw the line with Ayodhya.
Over the millennia there have been many great cultures. Some older and arguably greater than us. Let’s look at them- Greeks, Egyptians, South Americans their culture their religion lives in museums. No Greek prays to Zeus or Apollo anymore nor an Egyptian to Nile Goddess. Whereas in India, our religion culture still thrives despite the bloodshed we have suffered.
For all that we have suffered , for all the millions who came out for the temple movement, for all the old people who want to pray at a grand temple to the Maryada Purushottam for all of us children of this soil let this temple flourish not as revenge not even as justice not a Reconquista but a token recognition that we survive we thrive.
I may not ever visit this temple in Ayodhya but the day it opens I will say a silent prayer. A prayer for this land for it people for its ethos. Jai Shri Ram