We knew it was coming. We knew it since May 23, when the BJP was re-elected to power with a bigger majority than the previous general election. We knew that the BJP would not miss this most opportune moment in history to complete the campaign that first brought it to national prominence: The construction of the Ram Mandir on the ground where the Babri Masjid once stood.
This knowledge, or apprehension, was born not of a dream. But of hard facts that played out in the first tenure of the Narendra Modi-led government. A tenure marked by a spate of unpunished lynchings of Muslims, unchecked anti-Muslim rhetoric of BJP politicians, and an unending anti-Muslim narrative peddled by the media, that kept the community in the news on one pretext or the other, be it beef or “love jihad” or “Bharat Mata ki Jai” or dead Muslim men like Aurangzeb and Jinnah.
After May 23,the BJP re-launched its Hindutva agenda with a renewed zeal. A zeal boosted by the party’s re-election despite the failure to deliver on economic development, proving without doubt, at least to the Muslim citizen, that Hindutva was the BJP’s only attraction for its voters.
With the nation’s mood firmly in control, it was time for the BJP to get down to serious business. To grow beyond wielding public opinion through news television, or giving a free pass to mob violence against Muslims. To put the spirit of Hindutva to the letter. To write the agenda subtly in law. And thus, the first assignment of the BJP’s current tenure was to pass the Triple Talaq Bill, on July 30. Less than a week later, on August 5, Parliament struck down Article 370, snatching away the statehood of Jammu and Kashmir, and locking down the Valley indefinitely. The swift progression from one milestone to another, amidst the implementation of the NRC in Assam, signalled that the next stop could be building the Ram Mandir.
The Supreme Court wrapped up hearing the 70-year-old title suit in 40 days and announced its verdict, giving the whole of the disputed land to the Hindus to build a temple. With this one stroke, it put the final full-stop to the story of the gradual, state-and-court-sanctioned conversion of mosque into temple — from the illegal placement of idols inside the mosque and disallowing Muslim prayer there in 1949 to unlocking the gates in order to give Hindu devotees access inside the mosque in 1986 to demolishing the mosque in 1992 and building a makeshift, functioning temple at the site a few months later.
We knew that the end to the long story was now finally in sight. In the unofficial Hindu Rashtra, its time had come. And yet, my preparedness could not stop me from being overwhelmed with grief when the verdict was being read out on TV. Similar to the grief felt over the death of a terminally-ill patient, Muslims felt a quiet, resigned sadness over a verdict that they knew would not go their way.
The sadness was compounded by the conviction that the verdict should have gone our way. That we were stronger claimants of victory. Not the chest-thumping victory of gain. But a sombre victory of recovering a loss. The loss of the physical structure of the masjid, the loss of lives in the bloody aftermath of its demolition, the loss of faith in the secular foundations of the country. The recovery of this loss would have spelt justice for Muslims.
But Muslims knew all too well that justice for them in the Court could mean injustice for them on the street in the form of possible retaliatory violence by Hindu right-wing groups. Justice would then have come at the cost of peace. On the other hand, losing the claim to the title suit would greatly reduce the possibility of violence by the other side and ensure peace.
In an ideal situation, justice and peace go hand in hand. But in majoritarian India, Muslims knew that they would get either justice or peace. In recent months, prominent Muslims talked of withdrawing claim to the site provided no fresh cases of other disputed sites are opened and Muslims are allowed to pray at mosques under the ASI. Would I now be allowed to pray on any day of the week and at any of the five times during the day in the mosque inside the Taj Mahal complex?
It would have been best had Muslims won the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid title suit and then handed over ownership of the land to Hindus in all humility. That would have been a win-win: Hindus would get the land that they attach to their faith; Muslims would get justice for their masjid which was criminally demolished on December 6, 1992. That would have gone a long way in correcting Hindu misperceptions of Muslims. But the possibility of such a scenario, born of a tiny flicker of hope in the judiciary, fell apart on November 9.
The Supreme Court verdict has guaranteed peace but denied justice to Muslims. Lest we forget, Muslims are at the forefront of maintaining that peace, and the community must be lauded for its patience and restraint in the face of repeated provocations from the state, the mob and the media over the last five years. And finally, betrayal by its last bastion of hope, the Supreme Court, on November 9.
One may ask if the apex court’s offer of a five-acre plot elsewhere to compensate for the demolition of the mosque isn’t justice. Charity is not a synonym of justice. Or of closure. Charity is given by the privileged group to the underprivileged group. Thank you, India, for reminding Muslims that privilege can only belong to the majority in a majoritarian state.
This article first appeared in the print edition on November 13, 2019 under the title ‘In Ayodhya, either justice or peace’. The writer is an entrepreneur and a freelance contributor.
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