I was travelling abroad when the Supreme Court registry announced that the Ayodhya verdict would be pronounced on Saturday morning. My immediate instinct as a journalist was to cut short my trip and take the first available flight back to Delhi.
I was driven, of course, by the professional impulse of covering this momentous day first hand, but also because the issue had a lot of personal meaning for me and I wanted to be back with my family and friends and colleagues – my own people, so to speak – when the judgment was delivered.
The Supreme Court decided in favour of the Hindu plaintiff – arguing that Muslims could not sufficiently substantiate their claim over the disputed land – and now a Ram temple will be built at the place where a mosque, which stood for close to five centuries, was illegally brought down on December 6, 1992.
Many newspaper editorials have hailed the judgment for finally bringing ‘closure’ to an issue that for decades polarised the Indian polity and resulted in violence and the loss of lives. But has this judgment really brought closure for India’s Muslims? Does it give them the chance to move on?
Sitting in The Wire’s studio on Saturday, I tried my best to fulfil my professional duties of dispassionately analysing the judgment but memories from 27 years ago constantly interfered with my train of thought. Memories of how, as a 12-year-old girl, I held my younger brother – who was barely a few weeks old – and ran for my life through the pitch-black darkness of the night on December 6, 1992.
All this while, I thought that I had buried that little girl from western Uttar Pradesh in the graveyard of my memory, never to return and haunt me with her vulnerability and insecurity again. I believed I had left behind the desperate sounds of our Muslim neighbours banging at our door to tell us that a riot had broken out, shouting, ‘Us taraf se chadhaai aa rahi hai’ (People from the other side will be here any moment), and asking us to leave our house to save our lives.
I remember my stubborn father not paying any heed to the pleas of his neighbours, insisting there was no need to run because his ‘Hindu neighbours could never harm him or his children’. I remember his tearful eyes when the realisation dawned that we were indeed in danger. That look on his face while locking our house and looking at it one last time with love and pain before fleeing for a ‘safer’ place.
I had thought those scary hours of getting separated from my family after the riots broke out, or those long, cold nights of living in a refugee camp set up by fellow Muslims for families displaced by riots, those restless days that turned into unending weeks before I could finally go back to school and be reunited with my best friend Vandana, were a distant memory.
But I was wrong. For when I heard TV anchors and even their liberal studio guests insisting the Ayodhya judgment had brought “closure”, those memories came cascading back.
Besides other aspects of the judgment that several jurists are finding problematic, there is a fundamental contradiction that simply does not allow for ‘closure’. The Supreme Court itself noted that the forced placing of idols inside the mosque that took place one night in December 1949 was illegal and the mosque was thus “desecrated”. It also unequivocally acknowledged that the demolition of the Babri Masjid was unlawful.
But the tragic irony is that it still ends up handing the disputed land to none other than the perpetrators who demolished the mosque and unleashed violence across India, including in my little qasba.
The judgment is not just self-contradictory but tilts unmistakably towards one side. The Hindu plaintiffs were held to a lower burden of proof of possession than the Muslim plaintiffs. The court recognised that both parties had claims and worshipped at the disputed site but chose a majoritarian conception of ‘social peace’ to give the land to one side rather than doing what was right or just.
The reaction to the Ayodhya judgment from the main opposition parties – both national and those which operate from Uttar Pradesh, including the ones that call themselves ‘secular’ and claim first right over Muslim votes – has been disappointing. They too believe the judgment is the best solution to this age-old dispute. Barring the few honourable exceptions among political commentators and jurists who have expressed their reservations or even criticism about the judgement, the country at large seems to have welcomed it.
The Muslim community has also largely been quiet and non-reactive. A few religious/social leaders maintain that they respect the Supreme Court’s verdict although they disagree with it. But should the lack of reaction from the Muslim community at large be seen as acceptance of the verdict? Has the court been successful in its ultimate objective of delivering a verdict not leading to disturbance of social peace?
Or is this silence emanating from the fear Muslims at large have of a backlash against them from not just the majority community but from a system that has so openly worked against them and their interests since the Narendra Modi government first came to power in 2014? Has the humiliation and helplessness resulting from brazen anti-Muslim politics – including gau raksha and ‘love jihad’ – made them lose hope for justice and parity in their own country?
What can be worse for a democracy when its largest minority group does not hope for justice but fearfully settles for a verdict that they know is no less than injustice to them? It was the Muslims who suffered the razing of their place of worship; they were also the victims of the violence which followed. The community sought redressal and placed its faith in the institutions for justice.
From patiently waiting for the criminals who demolished the Babri Masjid to be punished to the expectation that the title suit outcome would put an end to the Hindutva agenda of converting mosques into temples , the majority of the Muslims of India accepted the supremacy of the law. But today, they have retuned empty handed from the Supreme Court.
From the government to opposition, from civil society, the media and the courts, Muslims of India today find themselves standing alone in the fight for their existence with no hope for equality or dignified citizenry.
And that scared and vulnerable young girl who had to flee her home because of the actions of violent majoritarian goons 27 years ago has the right to say she feels disappointed and betrayed by what the highest court of the country has done.