Requiem for the Rule of Law

The Babri Masjid was torn apart in broad daylight while the executive and judiciary watched, and those behind the demolition went on to be elected as the rulers of the country.

The faith of Muslims “in the judicial system must be restored”. This is what Justice Liberhan had to say on the eve of the Supreme Court’s final hearings in the Ayodhya title suit case.

This is a challenge before the judiciary. And the executive as well. Knowing well that the voice of Muslims does not count anymore in this secular nation, it is essential that there are non-Muslims like Justice Liberhan to talk about their concerns. And nothing like a retired judge to remind the judiciary of the largest religious minority’s expectations from the institution.

It may be said loftily that justice is done not to satisfy a community, it is done to uphold certain principles. But history says something else. Let us not talk about it at this stage. Let us not recall the embarrassment of the Supreme Court when a chief minister openly flouted his own undertaking before the court to protect the Babri Masjid. Its might was demonstrated by keeping the man in the custody of the court for a day. That was it.

Or, the naivety of the court when it allowed the request of a symbolic kar seva at the spot which was almost the Babri Masjid, accepting at face value an undertaking that the masjid would not be harmed.

Or, the complicity of the officers who, despite the aggressive swelling of the number of kar sevaks, kept telling the court that all was well.

Or, the conceit of the man who is still the darling of the liberals who told the kar sevaks in coded language to prepare for kar seva and then took a train to Delhi so as to be safely away from the site. In due course of time, he became our prime minister.

Forget the man who was to become the home minister of India who led and supervised a mobilisation to build the Ram mandir at the very spot where the mosque was. He claimed later that he had never asked for the demolition of the mosque, his was a constructive call. His followers apparently misheard him.

And the polyglot prime minister who cynically allowed the mosque to be felled. And then moved to declare president’s rule when the chief minister, after completing the job of destroying the mosque, had resigned. And then also took into possession the land on which the rubble of the Babri mosque lay. Yet enough time was given to the so-called devotees of Ram to build a ‘structure’ of their own on the rubble and thereby change the ‘status’ of the site. Then it was declared that status quo would be maintained. The masjid which ought to have been there had vanished and a ‘temple’ had swiftly appeared on the scene. Now it became the responsibility of the state to maintain this ‘temple’.

The story of treachery, conceit, fraud and complicity is a long one but, in short, it was a crime – a crime enacted in public view. It was done in the full knowledge of all the organs of the state, all of which feigned ignorance. All of them faked surprise.

Muslims waited and waited and hoped. Hoped that the state would act, the executive would act, if the state government fails, the Centre would act. And there was always the Supreme Court. How could it fail them?

They waited and waited. The first dome fell and they waited. The second fell, they waited and then the third went down. There was nothing left to wait for. All organs of the state had either failed the Muslims or deceived them.

It is this crime which needs to be accounted for. Its responsibility fixed. Most of the participants in the act are alive. Even when some of them are now holding constitutional positions, justice needs to be done.

It is this crime that Justice Liberhan is referring to. The culprits must be punished before the Supreme Court takes up the title suit case. To restore credibility in the system. Otherwise, everything turns into a farce.

Well-meaning advice, but misplaced

There are some eminent citizens who would have normally agreed with Justice Liberhan but keeping in mind the present circumstances, they have asked the court to keep the site for “non-religious public use, irrespective of the adjudication of the suit”.

These concerned persons have sought to intervene in the case related to the now-demolished Babri mosque lying with the Supreme Court. The dispute is regarding the ownership of the site where the mosque stood before December 6, 1992 and where a makeshift temple of Ram lala now stands.

Their prayer has been made with noble intentions. The petitioners feel that any verdict “is bound to forge extreme opinion amongst the communities on both sides, which may result in aggravated incidents of violence, as had been perpetuated earlier by the involvement of various political parties posing a serious threat to the secular fabric of the country”.

They aver, “Today it is a battle of unequals within the courts as a divisive and cataclysmic movement and event is given legitimacy by the powers that be, and all of India, young and voiceless millions want to see the end to this deliberately perpetrated conflict. The only situation lies today In each of us Indians rising above narrow confines of class, caste, community and gender and dedicate the spot that has come to signify conflict to a constructive non religious purpose.”

“A site which has come to signify conflict” is a crucial clause. And who is being asked to rise above the narrow confines of class, caste, community and gender? The most critical category has been left unnamed. Or, thought to be subsumed under the non-threatening classification of community. Religion is that absent, troubling confine from which people are being asked to rise.

Let us say that it is not a matter of requesting sagacity by all sides. Because in this case, as the signatories themselves accept, all sides are not equal. We need not say that the Hindus, or those who acted in their name, have been the oppressors and the Muslims the target or the victims.

But to say that for peace, we need to forego our religious rights is a travesty. In this case, Muslims were deprived of their rightful religious rights by a long conspiracy. That right has to be restored if India is to live with dignity.

From time to time, well-meaning people have been moving proposals to secularise the site: to use it for a hospital or public toilet or school. As if these secular needs have a privilege over religious needs. Or, as if religion is something secondary.

The court is to start its hearing in the case from December 5. A three-judge bench was formed by the erstwhile chief justice, J.S. Khehar, for this purpose when Subramanian Swamy petitioned the court to expedite the matter as his right to worship was being affected adversely by the delay in the construction of the Ram temple on the site. The three-judge bench, however, rejected Swamy’s request to be impleaded in the case.

Technically, this is a dispute between two litigants for the title of the site. But we know that the issue is not that. Justice Liberhan has rightly asked the court to first take up the case of the demolition of the Babri Masjid. As the head of a commission of inquiry, he had investigated the demolition and submitted his report in June 2009, indicting Atal Bihari Vajpayee along with L K Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi. He told the Indian Express:

“The Supreme Court’s decision to hear the appeal in the matter of the Ayodhya title suit (the decision of the Allahabad High Court in 2010) on a day-to-day basis from December 5 will adversely affect the demolition suit. What is the point of doing this? If it is decided that it is Wakf property, then one side is established as guilty of demolition. And if the Hindu sides get it, then the act of demolition becomes seen as ‘justified’ — to reclaim own property. This demolition is known to people alive and must be decided first. They can take a few weeks or months to do it.”

Justice Liberhan must be heard.

And if all of us are helpless before the majoritarianism which is now ruling India in the name of its Hindus, let us do an honest thing. Let the court order the barricading of the site and the placement of a plaque there declaring,

“Once there was a mosque here. It was torn apart in broad daylight under the watch of the democratic governments and the courts. Those who organised its demolition went on to be elected as the rulers of the country. It is not possible to rebuild it.”

This is the least we can do, without deceiving ourselves or our future generations. Acceptance of failure is no crime, deception is. Let us save ourselves from that crime of deception.

Apoorvanand teaches in Delhi University.