K.P. SASI | 20 NOVEMBER, 2019
Verdict for a Common Future?
The existing power structures facilitate majoritarianism
Political parties and electoral analysts in India often look at elections from a religious perspective. But careful analysis tells us that the notion of Hindu votes is a myth.
Voting among the Hindus remains divided on a basis of caste, rather than religion. For a long time Hindutva forces have been trying, directly or indirectly, to turn diverse Hindu castes against the religious minorities.
In this game they have been successful to a great extent. Efforts to turn Dalits, Adivasis, OBCs, marginalised nationalities, women… against the religious minorities have definitely increased their vote banks’ number.
Opposition parties including the forces Left have mistaken these votes for religious Hindu votes, conveniently forgetting that Hinduism does not exist as a religion without castes. Only a unity of marginalised identities can play effective opposition to Hindutva forces. The opposition parties’ failure to realise this explains why they are still weak, despite all the social and economic problems created by BJP governance at the national level.
The change within the mainstream, from pretended secularism to a majoritarian Hindutva culture, has been slow but steady since Independence.
Growing Islamophobia from the period of Partition to the destruction of the Babri Masjid was the first stage. The destruction of the Babri Masjid, and its justification, changed the pace at which communal forces acted on the ground – through the media, through legislative bodies, the executive machinery, and finally the judiciary.
The Supreme Court verdict seemed to keep to the pretence of being within the parameters of a ‘secular State’. But in its essence the verdict sells us out to Hindutva forces.
The real conflict was not for land to construct a temple after destroying a mosque. It was to establish Hindutva forces as superior over not just Muslims, but all those who believe in secular values in India. It was an invasion of the right to free faith guaranteed in the Constitution. The real conflict was about whether to treat a segment of Indian society as secondary, and to redefine the ‘Indianness’ of Indians.
We have seen this in its brutal forms during the Gujarat and Kandhamal genocides and the many communal attacks by Hindutva forces since they destroyed the Masjid. The nature of brutality varied during every communal attack.
But this is the first time its ‘legalisation’ has been publicly expressed by the mainstream psyche. With this verdict, the Supreme Court has made the secondary citizenhood of minorities ‘legally’ acceptable.
Questions may remain. If they had not destroyed the Babri Masjid, would the Supreme Court have pronounced a similar judgement? What did the existence of a place of worship really mean to the supreme legal institution in India? If the verdict follows the secular principles of the Indian Constitution, why did the Court order the Government of India to construct a temple on land where a mosque had stood? Is it the job of a government administered by a secular Constitution to build such a temple?
The other question which disturbs me as a human being placed in secular India is: ‘What role should the moral values and ethical standards of any society play in shaping its notion of legal justice?’
One may argue that the verdict has failed by all three standards, but since I believe that the Supreme Court, even today with all its limitations, can and must play a role in preserving the secular fabric of society, I would argue that if legal institutions fail to play a fair role, it is the responsibility of civil society to reshape our notions of justice beyond narrow legalistic frameworks.
It is time now for civil society to discuss and find ways and means to reshape justice itself for the welfare of all the country’s communities, in order to protect and reinstall the structure of Indian democracy.
Legality Before Our Law
There are thousands of constructions which violate the Coastal Regulation Zone restrictions in India. Very few such constructions were stopped due to the involvement of civil society and social activists. In some cases the government itself ordered the demolition of such illegal constructions. But was the Babri Masjid an illegal construction? It was constructed centuries before the formation of the Supreme Court itself. Can such a construction be measured by the present law, and if so, to what extent and at whose cost?
Has the Supreme Court overstepped onto the archaeological, cultural, historic and spiritual parameters of this site? Was the Babri Masjid just a ‘construction’ or a ‘building of stones’ or is the court arguing that it was illegal as per the logic of the Indian Constitution? If so, how many structures of different faiths must be destroyed?
Among the many hundreds of Ramayanas in the world today, including Muslim Ramayanas, Adivasi Ramayanas, interpretations of various Dalit communities, and Ramayanas in many other countries like the Thai or Arabic Ramayanas, there have been many variations of the story of Ram. The sites referred to in such stories may or may not exist. Therefore, it would be good to ask which Ramayana did the court rely upon and why?
There is a definite historical period to the existence of Jesus Christ, Prophet Muhammad, Buddha, Mahavir Jain and many others, who became instrumental in the formation of different religions in the world. But the presence of Ram was always more myth or legend than history, followed by people in different places, with many sites referred to in their various stories.
Therefore, the verdict of the Supreme Court does not justify the singular ‘historical truth’ of a Ramayana, but violates the ‘historical truths’ of hundreds of Ramayanas, including the Ramayana in Thailand. It is a violation of the spiritual belief systems of many communities, including those who still believe and worship Ravana in India, and would prefer to worship the putative birthplace of Ravan rather than Ram.
The verdict does not justify the destruction of the Babri Masjid. But by denying the right to faith of a community, the verdict indirectly gives legitimacy to the culprits of its destruction.
It is here that the public must see that the notion of justice is not merely legalistic, it is also historical, spiritual, cultural, anthropological, sociological and economic. No verdict which does not represent the cultural and spiritual diversities of Indian society can be termed a ‘just verdict’ in the test of time.
So, most significantly, what role does civil society have in reshaping harmony, justice, democracy and the secular values of this subcontinent?
Apart from analysing the draining away of values, civil society must reshape harmony so that such dark chapters do not cross our future anymore. Where do the mainstream media and our political machineries fit in, when we discuss reshaping and reasserting the values of harmony and secularism? Is civil society prepared to reshape a mainstream psyche that will function within the framework of democratic values in future instances?
This becomes the most challenging question of our times.
If the verdict truly respected the history of spiritualities in this subcontinent, no court could produce any evidence of any Ram temple before the emergence of Buddhism, Jainism, Christianity, Zoroastrianism or Islam in this landscape. Moreover, we find many records of religious tolerance and religious harmony, not just conflicts of faith. And these conflicts often occurred within what we now regard as ‘Hinduism’ or some other monolith.
For our peaceful continued existence, the challenge for civil society is to rebuild and strengthen notions of equality and harmony between all faiths. (Including the absence of religious faith. Atheism is also an ancient philosophy for many people in this region.) It is the strengthening of values of mutual respect between the belief systems of every section of our society.
Indian society would not have evolved as a civilisation without such meaningful values.
Secondly, and more proactively, it is crucial for people to be measured not as numbers in the calculation of electoral gains, but as breathing souls who survive with specific needs in life.
Unfortunately, political parties in India as well as the mainstream media look at people as statistical figures rather than their inherent needs. Even in such calculations, unfortunately, the arguments of majority and minority interests do not satisfy my sense of logic.
Indian society continues to be segmented as various ‘minoritarian’ faith mechanisms rather than one ‘majoritarian’ faith. If you analyse election results carefully, you will find that the upper-caste logic of ‘majoritarianism’ is still extremely weak.
What we have today is a majoritarian power system rather than majority numbers. When it comes to numbers, the numbers of the marginalised identities when taken together become much greater than any force of majority. However, the existing power structures facilitate majoritarianism.
For the future evolution of a civilised society which functions with peace, justice and harmony, it is crucial that we look into the above argument very seriously.
The total ‘statistical number’ of the marginalised identities in India is certainly much higher than the non-marginalised identities. Thus, it must be argued vehemently that a peaceful existence in India is determined by the united actions of all marginalised identities. Coalitions of marginalised identities like Dalits, Adivasis, women, religious minorities, sexuality minorities, marginalised races, colours and nationalities are of crucial importance for future history.
Expressions of power due to caste, class, gender, sexuality, faith, region, language… can be controlled and regulated only with such a unity. And for this, it is of utmost importance that the representatives of all such marginalised identities come together in a common struggle for justice, with common and minimum programmes of understanding.
No oppression can be dealt with in isolation. This reality must be understood by all activists and intellectuals who express their energies for the rights of one oppressed section or the other. If this logic is pursued, then we will find that the real power lies with the marginalised sections as a whole, even if they appear to be a ‘minority’.
Such a unity will naturally dissolve the sectarianism which may manifest within at least a small section of activists who focus only on the oppression of their identity. It will force institutions like the media, legislature, executive machinery, judiciary, education system and social organisations in general to think in terms of more democratic principles.
And it will also purify the minds of the ‘mainstream’ for a more humanitarian existence, rather than celebrating violence.
Also read ‘The Roots of Modern Indian Communalism - And an Alternative’.