Saturday, October 2, 2010

The Art of the Deal: Ayodhya, Babri & the Secular Beyond

It's Gandhiji's Birthday today. Gandhi Jayanti. Mohandas was born today. Cheers and salutations.
I started this blog on Gandhiji's birthday five years ago, beginning with a street protest against Hindu right wing religionists attempting to politicize an observance of Gandhi's birthday in New York City. In all humility try to make my life my message, as Gandhiji did for the inspiration of the entire world. On this celebratory day, I quote Einstein, when he noted upon hearing of Gandhi's death -- " “Generations to come will scarce believe that such a one as this walked the earth in flesh and blood.”

It's a great day to discuss the debate the Ayodhya/Babri verdict.

I posted substantially this same comment (see below) on the website of the New York Times in response to an article by Jim Yardley, on the Ayodhya/Babri Allahabad High Court Verdict

September 30th, 2010
5:38 pm
Everybody gets something -- that's the Art of the Deal.

The Allahabad High Court has wisely, if laggardly, decided to apportion the Ayodhya/Babri site among the three contesting parties, the three direct stakeholders, so that each can have, at least part of what they sought to obtain.

The court has also shrewdly ordered a 3-month status quo, to allow the judgment to be discussed and debated locally and nationally without precipitous action by anyone.

The right to appeal the Allahabad High Court judgment to the Supreme Court is guaranteed to all three litigants in the suit.

Compromise, accommodation, equity and fairness are necessary to resolve a 600 year old blood and emotion-soaked contestation that is steeped in antiquity, myth, narrative, faith, conquest.

Is politics central to this judgment? Of course.

India now can continue, sometimes resolutely, usually stumbling, on its secular path, two steps forward -- one half-step back.

To be secular is to include, to become inclusive. To include is to become human, since we become human only through lifelong experiences as social beings.

A threatened Quran burning in the US did not make America less secular. The falling twin towers that crushed lives, dreams and exposed US neo-imperialism (non-inclusion of Palestinians as humans with full human rights, for example) in the so-called Middle East, did not make Americans, We the People, as a whole, less secular.

In India secularism is many many centuries older, more textured, more nuanced, more organic. In India, Secularism as a formal geopolitical strategy and governance ideal, begins with the greatest of the Mughals, India's foremost SECULARIST and prime architect of open-court religious discourse, Jalaluddin Mohammad Akbar. That same Akbar, in 1586, sent two Hindu Rajputs (yes there are Rajput Muslims and they bear testimony to South Asia's secular mosaic)to restive Kashmir (so, what's new!) to overthrow its Turki (Muslim) ruler. Akbar annexed Kashmir into Mughal India. Since then, no matter who has ruled Kashmir -- Dogras, Jats, Sikhs, Hindus, Muslims, Brits -- Kashmir has been a territorially integral part of India. As it turns out, a critical reading yields the chronologically sequential fact that 1586, not 1947 is the date of Kashmir's union within India.

1586, not 1947.. A Mughal, a Muslim secured Kashmir for India! Jai Ho or something to that effect.

Jai Ho, to salute India's most recent as well as ancient tests of secularism in Kashmir and Allahabad. Extremists among Hindus and Muslims, will have a field day however, it does appear education and jobs, not faith and belief, are foremost in the minds of the polity. Secularism advances.

That's the lesson of Democracy as Lived Practice, especially secular democracy, that Democracy is an imperfect, fumbling, stumbling exercise in real time, all the while hewing to a (sometimes) unrealized ideal of freedom equality and fraternity for India's Muslims and Hindus -- and all the other faiths represented there.

Eyes on the Prize -- Secular Democracy.

Chithra KarunaKaran
Ethical Democracy As Lived Practice
Article is the copyrighted property of the New York Times
Indian Court Divides Disputed Ayodhya Holy Site
pic by Kuni Takahashi for The New York Times

Hindu holy men awaiting a ruling Thursday on a site claimed by Hindus and by Muslims. More Photos »
Published: September 30, 2010

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NEW DELHI — In a case that spanned centuries of religious history and languished in the legal system for six decades, an Indian court issued a historic ruling Thursday on the ownership of the country’s most disputed religious site by effectively handing down a split decision: granting part of the land to Hindus and another part to Muslims.
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Hindus and Muslims to Share Holy Site

The Lede Blog: Indian Judges Rule on a Matter of Faith (September 30, 2010)

Rajanish Kakade/Associated Press

Indian soldiers in front of a mosque in Mumbai on Thursday after a court ruled that a disputed holy site in Ayodhya that has set off bloody communal riots across the country in the past should be divided between the Hindu and Muslim communities. More Photos »
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Rajesh Kumar Singh/Associated Press

An Indian Muslim walked past security personnel in Ayodhya, India, on Thursday More Photos »
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The unorthodox decision by a three-judge panel in the state of Uttar Pradesh provided a Solomonic resolution — if one likely to be appealed to India’s Supreme Court — to a case the authorities had feared might unleash religious violence across India.

Nearly 200,000 state and federal officers were deployed across Uttar Pradesh as a precaution, as almost every major political figure in the nation, led by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, appealed for calm and harmony.

The case was considered especially combustible because the contested site, in the city of Ayodhya, was the scene of a searing act of religious violence in 1992 when Hindu extremists tore down an ancient mosque known as the Babri Masjid on the property. The destruction sparked riots that spilled into the following year and have been blamed for about 2,000 deaths.

Yet that violence did not repeat itself on Thursday evening, as the Indian public absorbed the ruling with a calm that leaders framed as evidence of the nation’s maturation and commitment to religious tolerance.

“I have full faith in the people of India,” Mr. Singh said in a statement issued after the decision, even as he cautioned against “mischief makers.” “I also have full confidence in the traditions of secularism, brotherhood and tolerance of our great country.”

The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, or B.J.P., which rose to national prominence in the 1990s partly because of its advocacy of rebuilding a Hindu temple on the contested site, issued a statement Thursday praising the public’s controlled response as “a new chapter for national integration and a new era for intercommunity relations.”

“The B.J.P. is gratified that the nation has received the verdict with maturity,” the statement added.

The unexpected decision to divide the property initially suggested a political solution as much as a legal one. But Harish Salve, a former solicitor general of India, said the court had apparently based its decision on historical accounts suggesting that for centuries Hindus and Muslims had worshiped together at the site before they were segregated during British rule in the 1850s.

With this legacy, the court concluded that the entire property should be considered jointly held by Muslims and Hindus and distributed under relevant Indian property statutes, Mr. Salve said, which divide contested properties on the principle of fairness.

“It looks pretty good,” Mr. Salve said, rating the decision as “9 points out of 10.”

Under the court’s ruling, two-thirds of the land will go to Hindu groups while the remaining third will be awarded to Muslims. Lawyers for Hindus and for Muslims expressed dissatisfaction and promised to appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court.

“There is no reason of any loss of hope,” said Zafaryab Jilana, a lawyer representing one of the Muslim parties to the case, speaking on national television. “We do not agree with the formula of giving one-third of the land to Muslims.”

The case required the judicial panel to wade deeply into India’s contested religious history. Lawyers for Hindu groups had argued that the Ayodhya site was the birthplace of one of Hinduism’s most revered deities, Ram. They contended that a temple to Ram had existed on the site until it was demolished to make way for the Babri Masjid, constructed in the 16th century by India’s first Mughal ruler.

Soon after the judges read the decision in a closed hearing, lawyers rushed to hundreds of reporters waiting outside the courthouse in Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh. “The judgment is in favor of Hindus,” said H. S. Jain, a lawyer for one of the Hindu groups in the case. “The belief of Hindus that this is the birthplace of Ram is upheld.”

But each of the three judges issued a separate opinion, diverging in interpretation of certain facts, including over whether Ram was born precisely on the contested site. Yet the court did hand a significant victory to Hindus, who had argued that Ram was born beneath the central dome of the destroyed structure. That portion of the contested property was granted to Hindus as part of their two-thirds share, presumably to erect a new temple to Ram.

The original case was filed in 1950 and then expanded over the years as more parties claimed title to the property. The Indian government now controls the property, and the court ordered that the status quo remain intact for the next three months. Assuming both sides follow through with filing appeals to the Supreme Court, the case could continue indefinitely.

The initial quiet public response was a relief to Indian officials. Earlier, Palaniappan Chidambaram, the home minister, had predicted that the public would respect the court’s finding.

“I think India has moved on, young people have moved on,” he told the Indian news media.

The oldest plaintiff, Hashim Ansari, 90, a Muslim tailor who had prayed at the Babri Masjid as a boy, said he would not take part in any appeal. He joined the case in 1961 and had looked forward to a ruling as a matter of closure. He called Thursday’s decision a good judgment and hoped that efforts could soon begin to rebuild a mosque on the land granted to Muslims.

Of course, he added, the timing will depend on appeals.

“It took 60 years to get this decision,” he said by telephone. “I do not know how many years the Supreme Court will take. At least I could hear this judgment on my own. Will I hear the Supreme Court judgment from my grave?”

Hari Kumar contributed reporting.
A version of this article appeared in print on October 1, 2010, on page A4 of the New York edition.
Times of India copyright
Muslim Religious Leaders Respond

LUCKNOW: Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh's remarks that the Muslim community felt cheated by the Ayodhya title suit verdict has evoked sharp reaction from the community leaders, who dubbed it as "unwise" to make politically motivated statements at this time.

"The atmosphere at the national level has been positive with religious leaders of both the communities, political leadership as well as the media. It would not be wise if politically motivated statements which could vitiate communal harmony are issued now," said Maulana Khalid Rasheed Firangimahli, the Naib Imam of Idgah and member of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board.

He told PTI that it was heartening that "no one has so far shown immaturity... not even the Sangh Parivar and there should be restraint from now on to ensure that nothing is done which could give strength to fundamentalist forces."

He said though there is disappointment among the community over the verdict, it is in the larger interest of the country and communal harmony that restraint should be exercised.

Echoing Firangimahli's views, Maulana Mohammad Umer of Islami research institute Darul Musinnfeen termed Yadav's statement "ill-timed".

"Though he is expressing the views held by the community, the timing is not correct," Maulana Umer said.

Maulana Mohammad Mirza Athar of Shia Personal Law Board said that it was unbecoming of a senior leader like Mulayam Singh Yadav to issue such a statement at a time when everyone is trying their best to ensure peace and harmony.

"In a court case, there is bound to be one side on the losing side and after this verdict by the High Court, the option of approaching the Supreme Court or making an effort to resolve the issue through mutual understanding is still open and in this backdrop such statements are unnecessary," he said.

Noted Shia leader and member of the AIMPLB, Hamidul Hasan refused to comment on Yadav's statement, but appeal to everyone to desist from issuing statements which could hurt unity and peace of the country.

Maulana Mohammad Mushtaq of the All India Sunni Board asserted that none of the Muslim leaders have said anything adverse on the verdict.

"It is the time to ensure peace and communal harmony and an appeal in this regard was also made after the Firday prayers to not politicise the issue", Mohammad Mushtaq added.

The SP chief had yesterday said he was disappointed by the Ayodhya title suits verdict as he felt faith was given "priority" over legal procedures.

Read more: Mulayam's remark on Ayodhya verdict evokes sharp response from Muslim leaders - The Times of India


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