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India: Public Statement by People’s Alliance for Democracy and Secularism (PADS) on the Ayodhya verdict of Supreme Court

25 November

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[25 November 2019]

The November 9 judgment of Supreme Court gives the entire 2.77 acres of the Babri Mosque land to the deity Ramlalla Virajman, It also directs the central government to form a trust to oversee the construction of a temple at the site of the erstwhile mosque. These decisions of the highest court have pushed the country towards a religion based majoritarian polity, where matters of faith would stand above the rule of law, and faith of the majority community will be treated supreme.

According to the judgment the belief of some Hindus that the mosque site is the birth place of god Ram is not the basis of its decision. It also calls the placement of idols during the night of Dec 22-23 in the Babri mosque a desecration, and further declares the 1992 destruction of the mosque a ‘violation of the law’. Given these claims, court’s decision baffles common sense. If the actions of the followers of the deity Ram in 1949 and 1992 were illegal, then how do they get the possession of the site where the mosque once stood? Or else, suppose the mosque had not been destroyed in 1992. Would the court then have handed it to Hindus so that they could ‘legally’ destroy it and build the Ram temple in its place? Question like these are an example of a robust secular common sense, which expects that law should be same for all, and that any violation of the law in the name of religion is still a crime. The court wants to balance its judgment by asking the central govt to give six acres of land to Muslims to build a mosque in lieu of the one destroyed in 1992. This kind of balancing, while at the same time rewarding majoritarian communal forces, is no secularism.

In fact a reading of court’s judgment shows that it violates secularism at many places. First, the court showed an unseemly haste in deciding the title suit over the land of Babri mosque, while the criminal trial over the destruction of the mosque is still pending 27 years after the crime. Instead, the court should have speeded up the criminal trial so that people and organisations guilty of that crime could be barred from the title suit. Second, the judgment places an unequal burden for providing evidence on the two sides. Muslims lost the site because they could not prove that namaz was offered in it between 1528 and 1857. Hindus get the site because a few European travellers in the eighteenth century mention Hindus offering prayers in the outer courtyard. The same accounts also mention the building as a mosque, yet the court refuses to accept the fact that a mosque is meant for offering prayers, and expects Muslims to give a hard evidence that they actually offered namaz.

Third, the court grants juridical authority to deity Ramlalla Virajman against established practice. Juridical authority is granted to deities of established temples, which also own other property. These deities are treated as legal minors under the guardianship of associations formed under proper rules. None of these conditions hold true for Ramalalla. This deity has no property or temple for which it needs juridical authority. It was put in the legal domain in 1989 when its followers entered the ongoing civil suit over the land of Babri mosque because they wanted to build a temple at its place. If the idols placed surreptitiously inside the mosque in 1949 are taken to be the material representation of this deity, then the first public act done in its name is covered in illegality. The court treated the issue of juridical authority of the deity independently of the actions and intentions its followers. This opens the floodgates for any group of people demanding a juridical status for their favoured deity, and then pushing their murky agendas legally behind the divine status of the deity.

The fourth violation of the principles of secularism is asking the Indian government to form a trust for making a temple. A secular state should ensure equal freedom to followers all religions to practice their belief. It has no business in building places of worship. Indian government took over the management of many places of worship from the princely states when these were incorporated into the Indian union. Many state governments also provide administrative support to mass pilgrimages. However, asking the government to get involved in construction of a temples which does not exist, is an entirely different matter. It will take India back to feudal times when sovereign power was always associated a religion. A fundamental difference between feudal polities and modern democracies is the recognition of the personal freedom and equality of every human. In contrast, humans under feudal polities are treated primarily as members of communities, and are assumed to be bound by community rules. A feudal polity will allow a khap panchayat to dictate who can marry whom, a modern democracy will protect the right of the young to make their choice.

Court’s judgment gives a legal stamp of approval to the Hindutva agenda of turning India into a majoritarian state in which democratic rights of every citizen will be under threat. Almost all political parties which oppose BJP have welcomed the judgment because they think they cannot win elections if they are seen to be not toeing religious sentiments of the majority community. This is very unfortunate.
PADS requests the Supreme Court to review its judgment and remove all points where it violates secularism.
People and organisations which committed the crime of destruction of Babri mosque should be brought to justice expeditiously.
People of India should assert their secular common sense and express their opposition to the Supreme Court verdict.

Released by People’s Alliance for Democracy and Secularism (PADS) on 25 Nov, 2019. by
Battini Rao, Convenor PADS (95339 75195, battini.rao[at]gmail.com)