Ram Janmabhoomi and its essence for Hindus
(The destruction of Babri Structure this week 24 years ago was a seminal moment in India's history. Over many centuries, Hindus fought tooth and nail to reclaim "Ram Janmabhoomi". An account below through history's prism-- Editor)
I vividly remember that Sunday afternoon when I was loitering in the neighbourhood along with other children. We were school students then and apart from cricket the other topic of our passionate discussion was the ongoing agitation at Ayodhya. A few minutes into our discussion, we saw a hefty man running towards us. He was panting. Tears were rolling down his cheeks as he repeatedly yelled “Jai Shri Ram”. Before we could react, several others in our locality had joined in and roared back “Jai Shri Ram”. Within minutes almost everybody, including me and my friends, were chanting “Jai Shri Ram” in unison.
This day was December 6th 1992.
The Babri Structure at Ayodhya had been demolished and news spread like wild fire. Conch shells were blowing, sweets were distributed, diyas and candles were lighted.
This was the scene and extent of celebrations at a small colony in Kanpur an industrial town around 220 kilometres from Ayodhya. Remember this was 1992-- a different era with no Facebook, WhatsApp or Twitter. Mobile phones were super luxury and 24x7 television news was nowhere. The only mode of communication were landline phones and word of mouth. Yet, news of the demolition of Babri Structure spread like wild fire and instigated hysterical celebrations all across the country.
It’s been more than two decades since that eventful day in 1992, nevertheless I can recall even the smallest details of my life post the demolition of Babri Structure (some historians may call it a Mosque but I prefer to call it a Structure). And why only I, most of us who were witness to that historic moment will remember every detail of that day. In fact, many historians and commentators like to describe the history of post-independence India as pre-1992 and post-1992. Such was the impact of Ram Janmabhoomi Movement on our lives. This impact has only grown over time.
In recent years during my interaction with journalists and political observers, especially from the West, one question almost recurs: “how could a political party (read BJP) whip up mass frenzy on a scale that remains almost unparalleled in post-independence India”?
Well, first things first. The Ram Janmabhoomi Movement was never the brain child of one political party. It was a people’s movement rather than a political movement. None of the people in my colony who were celebrating the demolition of Babri Structure were members of any political party rather they were ordinary citizens who considered Shri Ram as their deity.
Let’s go back in history to put things into a perspective.
Mughal invader Babur’s commander-in-chief Mir Baki demolished the Ram Janmabhoomi Temple in 1528. The psyche behind temple’s demolition was to prove to the indigenous Hindu population that world order has changed and Babur is the new ruler who is here to take possession of the country, its people and the God. Since Ram is an integral part of India’ psyche, so Babur and his army of invaders thought that demolition of Ram’s temple at his birthplace would send a powerful message to the natives and India could be subjugated forever. They were wrong. Yes, Babur did demolish the temple but faced stiff resistance from the then native population to an extent that he was unable to build a grand mosque in its place. It was a hurriedly built “Structure” that resembled a mosque-- the minarets, place for ablutions and other essential structures of a mosque were starkly absent.
During Babur’s short rein of four years the then local people fought four battles to regain control of the Ram Janmabhoomi site. The very fact that Babur was unable to build a grand mosque even after being the victor speaks volumes about the resistance he faced from the then Hindu population. And then these fights never stopped. Till 1934 Hindus have fought a total of 76 battles to regain control of the Ram Janmabhoomi site. Be it the rein of Akbar, Jahangir, Shahjahan or the brutal Aurangzeb at no time did the Hindu population stop battling to re-gain control of the Ram Janmabhoomi site.
Since the year 1934, and thereafter India’s independence in 1947, this fight has shifted to the court rooms. So, while earlier the battles were bloody and violent with time it has now become judicial.
For Hindus, a temple at the Ram Janmabhoomi is not an issue of mere bricks and mortar. It is an issue of their cultural resurgence and identity, where Shri Ram has a prime place of importance. The movement is an expression of the collective consciousness of the Hindu ethos, honour and dignity. Any interpretation of the Babri Structure, other than that of it being viewed as a monument which celebrates our slavery will clearly indicate that Hindus are being asked to live with the feeling of humiliation that Babur wanted to inflict on them as “conquered people”.
Now where does this leave the country’s Muslim population? Since it was never a mosque, the Babri Structure is not a holy place for Muslims and there is absolutely no need for them to own up the barbarism of Babur and others like him. A little bit of historical research proves that present day Indian Muslims are converts from Hinduism and it is their forefathers who died fighting the marauding army of the likes of Babur. Later on, their families were forced to convert to Islam by the invading Mughal army. Ironically, vested political interests has completely erased this fact from political discourse and a blatant lie has been propagated about Indian Muslims that they are the descendants of Babur and other Islamic invaders. Nothing can be farther from truth and the fact remains that Indian Muslims are forcible converts from Hinduism.
The right way for Indian Muslims is to distance themselves from such acts of vandalism and barbarism of the past.
Elsewhere also there has been several precedents of such acts. When the Germans are asked to apologize for the crimes of Hitler, they never hesitate to do so, clearly indicating that they do not own Nazism.
In fact, in 1857 the year when India fought its first War of Independence against British colonialism, Amir Ali the local Muslim leader from Ayodhya announced that Muslims must hand over the Babri Structure to Hindu brethren. Unfortunately, rebels lost the 1857 war and British army hanged Amir Ali and his associate leader Ramcharan Das from a tamarind tree on March 18, 1858. For several years this tamarind tree was worshiped by both Hindus and the Muslims. The developing camaraderie between Hindus and Muslims worried British colonial rulers. Soon they uprooted the tamarind tree that was turning into a rallying point for the indigenous population. Sadly, this portion of history is skipped in present day narrative.
Further, since all kinds of evidence from archaeological, historical or the literary have pointed towards the preexistence of a grand Ram temple at the Janmabhoomi site a commentary is now being propagated that there are larger issues to be addressed in the country such as education, poverty and malnutrition. So, rather than “diverting” the nation’s resources towards building a temple the nation should focus on these issues only. Of course, there is no denying the fact that issues such as poverty, education, malnutrition, women security need to be addressed on an urgent basis but we need to add Shri Ram Janmabhoomi temple to this list, as well. India has enough resources to simultaneously address all these issues. A country that instils a sense of honour apart from providing food, shelter and security to its citizens is a much more stable nation. Human beings need honour as much as they require food, shelter and security.
And there are several examples around the globe where nations have fought for their honour. For instance, in the year 1918 in Warsaw, at the end of first Russian occupation of Poland, one of the first things that Polish people did was to bring down the Russian Orthodox Christian Cathedral that was built by Russians in the centre of the town. This was done despite the fact that Poles are Christians and Jesus Christ was worshiped in that Cathedral. The Poles demolished the Cathedral built by Russians only because they viewed the Cathedral not as a place of worship, rather as a structure that reminded them of their slavery. Ditto at Spain. Around 12th century, the Moors had conquered Spain and forcibly converted Spanish people from Christianity to Islam. In the 16th century, when Christians recovered the whole of Spain from Moors they gave Muslims in their country only three choices -- reconvert to Christianity; leave the country along with the Moors; or be killed. All the Muslim places of worship were converted back to Christian churches. There was no religious overtones to the actions of Spanish people rather they were acting only to restore their nation’s honour. The Moors had crushed Spain’s spirit when they were powerful yet Spanish people did everything possible to regain their lost honour.
The Babri Structure at Ayodhya was a similar construction that was built only to crush India’s spirit and reminded the country of Babur’s savagery and so its demolition was celebrated all across the country. A grand temple at the birth place of Lord Ram will instill a sense of pride in our rich cultural heritage and correct the historical wrong.
(Vivek Sinha is a New Delhi-based Journalist and Film Maker. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His Twitter handle is @viveksinha28)