25 years since Babri demolition: It is important to recall and engage with injuries of the past to heal the present

To make sense of the present, often we need to take a hard look at the past. On the 25th anniversary of Babri Masjid demolition which for many reasons remains an epochal moment in the history of modern India, it would be worthwhile looking at the impulses that led to the destruction of the mosque and how these long-suppressed impulses of far-history are shaping the political narratives of today.

File image of the demolition of the Babri Masjid. AFP

File image of the demolition of the Babri Masjid. AFP

To those untrained in history and to practitioners of wilful denial, the bringing down of the 16th-century structure was an act of communal wantonness that broke the back of 'secularism' in India and unleashed genies that cannot be put back into the bottle. It is the only reading that has ever been allowed to exist and it refers to that moment as the 'manifestation of naked majoritarianism'.

It is the starting point of any discussion — an axiomatic truth over which all structures of future debates must necessarily rest.

The problem with reality is that it exists in many dimensions. Sometimes these realities clash, and when they do, those in position of power to determine the discourse relegate some realities to nether regions of consciousness in favour of their version of events. The subterranean realities do not cease to exist. In turn, these suppressed realities reveal themselves in various ways — sometimes in quite unexpected, resentful ways — and a nation that refuses to engage honestly with these realities pay a steeper price in the end.

It would be misleading and wrong to see the demolition of the mosque in Ayodhya on 6 December, 1992, in medias res.

It wasn't an event without context, and it certainly wasn't an act that started and ended with BJP's ambition to gain power over the rubble of a mosque. Those political impulses are undeniable, and even the BJP might acknowledge it as such. However, a larger, balanced debate over the Babri mosque demolition is impossible if we refuse to ask ourselves why, even two-and-a-half-decades later, the issue not only remains relevant but continues to drive political discourse.

Any fruitful discussion must necessarily break free of the trope that mosque demolition was an act of "pure evil" sponsored by the far-right Hindu revivalist programme as against a syncretic 'idea of India'. It is precisely because of these restrictions on discourse that we have been going around in circles.

When the kar sevaks on that fateful day cried "Ek dhakka aur do, Babri Masjid tod do", they were not only responding to political impulses of the day, but were also releasing the anger of suppressed history that has not been allowed an expression. These are strong impulses, grappling with these motivations aren't easy, and they start where the boundaries of political correctness end.

A few writers and thinkers who have been brave enough to shed light on the unwritten histories have been branded and labeled into neat little compartments, notwithstanding their considerable achievements in own fields.

Historians, for instance, have even branded Nobel Laureate VS Naipaul a 'BJP sympathiser' for his take on the history of Hindu civilisation. In a discussion with the late author and journalist Khushwant Singh whose views on Babri demolition were firmly within the realms of accepted reality (that it was an act of communal disharmony created by BJP), Naipaul once described razing of the mosque as "an act of historical balancing."

In the discussion, which happened 17 years ago in the month of May and was reproduced in Outlook, Sir Vidia told Singh that Hindu revivalists were "mimicking the Islamic fundamentalists" in their destruction driven by an impulse of resentment because "the mosque built by Babar in Ayodhya was meant as an act of contempt. Babar was no lover of India. I think it is universally accepted that Babar despised India, the Indian people and their faith."

These were by no means outlier statements by the agent provocateur. A year before that discussion, in conversation with journalist Tarun Tejpal in Outlook, the Trinidad-born author who by some reckoning is the greatest living writer in English, expanded on his claim that Muslim invaders had indulged in wanton and large-scale destruction of Hindu religion and culture, and these histories lie un-chronicled but never forgotten, consequently giving rise to a revivalist version of Hinduism. He contested the view that Muslim invasions had resulted in enrichment and syncretisation of cultures.

"In art books and history books, people write of the Muslims "arriving" in India, as though the Muslims came on a tourist bus and went away again."

The author — who relied for his reading of history on primary and original sources such as 14th century Moroccan traveler Ibn Batuta, the Chachnama, an account of the invasions of Sindh by Arabian marauders, or Bernier, the French traveller to India during the time of Shah Jahan — held that Muslim version of the history of India's dark ages were truer ones compared to the sanctified ones that we have been taught to believe.

"The Muslim view of their conquest of India is a truer one. They speak of the triumph of the faith, the destruction of idols and temples, the loot, the carting away of the local people as slaves, so cheap and numerous that they were being sold for a few rupees. The architectural evidence-the absence of Hindu monuments in the north-is convincing enough… There are no Hindu records of this period. Defeated people never write their history. The victors write the history," he told Tejpal in the interview.

Giving two examples — the destruction of the Vijaynagar kingdom in the south in 1565 and Akbar's ravaging of Odisha in 1592, he spoke of a "larger and more tragic and more illuminating theme. That theme is the grinding down of Hindu India."

In an article written in 2004 in Outlook, India-born British playwright Farrukh Dhondy ripped apart historian William Dalrymple for challenging Sir Vidia's credentials as a historian. Pointing out that unlike Dalrymple, Naipaul had relied on primary sources, Dhondy wrote that "Naipaul's history is constructed from the original sources and from the evidence of what is left."

Naipaul had a meeting with BJP functionaries in Mumbai in 2004 (he reportedly also was keen on meeting Congress party members but received no invitation). Dhondy, who had attended that meeting later wrote in the Outlook article about Naipaul's views on Babar.

"Naipaul is not saying that Babar single-handedly destroyed Hindu civilisation… What Naipaul did say about this sixteenth century invasion, at the misreported meeting and elsewhere, was that Babar knew very well what Ayodhya meant to the Hindus. In an act of hubris and religious vandalism he built a mosque on the spot where the population had pitched a legend."

We find similar views from the late Nirad C Chaudhuri, the irreverent Englishman who happened to be a Bengali scholar, author and a man of letters. On Babri demolition, he held that: "Muslims do not have the slightest right to complain about the desecration of one mosque in Ayodhya. From 1000 AD every temple from Kathiawar to Bihar, from the Himalayas to the Vindhyas has been sacked and defiled."

For his impertinence, the brilliant Nirad C was dismissed as an eccentric who had lost his reason with age. This denial of raids and destructions, which Dhondy reckons have "left the civilisation headless, wounded, truncated in its development," and forced suppression of history, have given rise to anger which manifests itself in myriad, unconnected ways such as unmitigated rage against a Bollywood movie.

Padmavati fell victim to that impulse of resentment which seeks to now rewrite history in its own terms. Will this set forth another chain of destruction? Sir Vidia feels it won't. He called India a wounded civilisation in his work, and told Tejpal that Hindu resurgence is "a necessary corrective to the history…"

It is undeniable that much of the suppression which happened under the aegis of Nehruvian secularism by Leftist historians had as its motto a higher ideal of communal harmony. But as events subsequently have taught us, it is never wise to tamper with history. It is important to engage with injuries of the past to heal the present.

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Updated Date: Dec 07, 2017 07:41:49 IST

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