What the Ayodhya judgment makes evident: New India is a place of 'no Muslim things'
The burden of peace and harmony in New India, a Hindu Rashtra, is now on Muslims. The burden of peace demands conformity of the Muslim community.
To make sense of the Ayodhya judgment, one needs to focus on what happened outside the courtroom and then use that as a way of seeing what happened inside.
The judgment gives a defining feature to Muslim alterity in New India.
Everything suggests that there is no place for Muslim things, no position for Muslims, in this political atmosphere.
To make sense of the Supreme Court’s recent ruling in the Ayodhya case, one needs to focus on what happened outside the courtroom and then use that as a way of seeing what happened inside. The un-happening of riots, bloodshed and violence has somehow refracted our attention, and analysis of the judgment seems to be centered on what happened inside the courtroom, the contents of the 1,045-page judgement. This article tries to shift the optics outside, to the everydayness of the landmark event of 9 November 2019.
A key event that impacted the ‘everydayness’ was the surveillance of the digital space — WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook, and other social media platforms. Group admins were asked to report any post that may be suspected of inciting violence. “Did that include dissenting posts that were calling for peaceful protests as a rightful act of citizenship?” One doesn’t know. The Muslim groups I am part of, were silent out of fear. Another youth group that I’m included in had nothing to say. While silence was being practiced under the watchful gaze of the Big Brother, I got a Facebook notification about a post by a group named “India Resists”. The post read: “Justice is served”.
While Muslims and other Babri Masjid empaths assumed that sharing their disappointment in the judgement might attract legal sanctions, the Ram Janmabhoomi empaths were celebrating, using phrases like “justice is served” rhetorically. Alongside this, we heard another rhetorical assertion, “This verdict must not be seen as either victory or loss”. Yet the celebration went on under the label of “justice [being] served”. Indeed, the exclusionism of the Hindu Rashtra is performed under labels of “goodness”: justice, positive nationalism, spirituality, and the big ones — democracy and unity.
Take the rule about social media messaging on the morning of the Ayodhya judgment: it was specially targeted against Muslims. Even if there was no official announcement, the handling of Muslims in New India — through lynching, criminalising and restraining — has created a paranoia about being Muslim overtly or in the open, in what they eat, carry in public spaces and share on social media platforms. The paranoia rendered the voices in many Muslim groups on WhatsApp silent.
Turning to the judgment, the same message is also pronounced there — an existence bereft of Muslims things. Basing the judgement on facts, the factuality of Babri Masjid was denied. This signals that New India is intolerant of any Muslim behaviour — to feel the loss of the Babri Masjid or any Muslim thing, even a text message to share one’s disappointment about it. Alongside this, statements by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat, and that “there are no winners or losers” in the case, denied Muslims from feeling the loss of Babri Masjid. If anything could be learnt from how the judgment was performed, it is that New India is a place of “no Muslim things”.
With Asaduddin Owaisi stating that the five acres are not needed as compensation, New India further becomes a place of no Muslims things. It was not only Babri Masjid and hence the material heritage of Muslim/Indepedent India which was denied existence, but also the feeling of loss — the being of Muslim — that was denied existence. What is to be felt and emoted as a Muslim is now centrally controlled. The social media quasi-embargo and the judgment shared a resonance that the community of social media users and the Hindu-Muslim community of Ayodhya cannot be trusted and hence need to be centrally controlled. Peace, deemed to be a practice of the everyday and as a negotiation between the conflicting communities, was imposed upon through authoritarian institutions.
Even this negotiation in the judgment came wrapped in paradoxes. In the court’s language — illustrating peace, secular values and impartial objectivity — the violence behind the ‘property dispute of title’ was completely subsumed. The principle of equity, designed to remedy the rigidity of law, was cited to favour the violent perpetrators in the garb of displaying a mathematical sense of objectivity. The Hindu belief gets manifestation, the Muslim belief gets compensation. This itself presents the undertones of dominance imposed by the judgment.
On another level, the judgement is celebrated or at least endorsed as one which has brought peace and harmony, a sense of relief and closure. The question of the differential ways in which the judgement affected different parties is made invisible in the ways the judgment is made sense. As The Hindu’s editorial stated, “This sense of relief (that the judgment brings) masks the bitter truth that the fear of a Hindu backlash, if there was an adverse verdict, was genuine”.
In such ways, the burden of peace and harmony in New India, a Hindu Rashtra, is now on Muslims. The burden of peace demands conformity of the Muslim community. If there is to be peace and harmony in New India, a Hindu Rashtra, then the Muslim community, the other needs to be silent. Peace, here, means not to speak, to be silent, since saying anything or raising a voice against atrocity is immediately construed as negative. If anything, the judgment further gives bones and flesh to the already existing state of alterity in India — the Muslim as the other.
In July this year, 61 celebrities signed a missive titled ‘Selective outrage and false narratives’, to counter an open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi written by 49 public figures, seeking an end to mob lynchings of minorities in India. The ‘selective outrage’ letter writers alleged that those decrying mob lynchings aimed to “tarnish India’s international standing and to negatively portray Prime Minister Modi’s untiring efforts to effectuate governance on the foundations of positive nationalism and humanism which is the core of INDIANNESS [sic]”. The original letter, which sought the attention of the Prime Minister of the country to the mob lynching of minorities, which is a fact, is constructed as negative. On the other hand, the State which does not attend to the issue of lynching of minorities is praised as being based on “positive nationalism and humanism”. The colloquial use of the phrase “positive nationalism” is tainted with a certain sense of illiteracy as it focuses on a positive that is in opposition to negative. There is no sense of xenophobia in understanding the positive nationalism of New India. So is the positive nationalism of New India evil?
Discrimination in India today is not rooted in the banality of evil as the philosopher Hannah Arendt had noted, of Nazism. Evil in New India masquerades using the labels of goodness — justice, pro-national, anti-corruption, democracy, unity, pro-minority.
Thus, dissent as performed by the Other (the Muslims, the dissenting population), against the Hindutva state’s ‘morally and behaviourally supreme self’, is cast as bad or wrong, negative and undesirable. If dissent requires the other being negative, then can democracy be practiced for a negative politics, a politics that negates exclusionary imaginations?
Just as the Ram Mandir, as part of the Hindu Rashtra’s heritage, is resurrected on the ruins of Babri Masjid, so too will New India be resurrected on the ruins of the older, independent India. The Babri Masjid, which has lost the battle against the conquer-style politics of the BJP, once materialised the plurality of independent India in myriad celebratory and fraught ways. The underlying message here is that Muslim heritage is your heritage — never ours. The Ayodhya judgment then, firstly, gives a defining feature to Muslim alterity in New India.
Secondly, there is nothing to suggest (this) in the judgment, and yet everything suggests that there is no place for Muslim things, no position for Muslims, in this political atmosphere. The judgment materialises a dream — a dream of the Hindu Rashtra. Secular India, where religions were celebrated, will now remain a memory. The existence of Muslims things — like the Babri Masjid, Taj Mahal, personal laws and Muslim bodies (threatened by NRC and Triple Talaq) — makes secular India. New India might be a unified India but can never be a secular India. An India without Muslim things is a Hindu Rashtra, and today, India is a Hindu Rashtra. Victory is realised as “justice is served”. Yet nobody is the winner or loser in this, and Muslims are called to work together for building a Hindu nation, in unity — which is yet another positive virtue of “INDIANNESS”.
Thirdly, under the goodness of justice being served, in the goodness of being in peace and harmony, in the goodness of being unified — the burden of peace is on Muslims today. Their bodies — silenced, tormented, burnt and lynched — are the ones that bear peace. To bear peace has become our duty, a Muslim’s duty, so they may qualify as citizens. ‘Be good’ is what we are told. To be good is to silence the evil — the banality of evil that surrounds us in New India, a Hindu Rashtra. To be good is to never speak the truth. Evil lurks in the insides of goodness in the Hindu Rashtra and hence, evil doesn’t exist, and Muslims bodies and things don’t too. The evil is dissent and goodness is conformity, and that is the state of Indian democracy today.
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