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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Futility of Dialogue with Babari Committee

The Futility of Dialogue with Babari Committee
Arun Shourie






For a year and a half you keep issuing statements to the press, and writing ostensibly scholarly articles, and holding forth in interviews that the Babri Mosque was not, most definitely not, built by demolishing or even on a site of a temple. Documents of the other side are sent to you. You are nominated by the All India Babri Mosque Action Committee as an expert who will give his assessment of them. A meeting is scheduled. Before that you meet the then Director General of Archeology who had supervised the excavations at the site. The day the meeting is to begin the newspapers carry yet another categorical statement from "intellectuals", again asserting the line convenient to the AIBMAC. You, of course, are among them.

The meeting commences. on point after point, on document after document, your response is that you have not studied the evidence, that, therefore, you require time to visit it. You are not a field archeologist, you say, and will, therefore, nominate another person, and he too will naturally require time. The person happens to be present. You are informed that the person has not only studied the evidence, he has met and discussed the matter with the Director General, Dr B B Lal, under whose supervising the excavations had been conducted in 1975. others too are named whom he has met for the purpose. But that was in another capacity, you say, now you will need time.

On behalf of the Government, the officer present says that the records of the excavation, maps, four types of narrative accounts, photographs, are available, that Dr Lal has agreed so that they can be inspected the very next day. No, we will need time, you say.

You are on to a new tack. But why has Dr Lal not stated a definite conclusion? In fact it turns out that he has: a video cassette of the interview he gave to the BBC is produced. Can't see it now as there is no VCP, we will need time, you say.

The next day you don't even turn up for the meeting. An expert of the AIBMAC, a Marxist, an intellectual whose name appears invariably in the statements propagandising the AIBMAC point of view.

I summarize; but the account applies more or less to the four professional "experts" who appeared as the AIBMAC's nominees in the meeting on January 24, 1991. The other "experts" of the AIBMAC were just its own office bearers. They went one better. They denied the contents. Indeed they denied the very existence of books written not just by Islamic historians and authors, the photocopies of the relevant pages from which had all been supplied weeks earlier, but they also denied the knowledge of even standard works like the Encyclopedia Britannica. That done, the next day they did not turn up either.

THE ISSUES SPECIFIED

The one thing on which Chandra Shekar's government can claim to have catalysed progress is the Ram Janmabhoomi controversy. This was done in two ways: by getting the two sides to begin talking to each other, and by pin-pointing the issue. The issue Chandra Shekar emphasised was: Was the mosque built by demolishing a Hindu temple or structure?

And in this, Chandra Shekar was adhering to what had been stated categorically by Shri Syed Shahbuddin: "I say that if it is proved that the Babri Masjid has been built after demolishing the Ram Janmabhoomi Mandir on its place, then such a mosque built on such a usurped land deserves to be destroyed. No theologian or Alim can give a fatwa to hold Namaz on it." And this view, in turn, reflects the classical expositions of the law. For instance, the Fatwa-e-Alamgiri categorically states: "It is not permissible to build a mosque on unlawfully acquired land. There may be many forms of unlawful acquisition. For instance, if some people forcibly take somebody's house (or land) and build a mosque or even a Jama Masjid on it, then Namaz in such a mosque will be against the Shariat." In consultation with the two sides, therefore, Chandra Shekar made the issue specific. Each side agreed to submit evidence on this specific issue.

THE AIBMAC EVIDENCE

I was appalled when I saw what the AIBMAC had furnished. It was just a pile of papers. You were expected to wade through them and discover the relevance which flowed from them. I read them dutifully, and was soon convinced that the leaders of the AIBMAC and the intellectuals who had been guiding them had themselves not read them. It wasn't just that so much of it was the stuff of cranks, pages from the book of some chap, to the effect that Ram was actually a Pharaoh of Egypt. Or an article by someone based, he says, on what he has learnt from one dancer in Sri Lanka, and setting out a folk story, knowledge of which he himself says is confined to a small part of a small district in that country, to the effect that Sita was Ram's sister whom he married, etc.

It was not just that so much of the rest was as tertiary as can be -- articles after articles by sundry journalists which set out no evidence -- it was that the overwhelming bulk of it was just a pile of court papers selective court judgment underlying it, some merely the plaints, i.e. the assertions of the parties that happen at the moment to be convenient. And it was that document after document in this lot buttressed the case not of the AIBMAC but of the VHP!

They show that the mosque had not been in use since 1934. They show that it had been in utter neglect: the relevant authority testifying at one point to the person-in-charge being an opium addict, to his being thoroughly unfit to look after even the structure. They show different groups or sects of Muslims fighting each other for acquiring the property, and with the descendants of Mir Baqi, the commander who built the structure. They show that the lands, etc., which were given to them by the British were given not so that they may maintain the structure through the proceeds but so that they may maintain themselves, and that they were given these for services, political and military, they had rendered to the British.

It was evident too that it would be difficult to sustain the claim that the structure was a waqf, as was being maintained now. It was not even listed in the lists of either the Shia or Sunni Waqf Boards, as the law required all waqf properties to be. While the AIBMAC has striven now to rule out of court British gazetteers -- as these, after meticulous examination of written and other evidence, record unambiguously that the mosque was built after demolishing the Ram Janmabhoomi temple -- the rulings and judgments filed by the AIBMAC rely on, reproduce at length and accept the gazetteers on the very point of the issue, indeed, they explicitly decree that the gazetteers are admissible as evidence.

They show the Hindus waging an unremitting struggle to regain this place, held, the documents say, "most sacred" by them. They show them continuing to worship the ground inspite of the mosque having been super imposed on it. They show them constructing structures and temples on the peripheral spots when they are debarred from the main one. They show the current suit being filed well past the time limit allowed by our laws.

On regarding the papers, the AIBMAC had filed as "evidence", I could only conclude, therefore, that either its leaders had not read the papers themselves, or that they had no case and had just tried to over-awe or confuse the government, etc., by dumping a huge miscellaneous heap.

THE VHP DOCUMENTS

In complete contrast, the VHP documents are pertinent to the point, and have not as yet been shown to be deficient in any way. They contain the unambiguous statement of Islamic historians, of Muslim narrators, of the grand-daughter of Aurangzeb, to the effect that the mosque was built by demolishing the Ram temple. They contain accounts of European travelers as well as official publications of the British period -- the gazetteers of 1854, 1877, 1881, 1892, 1905; the Settlement Report of 1880; the Surveyor's Report of 1838; the Archeological Survey Reports of 1891 and 1934 -- all of them reaffirming what the Muslim historians had stated: that the mosque was built by destroying the temple, that some of the pillars are in the mosque still, that the Hindus continue to revere the spot and struggle unremittingly to reacquire it.

They contain revenue records of a hundred years and more, which list the site as "Janmasthan" and specify it to be the property of the mahants. They also show how attempts have been made to erase things from these records and superimpose convenient nomenclatures on them -- crude and unsuccessful attempts, for while the forgers have been able to get at the records in some offices they have not been able to get at them in all the offices!

Most important of all, they contain accounts of the archeological excavations which were conducted at the site from 1975 to 1980. These are conclusive: the bases and the pillars, the stone of which the pillars are made, everything coheres. And everything answers the issue the government and the two sides had specified in the affirmative, and unambiguously so.

"CONTEMPORARY ACCOUNT"

"But where is a contemporary account of the temple being destroyed?" At first it was, "Show us any document." When the gazetteers were produced, it was, "But the British wrote only to divide and rule." (Why, then, do you keep producing judgments of British Magistrates, pray?) "Show us some non-British document, some pre-British document." Now that these too are at hand, the demand is for contemporary account. This when it is well-known that in the contemporary account of the period -- Babar's own memoir -- the pages from the time he reaches Ayodhya, 2nd April 1528 to 18th September 1528 are missing lost, it is hypothesised, in a storm or in the vicissitudes which Humayan's library suffered during his exile.

It is not just that this latest demand is an after thought. It is that in the face of what exists at the site to this day -- the pillars, etc. -- and in the face of archeological findings, and what has been the universal practice as well as the fundamental faith of Islamic evangelists and conquerors such accounts are not necessary. But there is even more conclusive consideration. Today a contemporary account is being demanded in the case of the Babri Mosque. Are those who make this demand prepared to accept this as the criterion - that if a contemporary account exists of the destruction of a temple for constructing a mosque - the case is made?

This entry for 2nd September 1669, for instance, is as contemporary an account as any can ask for: "News came to Court that in accordance with the Emperor's command his officers had demolished the temple of Vishwanath at Banaras." The entry for January 1670 set out the fact for the great temple at Mathura: "In this month of Ramzan, the religious minded Emperor ordered the demolition of the temple at Mathura. In a short time by the great exertions of his officers the destruction of this strong center of infidelity was accomplished. A grand mosque was built on its site at vast expenditure. The idols, large and small, set with costly jewels which had been set up in the temple were brought to Agra and buried under the steps of the Mosque of Begum Sahib in order to be continually trodden upon. The name of Mathura was changed to Islamabad." The entry for 1st January 1705 says: "The Emperor summoning Muhammed Khalid and Khidmat Rai, the darogha of hatchetmen, ordered them to demolish the temple at Pandarpur, and to take the butchers of the camp there and slaughter cows in the temple. It was done."

If the fact that a contemporary account of the temple at Ayodhya is not available leaves the matter unsettled, does the fact that contemporary accounts are available for the temples at Kashi, Mathura, Pandharpur, and a host of other places, settle the matter? One has only to ask the question to know that the "experts" and "intellectuals" will immediately ask for something else.

HISTORICITY

"But there is no proof that Ram himself existed; nor are any of the other facts about him proven."

The four Gospels themselves, to say nothing of the work that has been done in the last hundred years, differ on fact after fact about Jesus - from the names of his ancestors to the crucifixion and resurrection. The Quran repudiates even the most basic facts about Jesus Christ - it emphatically denounces the notion that he was the Son of God, it repudiates the notion of his virgin birth, it insists that he was not the one who was crucified but a look alike, thereby putting the question of resurrection out altogether. And which member of the AIBMAC will say that the Quran is not an authentic recounting of the facts? Does that mean that every single church rests on myth?

Nor is the historicity of the Prophet the distinguishing feature about him. Every ordinary person living today is historically verifiable after all. The unique feature about the Prophet is that Allah chose him to transmit the Quran, but it would be absurd to ask anyone to prove the fact of Allah having chosen him. It is a matter of faith.

Indeed, the uniqueness of the Quran itself is a matter of faith. What we have read, and revere, is the reproduction of the original which lies in heaven inscribed on tablets of gold. And it is the contents of that original which Allah transmitted through the angel Gabriel to the Prophet. Heave, the original on tablets of gold, Allah's decision, Gabriel -- do we prove these?

They, too, are matters of faith. And every mosque is a celebration of those separate foci of faith.

Specific mosques are even more so. The great Al-Aqsa mosque marks the print which the Prophet's foot made as he alighted from the winged horse which had carried him on his journey. The winged horse, the imprint of one particular foot -- in regard to these would we entertain a demand for "proof"? The Hazratbal mosque in Kashmir enshrines what we revere as the hair of the Prophet. Would we think of proving the matter?

And yet that is what we are insisting the devotees of Ram do.

CONCLUSION

The Muslim laity have been badly misled, and now been badly let down by those who set themselves up as their guardians and sole spokesmen. First, they created the scare that were any reasonable solution to be accepted on this matter, Islam would be endangered. Now they have failed to substantiate their rhetoric. Now that they seem to be finding excuses to withdraw from examining the evidence, we are liable to be plunged back into the vicious politics of manipulating politicians by tempting them with promises of delivering banks of votes -- that is, the precise politics which has fermented the current reaction.

We can stem the relapse. As the "experts" have withdrawn, each of us should secure the documents submitted by the two sides and examine them in the minutest detail. Once we do so it will be that much more difficult for propagandists to thwart this singular effort to introduce reason and reasonableness into the problem.

(Reproduced from his column "As I see it.")

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