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Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Ayodhya, the Battle for India’s Soul-2


Thanks to Wall street Journal and Krishna Pokharel and Paul Beckett for writing the series on the topic, it is one of India's unfinished social business and needed to be addressed. The article follows my commentary.

 This is 2nd in a six part series on Ayodhya, "RamTemple-Babri Masjid conflict"  by the Wall Street Journal. It is one of the few unresolved conflict's of India.

Thus far, both the pieces have been objective, causing people think in finding a solution with least conflicts,  and with a least sense of injustice. No one can bulldoze others' sentiments and expect peaceful existence, one may get away temporarily, but the apprehension endures for both sides, unless they live in a bucket.  We have to have a heart-to-heart in a national dialogue to put this behind and move forward. If you have ill-will toward me, and vice-versa, both of us are victims of our own ignorance.

Fox example, many Muslims, including this Muslim continues to condemn the atrocities of Aurangzeb and the plunderer Mahmood Ghazni of Somnath fame. Even though I have nothing to do with them, nothing to gain, I did not even inherit a kaas from their loot,  yet I am looked up as one of them, as if I am responsible for their acts. No,  I am not responsible for any of those acts from the history.

As an Indian, whether I am a Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Christian, Jain, Buddh, Maratha, Pandava, Pallava, Peshwa, Gujarati, Punjabi, Sindhi, Bengali or Malayalee. I am not responsible for the massacres during the partition, yet, you and I, are held responsible in the psyche of many. We all need Mukti from it and cannot continue to live in ill-will and hatred for the other. We have to end this cycle in our Janam and be free. We have to have a real national dialouge where we feel our forgiveness of each other is genuine, and it would be, if it would give us mukti. Are we really free?

What I am responsible for then? 

I am responsible for those acts that have happened during my life time, and where the least I could have done is spoken up against Indira Gandhi's brutal emergency rule, spoken out against communal riots regardless of whom we blame, spoken out against the exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits, the massacre of the Sikhs, Gujarat Massacre, burning of Dalit Villages, raping of the Nuns, the suicide of farmers.... and you can list more things here (page is not enough).

Our grand Kids can look up and ask? Dada or Dadee, did you speak out when wrong things were happening? Why did you pass the buck to us? Did you tell Mom and Dad that "the others" were wrong and filled their hearts with hatred for the other? Were you not capable of finding solutions? Did you just blame everyone else than yourselves?

The looting they did was for their own personal gain, that is what those kings did; whether Muslim, Christian, Sikh, Buddhist or other kings, they had nothing better to do than loot and annex the next state or next door city. Most of the Kings were just fighting wars, very few had time to encourage education, knowledge, translate book, focus on Music, improve medicine, share knowledge... that benefits the general public for generations to come.  There were good, bad and ugly Mogul, Pallavas, Singhs, Peshawas, Khiljis, Tughlags, British and you can add a whole lot of them to the list.  or any one in the past, with a few exceptions. Are you and I responsible for the acts of those? If not, we should purge the latent ill-will from our hearts, it is for our own individual good.

"This issue will not go away" they said that sixty years ago about Ayodhya. If you and I are irresponsible like them, we will repeat it, or find a solution and not pass this to our next generation. The solution is not easy, we have to listen to each others fears and aspirations, but dialogue, we must. I do hope, we clean at least our own hearts and minds - for our own peace of mind. I know we can do it, and I know many Indians are doing that now. Clean it up, and see the moksha you find, it is all within you and you can do it.

Enjoy the freedom

Jai Hind

Mike Ghouse for India's Pluralistic ethos


Ayodhya, the Battle for India’s Soul
By Krishna Pokharel And Paul Beckett


[This Wall Street Journal investigation is being published in serialized form. A new chapter will be posted each morning this week on India Real Time. Click here to read chapter one and three.]

Paul Beckett/The Wall Street Journal. A replica of the idol of Ram placed in the Babri Masjid on Dec. 22, 1949. Click here to view related slideshow.

Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s prime minister, was greatly perturbed by an idol of Lord Ram being placed in a mosque.
Jawaharlal Nehru, left, with U.S. President Harry Truman.

Polished, intellectual and skeptical of religion, Nehru was trying to propel the nation into an era of modern socialism and scientific thinking. But the events in Ayodhya forced him to grapple anew with the centuries-long friction between Hindus and Muslims – and to try to counter the spreading belief that a deity had materialized in the dead of night.

“I am disturbed at developments at Ayodhya,” Nehru said in a telegram on Dec. 26, 1949, to Govind Ballabh Pant, chief minister of United Provinces, which roughly included what is now the state of Uttar Pradesh. “Earnestly hope you will personally interest yourself in this matter. Dangerous example being set there which will have bad consequences.”

The provincial government wanted the statue removed. K.K. Nayar, the district magistrate in Faizabad, who also oversaw Ayodhya, refused. He wrote to a provincial official that removing the idol was “fraught with the gravest danger to public peace” and would lead to a “conflagration of horror,” according a copy of his correspondence.
Around that time, Guru Dutt Singh, the city magistrate, resigned. His son, Guru Basant Singh, said his father quit because “his work was done” and the idol’s installation, which Mr. Singh helped plan, had succeeded.
Local Hindus added religious items to the mosque: more idols; six black ammonite stones; a small silver throne; brass utensils for worship; and clothes for the deity, according to an official list compiled later.

Muslims weren’t welcome. Mohammad Hashim Ansari, a local tailor, headed to the Babri Masjid with a few others the morning after the idol of Ram was installed, said Mr. Ansari and another local Muslim who was there. The police stopped them at the gate. The Muslims returned home, they said.

Nehru kept pushing. In early January, he wrote again to Mr. Pant. The chief minister called him soon after.

Mr. Pant “intended taking action, but he wanted to get some well-known Hindus to explain the situation to people in Ayodhya first,” Nehru wrote in a separate letter to the governor-general of India dated Jan. 7, 1950.

Weeks passed. The idol stayed.
The Wall Street Journal/Court Files
The idols installed in the Babri Masjid in 1949, shown in a photo taken in 1950.

The discord in Ayodhya threatened Nehru’s desire for India to be a democracy in which all beliefs were equally respected. He also feared that it would have repercussions “on all-India affairs and more especially Kashmir,” the disputed territory between India and the newly-created Pakistan, he wrote to Mr. Pant on Feb. 5, 1950.

Nehru added that he would be willing to make the 600-kilometer trip from Delhi to Ayodhya himself. But, he also noted, “I am terribly busy.”

Nehru didn’t make the trip. By March, he was sounding defeated as local officials continued to balk at removing the idol.

“This event occurred two or three months ago and I have been very gravely perturbed over it,” he wrote in a letter to K.G. Mashruwala, an associate of Mahatma Gandhi.

Nehru lamented that many in his Congress party had become “communal” toward Pakistan and India’s Muslims. “I just do not know what we can do to create a better atmosphere in the country,” he wrote.

In 1952, Nehru visited Uttar Pradesh to campaign for Mr. Pant in an election, according to a person who heard him speak. He told the crowd, in Hindi, “The Ayodhya event has put me to shame,” this person said.
In January 1950, a decades-long legal battle began between Ayodhya’s Hindus and Muslims over the site of the Babri Masjid. The first case was filed by a Hindu , Gopal Singh Visharad, in the Victorian Gothic district court building in neighboring Faizabad.

Mr. Singh Visharad – “Visharad” denotes expertise in Hindu scripture — was a lawyer who had moved to Ayodhya because he wanted to live in a Hindu holy place, according to his son, Rajendra. Rajendra was the schoolboy who witnessed Abhiram Das, the sadhu, spreading the word on the morning of Dec. 23, 1949, that Ram had appeared in the mosque.
Krishna Pokharel/The Wall Street Journal
The house where Gopal Singh Visharad lived in Ayodhya.

A stern-looking man with a broad nose and a thick moustache, Mr. Singh Visharad, then 42 years old, was the Ayodhya secretary of the Hindu Mahasabha, a conservative Hindu political party that opposed Nehru’s Congress.  He was close to Mr. Nayar, the district magistrate,  and Guru Dutt Singh, the city magistrate, according to  Rajendra Singh.

Mr. Singh Visharad had celebrated the appearance of the Ram Lalla idol and worshipped at the site for a few days, his son said. But when he went there on  Jan.14, 1950, the police stopped him at the gate.

By then, another local magistrate had already issued an order seizing the building.  A receiver was named and the place was locked for devotees. As an interim arrangement, the receiver appointed a small team of priests to attend daily to the statue of Ram Lalla at the site because it was, after all, a deity that needed feeding, bathing, and clothing, according to Hindu ritual.

In his lawsuit, Mr. Singh claimed the right to worship the deity in the building “without any obstruction whatever” and  asked for a “temporary injunction” to prevent government officials from removing the idols.

The judge granted the injunction but didn’t rule on the question of his right to worship.
The next day, Anisur Rahman, a Muslim about 30 years old, filed a court petition of his own — the first Muslim legal volley in the dispute. Mr. Rahman made tin boxes that he sold from a shop in the local market in Ayodhya. He lived with his family close to the Babri Masjid.
Weeks before the idol was installed, he had sent messages to district officials that he saw “imminent danger” to the mosque from the sadhus gathered around it, according to the official records of Mr. Nayar, the district magistrate.

Mr. Nayar had dismissed Mr. Rahman as an “exception” among Muslims in Ayodhya whom, he wrote, “are far from agitated,” according to the records.

Petitioning the High Court in Allahabad, a major city in the state, Mr. Rahman sought to have any cases claiming title to the site of the Babri Masjid heard by a court outside Ayodhya and Faizabad.

He claimed that “in view of the highly strained relations between the two communities and also district authorities not being free from communal bias,” there was no prospect of a fair hearing around Ayodhya.

He also noted in an affidavit that district authorities had done nothing to help Muslims take back their mosque after the idol was installed. Instead, they had seized the building.
Mr. Rahman’s effort was countered by about 20 Muslims from Ayodhya, who signed identical affidavits in a local courtroom.

They said they had no objection if the Hindus continued to possess the Babri Masjid. “Babri Masjid has been built by demolishing Ram birthplace temple,” they said. “It’s against the Islamic law to pray there,” the affidavits said.

Krishna Pokharel/The Wall Street Journal
Farooq Ahmad, the shopkeeper who remembers Anisur Rahman.

Mr. Rahman’s petition was dismissed. Muslim lawyers today doubt the authenticity of the Muslims’ affidavits.

Mr. Rahman sold his shop. Sometime in the early 1950s, he migrated with his family to Pakistan, according to several local Muslims. His descendants could not be traced.

A Muslim shopkeeper in Ayodhya recalled Mr. Rahman telling him, before leaving: “We don’t get any justice here. Nobody helps us.”

In late 1950, a mercurial sadhu filed a similar court case to Gopal Singh Visharad’s. He was a member of Ayodhya’s famous Digambar Akhara, a group of Hindu holy men devoted to Ram.

Both Hindu suits named five local Muslim men as defendants, alleging they had put pressure on local government officials to remove the idols by making “baseless and dishonest assertions.”

The most prominent among the defendants was Haji Phenku, one of Ayodhya’s biggest property owners at the time.
Paul Beckett/The Wall Street Journal
The Faizabad District Court.

At court, Mr. Phenku, then 65 years old, and the other Muslims refuted the allegations, according to legal papers. They also claimed that the Babri Masjid had been used by the Muslims as a mosque ever since it was built in 1528. They said no Hindu temple existed at the site before the construction of the mosque.

Mr. Phenku boarded a horse cart at his residence at least once a month to travel from Ayodhya to the courthouse, about 10 kilometers away, said his son, Haji Mahboob Ahmad, in an interview.

When Mr. Phenku returned home, he recounted his experience, often with frustration. “The judge again adjourned the hearing and asked us to appear on the next date,” Mr. Phenku said repeatedly, according to his son.

Gopal Singh Visharad, the lead Hindu petitioner, regularly cycled to court. He was resigned to the fact that it would be a prolonged dispute because he believed the government didn’t want to deal with the implications of a verdict, according to his son.

The hearings dragged on, with little progress, for nine years. Then, in 1959, another suit was filed by a sect of sadhus known as the Nirmohi Akhara.

The name means “Group Without Attachment,” a reference to the fact that the 12,000 sadhus it claims as members have abandoned the material world for the company of their deity, Ram. The sect had tried, in the late 19th century, to build a temple near the mosque but had been prevented by the court.
Paul Beckett/The Wall Street Journal
Bhaskar Das.

Bhaskar Das is the head of the sect. Now in his mid-80s, he is a thin man and an imposing sight. His wrinkled head is shaved close with a longer outcropping of hair knotted in a tail at the back. A Y-shaped pattern of white paint, accentuated with vermillion stripes, starts at the bridge of his nose and runs in two lines up his forehead.

Mr. Das came to Ayodhya in 1946 to learn Sanskrit at the age of 18. Soon after, he visited an idol of Ram located on the wooden platform where Hindus worshipped in the outer courtyard of the Babri Masjid. The Nirmohi Akhara maintained the platform.

“I felt belongingness with Lord Ram” and decided to lead the life of a sadhu, Mr. Das said in an interview at the sect’s ashram in Faizabad, a collection of four-story white buildings off a street clogged with traffic.

In its 1959 petition, the group claimed that Ram’s birthplace “has been existing before the living memory of man.”

It also claimed that the Babri Masjid building had never been a mosque but had been a temple since ancient times and was rightfully the possession of the Nirmohi Akhara. The suit was added to the others.

Two years later, in December 1961, representatives of the local Muslim community responded.

Leading the case was the Uttar Pradesh Sunni Central Board of Waqfs, a body created by Indian law to be responsible for the protection and preservation of “waqfs,” or Muslim religious and cultural sites.

Krishna Pokharel/The Wall Street Journal
Uttar Pradesh Sunni Central Board of Waqfs.

It listed Mohammad Hashim Ansari, the tailor, and other Ayodhya Muslims as co-petitioners.
The board, based in Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh, claimed that the Babri Masjid was registered with it as a public mosque and is “vested in the Almighty.”

In 1964, the court consolidated all four suits – of Gopal Singh Visharad; the sadhu from the Digambar Akhara; the Nirmohi Akhara, and the waqf board.

The litigants became used to the delays that plague India’s court system today. It took 17 years to settle on the appointment of a new receiver at the Babri Masjid site after the death of the first receiver.

In court, the judge would listen for about 15 minutes, set a date for the next hearing, and adjourn, according to two people involved in the case.

“Many judges came and went but the case was not decided,” said Haji Mahboob Ahmad, 74 years old. He replaced his father, Haji Phenku, as the defendant in one of the Hindu suits after his father died in 1960.
Singh family
Guru Dutt Singh, left, and Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

Guru Dutt Singh and K.K. Nayar – the administrators who were instrumental in the idol’s placement — turned to politics. They played no further direct role in the Ayodhya dispute.
Mr. Singh joined the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, a  Hindu nationalist party, within six months of resigning his administrative post. The party was founded by a former president of the Hindu Mahasabha, the first conservative Hindu party in India.

In the 1951 national election, the Jana Sangh won three seats in Parliament, compared with 364 seats won by Nehru’s Congress party. Mr. Singh became the Jana Sangh’s district chief  in Faizabad, said his son.

A photo from the late 1960s in the reception room of the family’s Faizabad residence shows Guru Dutt Singh with a young Atal Bihari Vajpayee, then national president of the Jana Sangh and later prime minister of India.

Mr. Nayar was transferred to another post in early 1950. He took voluntary retirement in 1952.  He settled in Faizabad and joined the Jana Sangh with his wife. In 1967, he was elected to the national Parliament from a constituency near Ayodhya.
Among the sadhus of Ayodhya, the idol’s installation was overwhelmingly supported.
Akshaya Brahmachari, the young sadhu who had opposed the move, argued with others that “all Ayodhya is Ram’s birthplace,” according to his disciple, Meera Behen, and others who knew him. He asked: “Why do you diminish His glory by putting him in a mosque?”

He was assaulted and banished from the sadhus’ fraternity. He went to Lucknow and sat on a series of fasts from Jan. 30, 1950, in a bid to press the government to remove the idol. But a state government minister responded that, “Ayodhya’s situation is better now and the case is pending in a court of law at the moment. The final decision can be taken only after a judgment from the court.”

Abhiram Das, the sadhu who championed installing Ram in the mosque, organized festivals to commemorate the event.
Krishna Pokharel/The Wall Street Journal
Mohammad Hashim Ansari.

One pamphlet printed by him in December 1953 exhorted Ayodhya’s residents to participate in a reading of the Ramayan, the Hindu holy text, at the site. Another pamphlet mentions him as the “savior” of Ram’s birthplace.

Hindu control of the site and the lack of action by the courts frustrated Ayodhya’s Muslims.  Mohammad Hashim Ansari, the tailor, said that in 1954 he and about 100 local Muslim men sought permission to offer prayers at the site. It was denied.

When they tried to force themselves into the mosque, they were arrested and spent two months in jail, Mr. Ansari later testified in court.
Tomorrow: An incident 2,000 kilometers away catapults the dispute in Ayodhya onto the national stage.

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