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HVK Archives: Is the Ram Janmabhoomi movement anti_Muslim?

Is the Ram Janmabhoomi movement anti_Muslim? - (no publication)

Ashok Chowgule ()
21 November 1996.

Title: Is the Ram Janmabhoomi movement anti-Muslim?
Author: Ashok Chowgule
Date: November 21, 1996.

The Ram Janmabhoomi movement is the most important event of the
post-independence era of India. It has completely altered the
complexion of the politics, as well has drastically altered the
reference point for evaluating many other aspects of our society.
Hindutva has become the focus, instead of Marx. Those who have
been in the forefront of the movement are rightly claiming that the
Hindus are no longer ashamed of identifying themselves as Hindus.
Given the correct emphasis, the movement can lead to rejuvenaration
of our society and make India occupy her rightful place in the
world. It will make the prophesy of Shri Arnold Toynbee come true:
"Today we are still living in this transitional chapter of world's
history, but it is already becoming clear that the chapter which
had a western beginning, will have an Indian ending, if it is not
to end in self destruction of the human race. At this supremely
dangerous moment in human history, the only way of salvation for
mankind is the Indian way - Emperor Asoka's and Mahatma Gandhi's
principle of non-violence and Sri Ramkrishna's testimony of
religions." (Foreword to 'India's contribution to world thought
and culture', 1970.)

However, at the intellectual level, the issues are perverted, and
the whole movement is termed as a programme to teach Muslims of
India a lesson. This is because the Babri structure, supposed to
be a place of worship for the Muslims, was sought to be shifted and
a temple for Lord Ram was to be built in its place. The history of
the site has been so mixed up with the political issue, that the
question of whether a temple was destroyed in 1528 AD and the Babri
structure built in its place is never adequately answered in a
public debate. Similarly, the public has not been told that the
Hindus have made sincere efforts to recover the site through a
dialogue in December 1990. The events of December 6, 1992, enabled
these intellectuals to further confuse the issue. Additionally,
they suddenly discovered the sublimity of Hinduism and tried to use
it to denounce the destruction of the Babri structure.

The funny part is that these same intellectuals have been saying
all these years that there is nothing in the Hindu civilisation to
be proud of. In fact, they tried to establish that Hinduism is a
modern 'construction', and that prior to the eighteenth centruy
there was nothing called Hinduism. The social ills of our society
were also sought to be placed at the doorsteps of the Hindu
philosophy. Now, people like Swami Vivekanand, who were denounced
as reactionary, have suddenly become people of great wisdom. If
the Ram Janmabhoomi movement has woken them up to what Hinduism is
all about, then that itself will be the biggest gain of the

This note will put the communal issue in the right perspective.
The history of the site has been well establsihed and documented.
What needs to be understood that this is not a mere ordinary site -
it is the Ram Janmabhoomi. What needs to be understood that what
is sought to be reconstructed is not a temple for Lord Ram - but a
temple for Lord Ram at the Ram Janmabhoomi. What needs to be
understood that the destruction in 1528 AD was because it was the
temple at the Ram Janmabhoomi. The issue here is not of bricks and
mortar, or real estate either.

Every conqueror from outside tries to establish symbols which will
remind the people who is the master and who the slave. At the time
of the first Russian occupation of Poland (1614-1915), the Tzars
built a cathedral for the Eastern Ortodox Church in an avowedly
Roman Catholic country. In 1918, after the country became free,
the Poles pulled down this structure, because the purpose for which
the Russians had built it had been not religious but political, and
the purpose had also been intentionally offensive. Even though the
cathedral was to offer prayers to Jesus Christ, a free Poland could
not tolerate monuments of slavery in their land. In this way it is
ensured that true nationalism has its rightful place in the
remaking of the nation.

The consturction of the Babri structure was meant to be an ocular
reminder that Islam ruled over the Hindus, and even the holiest of
the holy Hindu sites are not immune from vandalism. Armies can win
the geography, but demolition of the national symbols (physical and
spiritual) will complete the victory by destroying the civilisation
and culture. No invader can afford to allow these symbols to
survive, since they can well be rallying points for the freedom
struggles. Similarly, an invader has to ensure that the memory of
the people's ancestors is also wiped out as quickly as possible.

It is natural that a free people should recover their own symbols.
The problem is created when this inclination is sought to be
thwarted, under the guise of modernity and allegation of trying to
revive old wounds. However, what these opponents are attempting to
do is to frustrate the legitimate aspirations of the people.
Often, these opponents have their own agenda, which involve denying
the past of the people, particularly the past that involves the
period prior to the invaders. In effect, they try to uphold the
memory of the invaders over the ones of the heroes of an earlier

An article in The Illustrated Weekly of India on Rana Pratap Singh,
Chatrapati Shivaji, and Rani Laxmibai of Jhansi, created quite a
ruckus at the time. The management of the publication had to
tender a public apology for the distortion that was sought to be
made. However, the real intent of the writer can be seen from the
following statement: "History is a luxury that a colonised
population on the threshold of freedom cannot afford. It thus
becomes imperative for a nascent nation to produce a costume drama
for itself, in lieu of the past. The nation's origins and
antecedents are explained away by means of a series of tableaux
vivants, splendidly mounted by adept ideologues within the
proscenium of mythology. The first function of this nationalist
mythology is the creation of exemplars, role models. For this
purpose, cultural heroes and heroines are abstracted from the
intricate cross-weave of their original context. Deprived of the
political and cultural specificities of which they were actually
the creatures, they are converted into larger-than-life figures."
(Myths and Supermyths, Nancy Adjania, Illustrated Weekly of India,
April 10-16, 1993.)

What is sought to be stated is that the heroes are created out of
thin air, and there is no historical basis for it. The same game
can be seen in the case of the Ram Janmabhoomi, because the denial
of the reconstruction of the temple is sought to be justified not
only on the basis of the alleged holiness of the site for the
Muslims, but also on the basis that the Babri structure is a
monument of our secularism and composite culture. How does a
structure which came up after destruction of a temple, and which
had a political puropse, can have such significance is not

In making the demand for the return of the Ram Janmabhoomi, the VHP
had said in January 1991, "We do not even demand the return of the
thousands of places of worship that have been forcibly replaced
with mosques.....We merely want three places back, three age-old
sacred places. And we would prefer getting them back from the
Muslim community, to getting them back by an official
decree.....Muslims should understand what kind of message they are
sending by insisting on contnuing the occupation of our sacred
places, an occupation started by fanatics and mass-murders like
Babar and Aurangzeb. We do not like to think of our Muslim
compatriots as heirs and followers of such invaders and tyrants.
It is up to them to make a gesture that will signify a formal break
with this painful past."

What is being posed here is how does a demand for the return of a
holy Hindu site, usurped by force, can be anti-Muslims? What is
being posed here is how does a usurped Hindu holy site can have any
religious significance for any other religion? What is being posed
here is what does one think of a person who upholds the memory of
the invaders over those of our own cultural and civilisational

The Ram Janmabhoomi movement is not designed to open old wounds but
to heal them. These wounds are those that have been inflicted on
the Hindus. Anyone who wishes not to see them healed are only
perpetuating the memory of our slavery. Similarly, this movement
is not that is something that has been created by the leaders of
Hindutva. Shri V S Naipaul said, "What is happening in India is a
new, historical awakening. It seems to me that Indians are
becoming alive to their history. Romila Thapar's book on Indian
history is a Marxist attitude which in substance says: there is a
higher truth behind the invasions, feudalism and all that. The
correct truth is the way the invaders looked at their (own)
actions. They were conquering, they were subjugating. And they
were in a country where people never understood this. Only now are
the people beginning to understand that there has been a great
vandalising of India. Because of the nature of the conquest and
the nature of Hindu society such understanding had eluded Indians
before. What is happening in India is a highly creative process.
Indian intellectuals, who want to be secure in their liberal
beliefs, may not understand what is going on, especially if these
intellectuals happen to be in the United States. But every other
Indian knows precisely what is happening: deep down he knows that a
larger response is emerging even if at times this response appears
in his eyes to be threatening. I don't see the Hindu reaction
purely in terms of one fundamentalism pitted against another. The
sense of history that the Hindus are now developing is a new thing.
(To prevent emotions from spilling over and creating fresh
tensions), it is not enough to use that fashionable word from
Europe: fascism. Wise men should understand (the historical
significance) and ensure that it does not remain in the hands of
fanatics. Rather they should use it for the intellectual
transformation of India." (The Times of India, July 18, 1993.)

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