By Dr S. Saraswathi
Construction of a modern temple for Lord Ram at Ayodhya, for which bhoomi pujan was conducted on 5 August 2020, is doubtless a unique event of immense religious-secular significance for which there is no match in independent India. What this combined significance must mean to the future of our plural society has to be clearly distinguished from the past history surrounding the dispute over Ram Janmbhoomi for the good of the entire nation. Bhoomi pujan must mark the inauguration of a new composite India.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, at this historic moment of formally launching temple construction work, expressed his wish that Ram Temple in Ayodhya would serve as a “modern symbol of Indian culture” and with this, the country would be “creating a golden chapter for itself”.
This assertion of the PM is to be taken as reply to political opponents questioning the association of the country’s PM owing allegiance to “secularism” written into the Constitution with the foundation laying ceremony of a Hindu temple. Modi stressed the secular significance of the temple as a “modern” centre and a symbol of “our eternal faith” coupled with national sentiments and collective will power.
The Supreme Court verdict has indeed reiterated that cultural assimilation cannot be construed as a feature destructive of religious doctrine. On the contrary, this process strengthens and reinforces the true character of a country which has been able to preserve its unity by accommodating, tolerating and respecting a diversity of religious faith and ideas.
The temple is to stand as a monument for the virtues embedded in the life of Lord Ram in his avatar as a human being and not for the majoritarian religion and its ritualistic practices. As such, it belongs to the entire nation, to all people of India irrespective of their religious faith and practices. Believing and propagating the inclusive character of Lord Ram and his example, it is possible to open a new way of looking at the significance of Ram Janmabhoomi. It is not just a matter of faith and beliefs, but one of practical lessons to follow. It will help us forget the dispute going on for nearly two centuries.
The temple, in the words of President Ram Nath Kovind, defines “India’s spirit of social harmony and people’s zeal. It will be a testimony to the ideals of Ram Rajya and a symbol of modern India”. It is possible to achieve this because of the legal foundation for the construction of the temple. It is not an outcome of might and power, but of law and rights common to all. Therefore, this bhumi poojan substantially adds a secular tinge to a religious ceremony and makes it a national event.
At the same time, the temple will confirm and strengthen modern India’s connect with its own past culture which despite many historical invasions has not died. Such a sentiment even if it is felt momentarily when one visits the temple like emotional “bhakti” by most people standing before the deity in the temple, will prove an effective bond uniting the nation. Life today is so strenuous that there is neither time nor inclination to learn about our own cultural moorings. It makes it all the more necessary to revive and maintain ancient historic places like Ram Janmabhoomi that will keep people’s memory alive. This Janmasthan has become one of the most sacred places of worship because it represents eternal human virtues and values. Indeed, a place of worship that houses lessons for secular India.
A survey through the various stages of resolution of the Ayodhya issue may show how difficult it is to find a peaceful solution when parties to a dispute are adamant on their demands. It happens when strong convictions rooted in religion form the basis of claims and rights. In 1859, then British Government constructed a wall to separate Hindu and Muslim places of worship in the shrine to prevent clashes.
In 1885, a legal battle started in Faizabad court by a Hindu mahant seeking permission to build a canopy outside the disputed structure. The court dismissed the petition. The then British Government was always in favour of allowing social-religious matters to continue as they were and denied legal rights or social considerations. A colonial government had to take such a stand in its own interest, but a democratic government has to listen to people’s voices and ensure justice according to prescribed law.
Soon after independence, in 1949, idols of Lord Ram were found in the mosque and a second suit was filed in the court in December 1950. A Hindu devotee filed another petition in January 1950 in Faizabad court seeking right to worship the idols of Ram Lalla.
Nirmohi Akhara, a Hindu sect, filed another suit in December 1959 claiming absolute right to manage the affairs of the site and the temple. Central Government wanted the idols to be removed from the site, but local authorities of Faizabad did not remove the idols, and daily puja continued.
The decision of the Central government in 1986 to unlock the gates of Babri Masjid for Hindus to worship Ram idols inside was perhaps a policy of appeasement to gain electoral support of Hindus badly impacted by closure of access to Ram Temple. But, it provoked and encouraged a new and vigorous movement for complete restoration of the original rights of Ram Lalla. These developments show how extensive is the effect of playing politics with the use of religious sentiments. Opening the gates for worship legitimised the right to build a proper temple –a claim supported by history and archaeology that there existed a temple below the mosque.
Negotiated settlement was first mooted in 2004 but failed. In 2019, again the Supreme Court thought of negotiation as the best way for amicable resolution of the complicated Ayodhya land dispute and ordered court-appointed mediation process. A five-judge Constitution Bench led by the Chief Justice of India entrusted mediation to a three-member committee. Unlike the previous mediation efforts by a single person — Shankaracharya and Sri Sri Ravishankar – 2019 attempt was court-monitored.
Five SC judges created history by delivering a unanimous verdict in 2019 to hand over the disputed site to a Hindu temple trust. It covered four suits concerning the disputed land filed since 1950. One suit was already dismissed.
This dispute clarified that courts cannot reverse historical wrongs or past misdeeds of any regime or government. They can only settle present dispute. The judgement also emphasised the mandate of the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991 which prohibits fresh suits or legal proceedings relating to disputed places of public worship to promote “tolerance for all faiths”. By this, the verdict has kept silent over other similar Hindu temples destroyed by invaders and decided to “protect the secular features of the Indian polity, which is one of the basic features of the Constitution”.
Legal recognition of deities as jurisdic persons having stakes as litigants in law suits is confirmed in Ayodhya verdict. Bhoomi pujan performed in Ayodhya is a legal victory of Ram Lalla and not of Hindu majority in any way. —INFA