‘The judges have been injudicious enough to create a space for compassion and humane sentiments’

Ashis Nandy Sociologist
Ashis Nandy Sociologist

NOT EVERYBODY believes that the Allahabad High Court’s verdict is flawed because it accommodates faith. I for one think it to be a good judgement and this feeling is shared by a large number of Hindus and Muslims, including Hashim Ansari, who filed the suit in the first place, some mahants and associates of the Nirmohi Akhada, another set of the original litigants, and even some aggressively secular intellectuals like Soli Sorabjee and Javed Akhtar.

I have been told a million times that the judiciary is part of society and shares its prejudices and values. Others go farther; they claim that the judiciary cannot but mirror the dominant class interests in a polity. Surprisingly, after shouting themselves hoarse on the judiciary being a product of its times and location, they are now censorious that the HC has tried to prove them right self-consciously and grappled with cultural and emotional issues that have been tearing this society apart during the past two decades. This is a country of myriad faiths and, to spite our progressive intellectuals, they are an important vector of our public life. Though many hate the idea, faith remains the poor man’s sociology and political theory.

If the judges had taken into account only the factual questions, it might have pleased the purists and those trying to make an example out of the vandals who demolished the mosque. But this is a long conflict that has led to much bloodshed, bitterness and suffering. And in any case, another court is at the moment busy establishing culpability. I am glad that a majority of the judges in this instance have been injudicious enough to create a space for compassion and humane sentiments on an issue that has seen so much of political and intellectual posturing.

No judge ever delivers a narrow, strictly legal judgement. They include judicial asides, philosophical digressions, avoidable homilies and unsolicited advice. There are many examples of that in our judicial history. Many of our most respected judges, during the past 60 years, have defied strict constitutionality and trespassed into philosophy, history and sociology.

My respect for the judgement will not decline if it fails the scrutiny of the Supreme Court and some of our better legal minds. If constitutionality prevails in our highest court, this judgement will still remain important for softening the blow to the losing side. More so because the losing side will include not merely ideologues and fanatics, but also many ordinary citizens who expect the final judgement to stand by their version of truth.

The aim of a judgement is to deliver justice within the law, not absolute justice. But to acquire moral stature, it should ideally make sense within the ethical frames of ordinary citizens. Seen thus, the 2-1 judgement is probably the least intolerable that could have been delivered. One indication is that it has not pleased fringe formations like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Hindu Mahasabha, which were seeking neither justice nor a reaffirmation of ethics, but a clear-cut triumph. The other indication is that the judgement has antagonised many secular extremists, seeking another kind of triumph and vengeance.

This brings me to an issue that is becoming increasingly important in our society. Today, the changing middle-class culture is narrowing the choice of the Hindus to a binary one: a Hindu can now opt for either secularism or Hindutva. The other alternatives are disappearing. Both the secularists and the Hindutva brigade are thrilled about this. For the politically alert, however, this is a tragedy.

When the vandalism at Ayodhya took place, the opposition to it came from a wide spectrum of people. When opinion polls showed that a majority of Hindus were against the vandalism, it was that spectrum that was at work. I am afraid, that informal coalition is now collapsing. Partly because the secular fanatics have made it clear that they support the ordinary Hindus the way Lenin once said he would support the socialists, like a rope supporting a hanging man. Ideological closure is an enemy of politics and, in this case too, it is doing its job.

IN THIS instance, ideological purity has always been a prescription for violence. The search for such purity is driven by the unstated hope that the Ayodhya conflict would go on and continue to justify the ideologues’ salience in public life and continue to give meaning to their otherwise meaningless life. I must point out that the great killers and ethno-nationalists of our times, strangely enough, have come not from among religious fanatics but from non-believing secular-rationalists or ideologues using religion and ethnicity instrumentally. Adolf Hitler was not religious at all nor was Joseph Stalin. In South Asia, the great theoretician of Hindutva, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, was a secularist who thought it irrational to consider the cow sacred and refused a Hindu funeral to his wife and to himself. Mohammad Ali Jinnah, father of one of the world’s largest Muslim states, was not a believer either. Using religion to mobilise an apolitical citizenry is not the same as faith.

The verdict realises that the solution cannot come from the courts, but from the local community

We live in an open society, however flawed. It allows people to bring their faith and beliefs into public life mainly because it cannot deploy any thought police to ensure the separation of the two spheres. The challenge is to handle the mix the way some of our more intelligent politicians have done. The solution does not lie in rejecting or fearing either politics or religion.

Sacred space? If at all a temple is built at Ayodhya, it need not be like Akshardham, which looks grand but lacks character
Sacred space? If at all a temple is built at Ayodhya, it need not be like Akshardham, which looks grand but lacks character

In this respect too, the judgement has not done badly. It has encouraged Ayodhya to settle its problem locally. Even if the SC overrules it, the judgement might still be remembered for handing over the initiative to the people of Ayodhya. And that too at a crucial moment when no serious political party has much to gain from the issue and pressures on the locals are minimal. The judgement recognises that the final solution cannot come from the courts; it will have to come from the local communities.

I am still hoping that there will be a temple and a mosque side-by-side at Ayodhya. If that is not possible, let us have a sacred grove there. We do not have to obey Uma Bharti and turn Ayodhya into a Vatican. That will be cheap mimicry. The temple need not be grand either; it has to be sacred and inspire reverence. A bhavya temple has nothing to do with size. Nirmohi Akhada, too, has said that it will be satisfied with a modest temple. Well, it does not have to be modest either; it can be exquisite. The Akshardham temple in Delhi is grand, but it is characterless and tasteless and caters mainly to tourists from the urban middle class. Indeed, one sometimes suspects that it is meant primarily for the non-resident Indians and resident non-Indians. On the other hand, the temple at Sabarimala is small but exudes sacredness. Its pilgrims are moved rather than awed by it. Given the killings, the vandalism and the petty politics that have gone into its actualisation, any new temple will need a touch of sacredness more than a surfeit of grandeur.

Nandy co-authored the book Creating A Nationality: The Ramjanmabhumi Movement and Fear of the Self (1996)



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