The Supreme Court of India appeared to follow its own precedent of “satisfying the collective conscience of society” in settling the Ayodhya title case and declaring the disputed 2.77 acres as belonging to Lord Ram. The court essentially threw out the 2010 Allahabad high court trifurcation of the disputed site on the grounds that the 2010 order was self-contradictory (it said one of the parties had exceeded the time of limitations, and then awarded that same party a share in the three parts). Its justification was that from before 1856, when the British Raj erected a wall-grill outside the mosque that lead to inter-communal riots, it was clear that Hindus had been worshipping the area as Lord Ram’s birthplace. The only thing that puzzled the court is what happened in the 400 years between the time when a Hindu structure was archeologically found to last exist in the spot, and the time Babur erected the mosque.
It is a settlement that will satisfy majoritarian India — it is akin to the reincarnation of the Ram Temple for the hardcore devout — though one wonders if the majority of the majority community will feel anything more than indifference to the resolution of this 70-year-old dispute (or 165-year-old, or 400 year-old dispute, depending on whom you talk to). Religion is said to be the opiate of the masses, but from most the reaction is one of exhaustion or ennui, their attention only momentarily deflected from the increasing despair over the deteriorating economy that was sunk in no small part by the needless and nutty demonetisation almost exactly three years ago.
One consolation is that in the entire history of the Babri Masjid’s existence, from 1528 to 1992, the Supreme Court found three instances of law-breaking: the 1934 attack on the mosque, which lessened the frequency of prayers by Muslims; the 1949 placement of idols inside the mosque, which led to a shutdown of even Friday prayers; and the December 6, 1992, demolition of the masjid. This last observation should help in the criminal case against those who conspired to demolish the mosque, the judgment of which is due to happen next spring.
The court decided that the Muslims would be compensated with five acres — nearly twice the disputed area — in a place to be decided by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Central government within the larger 67 acres at the site, or by chief minister Yogi Adityanath’s state government within the city of Ayodhya. It is to happen at the same time the disputed area is handed over to a trust that the government will appoint to construct the Ram temple. This consolation prize can hardly please the Indian Muslim — it is an apt metaphor for the forced eviction and ghettoisation that the community has faced since December 1992.
But what is the Indian Muslim to do? When the “collective conscience of society” had to be satisfied with the 2013 hanging of Afzal Guru for his role in the 2001 Parliament attack — a case that was tenuous at best — then the Kashmiri Muslim was helpless. This time the Indian Muslim is reeling under a series of blows that characterise the reign of the current Central government, in which Muslims around the country are picked up and thrown into jail on a whimsy, under dubious charges ranging from cattle-smuggling to terrorism; where a whole population is locked up in their home barracks in an open prison called Kashmir; and where the fear of disenfranchisement by the National Register of Citizens has created a nationwide atmosphere of paranoia and panic. Indian Muslims feel pummelled so badly that the fight has gone out of them, and they just wants to get on with life. The community no doubt expected, in its heart of hearts, that the judgment would be as it has turned out. And in any case, what choice does it have? It has no leadership, and it has seen how the political class and the judiciary offer the community no succor. It has no choice but to move forward in its individual lives.
It is probably why, despite scattered attempts by local BJP units to defy the PM's orders and cause minor friction, the Indian Muslim has not reacted. In fact, the Indian Muslim, though perhaps feeling depressed by the verdict, and though Milad-un-Nabi today may be subdued, has publicly shown supreme indifference. Instead, Indian Muslims seek refuge and consolation in their faith.
As for the judges who came up with a lucid 1,075-page judgment that clinically went through the issue, the timing of the judgment was surprising, as was the unanimity of the verdict, barring a single judge’s addenda. Some had surmised that at least one prominent outlier on the five-member bench would have dissented. In any event, a chapter of Indian history has closed. One can only thank the court for having the courage to not kick the can further down the road, so that the “collective conscience of society” can somehow put this entire sordid episode behind it.