India portrays itself as a modern state, moving rapidly towards a place among the most powerful nations of the world. But in many ways it lives in an age of medievalism, unable to break free of the barriers that shackle it to a violent past built around religious strife. The judgment by an Allahabad court on the site at Ayodhya which fundamentalist Hindus claim is the birthplace of the legendary Lord Rama revives fears of a new clash between Hindus and Muslims. A mosque, built by the Mughal Emperor Babar at the site, had been demolished by Hindus in 1992, triggering riots that led to the death of some 2,000 people, most of them Muslims. Since then, Muslim groups have demanded the Babri Masjid be re-built; Hindus wish instead to resurrect the ancient temple they say once stood there. The court verdict, splitting the site between the two communities, with two-thirds awarded to Hindus, pleases no one — not least the Muslims because they have not been allowed to rebuild the mosque. While Hindu leaders have said a temple will be built on the land declared theirs, there are plans to appeal the ruling in the Supreme Court.
There are grave matters here for New Delhi to consider. The Indian sub-continent, which has for thousands of years seen wave after wave of conquest, contains many holy places built atop the ruins of those that stood before. It would be a nightmare if further efforts were made to destroy such places. This is not inconceivable given the communal frenzy India remains prone to. The dangers this poses will not recede until the country learns to live with its differences and embrace its multiculturalism. Some may see the verdict as perhaps trying to achieve that — trying to appease all communities but with the result that neither seems happy. Perhaps all communities need to treat the verdict as a kind of closure and move on. All sides need to exercise the utmost of restraint and the Indian government should ensure that the decision is implemented in letter and spirit.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 2nd, 2010.
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