It all started with Shah Bano and her alimony.
- In April 1978, a 62-year-old Muslim woman filed a petition in court demanding alimony or maintenance from her divorced husband Mohammed Ahmad Khan. They had married in 1932 and had five children – three sons and two daughters. a renowned lawyer in Indore, Madhya Pradesh. After 14 years, Khan took a younger woman as a second wife and after years of living with both wives, he divorced Shah Bano, who was then aged 62 years. He had promised to pay her monthly alimony of Rs 200. After a while, he stopped paying. Shah Bano Begum, filed a criminal case in High Court. But Mohammed Ahmad Khan was a renowned lawyer. He brought into play the rights by Islamic law to disown any liability. This went all the way to the Supreme Court.
- On 3 February 1981, the two-judge bench composed of Justice Murtaza Fazal Ali and A. Varadarajan ruled that Mohammed Ahmad Khan had to pay. You can read more on that here.
- The judgment elicited a protest from many sections of Muslims. The All India Muslim Personal Law Board, an organization formed in 1973 devoted to upholding what they saw as Muslim Personal Law, stepped in to lead the movement in 1981. Muslims, under their lead, took to the streets against what they saw, and what they were led to believe, was an attack on their religion and their right to their own religious personal laws.
- Rajiv Gandhi, who possibly didn’t want another period of strife and sectarian violence, coming out of the ’84 tragedy, overturned the Supreme Court’s decision awarding Shah Bano compensation.
- Back in ’85, when Rajiv Gandhi could have taken a visionary stand on the Shah Bano case, he was bullied into submission by the Muslim Personal Law Board to revert the decision of the Supreme Court which had awarded Shah Bano justified alimony.
- But here, so as to not seem to be too aligned with the Muslims, he got the Muslim Personal Law Board to make a small concession to Hindus.
- As a reconciliatory gesture, they agreed that they would unlock the room of the Ayodhya temple inside the Babri Masjid, hitherto a disputed structure, and allow the puja of the idols, which had been placed there in 1949. To this, the Muslims would have no opposition, as the issue of Shah Bano alimony and its implications was squashed and Islamic laws were safe and upheld in India. This, however, would prove to be Pandora’s Box, brought about by successive opportunism.
- Now Ayodhya would have become a quite ‘tirtha-sthal’ for Hindu devotees. But then another Muslim faction, seeing the leverage which the AIMPLB had gained for itself, thanks to the Shah Bano case, decided to form a ‘Babri Masjid Action Committee’ and create noise about the opening of Babri Masjid to Ram Lala. They needed to compete for the Muslim voice with AIMPLB. They became loud enough. Thus, they had to be mollified.
- To mollify them, Rajiv Gandhi banned Salman Rushdie’s book ‘Satanic Verses‘. As long as they didn’t march on Ayodhya. The Muslims never quite have a claim on Ram Mandir and were using it as a leverage to extract gains. Which, for the Congress Govt generally meant: Govt Ministerial post, slightly higher Haj subsidy, public largess etc. The Govt knew it and were OK with it accomodating them.
- It was at this state that the Leftist intellectuals too decided to cash in on the Muslim catchment and draw in the Muslim voices and increase their own, eroding base. They decided to step into the fray.
- After the locks had been removed at Babri Masjid, the ‘liberal intellectuals’ went all out to prevent the full restoration of the site as a Hindu pilgrimage centre.
- In particular, they started insisting that there had never been a Hindu temple at the site before a mosque had been imposed on it. This was contrary to the Muslim’s own position.
- The BMAC, who had self-appointed themselves as the voice of Muslims, decided that they couldn’t lose ground and their catchment to the Left. Moreover, while they were earlier getting largess in the form of ‘Govt Ministerial post, slightly higher Haj subsidy, public largess etc.’, now they could actually have their cake and eat it too? So they about turned on their agreement and started raising a clamour.
- Seeing the attack coming from both sides, there was a realization for the Hindu bodies that:
- The biggest trouble maker gets the largest share of the cake
- To generate noise one will have to get voices together
- That voice can be created around an identity
And THUS the seeds of Hindu identity was born in secular India. Reactionary to deemed betrayals, and concessions made to those who could hold ransom.
- Till today, the Left Liberals still try and uphold the victim tamasha with the lament of Babri Masjid. There was no Babri Masjid. There was but a ruin. No namaz was held there. That ruin wouldn’t have met the fate it did over time, if people had been forward-looking, but everybody likes to squeeze the lime of power a little more.
- Babri Masjid did nothing for the identity of Muslims nor their upliftment. All it did was create a Circus of hypocrisy and showed how identity politics has to be played. The delay in resolution has only helped create a greater sense of Hindu identity, and it has a glossed-over history to syphon out buried grievances from.
- The Left, after seeing the Muslim case dissolve, then tried to prop up Jain and Buddhist claims. The Muslim wedge was driven in. Now, why leave out the others?
- The first step of secular India should have been to erase the past history of Islamic infliction, by converting 5 key structures which were clearly Hindu and were glaring mementoes of Islamic imposition, into Hindu temples. Create a mechanism of truth and reconciliation. And then laid out the groundworks of an India which would be well aware of its honest history but not be shackled by it. Instead, it set about to assiduously myth make and whitewash.
Now, the reverse surge of reclamation will happen. Know this, so that history knows what whitewashing of history leads to.
To me, what transpired in Babri Masjid wasn’t a single act but an accumulation of history. The path to averting it should have been initiated way back in the 1950s. By 1990s it was fait accompli. So, I’d be hypocritical if I said I lamented the Babri Masjid destruction.
The ruins of Babri Masjid had served no purpose to the Indian Muslim other than to serve the purpose of petulance. There are many other issues which sections of Muslims, indeed all underprivileged, face, chief of which is access to structured finance, education, health etc which are all based around de-ghettoisation.
In as much as there is no Hindu wrong which can be addressed by going into history, the same holds true with Muslim. Hold on to petulance and everybody is then sanctioned to go deeper into history to recoup lost petulance.
We have to invest in showing care for each other. If we have to invest in energies by which we wrest from each other, ours is a lost cause.
Now, there’s a separate identity between Muslims and Hindus in India. And what could have been settled in inches will now be settled by miles. It will always be the visionary and the peace lovers who will have to pay for the deeds of the avaricious and the petty.
In truth, in life, there is only a single game which is played. And that game is the game of power. How one derives it. How one cultivates it. How one manages it. How one bids for it. But we aren’t taught that. We are taught many other things. The players of power know it. The victims are busy being distracted by other things. Ideology and collective faith are but means to power.
Ram Mandir will be looked upon as a reclamation of Indic heritage, by near history. The questions as to whether Indian Muslims are Indic first or Muslims first, will remain. But, if they didn’t subscribe to the Indic identity, why else had they not subscribe to partition and stay back?
Shah Bano case finally saw addressal in The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2019.
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Very nice article!
You should have also added the fact how all this drama lead to Ramayan being aired in TV and how a wave of Hinduism was regenerated within the Hindus.