"The Game of Religion is Played by Men": Women Speak From the Margins of Ayodhya Dispute
Hasina Khan, Sana Contractor
We, two Muslim women born and
raised in Bombay, residents of Bhendi Bazaar, relived the pain and trauma of
the 1992 riots on the day the Supreme Court ruled on the Ayodhya dispute. The
judgment rekindled within us the memories of 6 December 1992, the day the Babri
masjid was demolished, and what followed thereafter.
Etched in the landscape of our
minds is the Bhendi Bazaar of the turbulent nineties that unfolded after the
demolition. This area witnessed the worst police atrocities and the city's most
prolonged curfews. We did not just witness that theater of cruelty, but also
got involved in rehabilitating members of the Muslim community who ended up in
Cut to 2019 and we are witnesses
again. Again we are seeing the Muslims rise to the occasion, striving to prove
their loyalty to the country, offering proof of being good citizens. The
manifestation of this desire of the Muslims is how they are working to maintain
peace and acceptance of the Supreme Court's verdict.
But we women, who are constantly
battling to uphold constitutional rather than religious principles, we who have
urged our communities to have faith in the Constitution of India and not Sharia
law, are left wondering by this judgment. Having witnessed the bloodstained
journey that has brought India from Jai Siya Ram to Jai Shri Ram, we are
wondering where we stand today in our fight for constitutional values.
The demolition of Babri, the
ensuing riots in Bombay city and the 13 bomb blasts marked a turning point in
how we saw ourselves-as Indians, as Muslims, and most importantly, as women. We
saw the façade of cosmopolitanism that elite Bombayites like to romanticise
torn down. We saw the landscape of Mumbai change, as Muslims migrated from one
part of the city to another en masse to
gain a sense of security. Ghettoisation deepened and the two communities were
further alienated from each other. Muslims lost lives and property, but most of
all, their faith in the state has steadily dissipated ever since.
It is against this
background-beyond the "dispassionate prism of the law"- that the proposal from
the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) to seek a review of the
Ayodhya judgment needs to be understood. Irrespective of whether their petition
is admitted or not, given that the AIMPLB is not a party in the Ayodhya case,
one thing is clear: this matter is far from at rest.
When the court ruled in favour
of building a temple at the site of the demolished masjid, everyone from Prime
Minister Narendra Modi to the Home Minister Amit Shah to the Opposition parties
and even the petitioners in the Ayodhya case said that a "peaceful" solution to
an issue that had caused bitter strife between the Hindus and Muslims of India
has been found. We were told that everyone must respect the ruling and move on.
Curiously, the BJP leaders did
not want the same "respect" accorded to the Supreme Court's Sabarimala ruling.
In the Sabarimala case, the BJP has already rationalised the violence as a 'matter of faith'. Of course, the judgment in the Ayodhya case is in their
favour, and so its standards for evaluating the impact of both rulings does not
appear to be the same.
Nevertheless, these exhortations
for tranquility ignore the role that the Babri masjid's demolition played in
the Hindu-Muslim polarisation in the country. Along with that polarisation came
the political ascendancy of the BJP. It is this journey-which began with BJP
leader LK Advani's infamous rath yatra in 1989-which has culminated in
redefining the body politic of our nation in 2019. It took this long for
muscular Hindutva to completely efface Sita, whose husband is the Hindu god
Lord Rama, from the mental map of Hindu divinity. It took this long also to
turn Lord Rama into the symbol of a Talibanised form of Hindutva.
Yes, the violence that we saw in
1992-93 had incited shock, anger, fear and hurt. The same emotions are
resurfacing now, but this time they are emerging in a time of "peace". Over
these three-odd decades, the very nature of communal violence changed. There
were large-scale riots during the 1980s and 1990s, but now an all-pervasive
atmosphere of fear engulfs Muslims, especially the most marginalised among
them. This fear unfolds as violence in the name of beef on one day, or their
refusal to chant 'Jai Shri Ram' the next day.
This is the background against
which we are being told that the Supreme Court's decision has brought to an end
a bitter battle between two communities. In fact, the ruling has sent the
message to minorities that they can never expect justice from a secular
institution. Then what is the value of these pronouncements of peace and
exhortations to "move on"? Only those making these claims can answer this question.
What would have been most just
was rebuilding the mosque that was demolished. But it would be naïve for
Muslims in present-day India to think that the mosque would be restored. The
Allahabad High Court's ruling to divide the land between the claimants had
seemed like a compromise. Now, handing over the land where the mosque once
stood to the perpetrators who broke it seems like a cruel joke.
True, the Supreme Court has
acknowledged that the demolition of the mosque was illegal. This remark is
somehow supposed to make the judgment "fair". But what we see before our eyes
is a party that had two seats in Parliament in the 1980s rise, with the temple
agenda, to assume two thumping majorities in 2014 and 2019. Following the
Bombay riots, the Shiv Sena came to power too, openly asserting its
majoritarian ideology in Mumbai and alienating many who had built this city.
What we also see is that those
charged with involvement in the bomb blasts of 1993 were given the most severe
of punishments, even the death penalty. But those who brought down a historical
monument in broad daylight have faced no consequences. On the contrary, they
have now been rewarded. Mere suspicion is enough to get Muslim men imprisoned,
for decades together, without evidence of their having committed any crime. But
if the alleged perpetrators are Hindus then it seems that all the evidence in
the world cannot implicate them.
As feminists, we find ourselves
at an odd position. Our anguish is not at the loss of a place of religious
worship, but at the sheer blatant disregard for any sense of justice towards
the Muslims as a community. What we see is a show of majoritarian strength and
the loss of dignity for ordinary Muslims. The game of religion is played by
men, and women are made the pawns in it. Majoritarian politics has played on
masculinities, painting the Muslim as the "foreigner", the infiltrator,
the ghuspetia, a collective against Shri Ram (and not Siya Ram).
Muslim women have to face the
dual brunt of this Othering of their community. With issues such as instant
triple talaq, the Hindu Right has co-opted the agenda of Muslim women's groups
and is going to great lengths to allegedly offer them protection. But, somehow,
the same Right is not interested in the lives of Muslims when they become
victims of communal violence. Nor do they even attempt to contribute to their
economic well-being by, say, implementing the recommendations of the Sachar
Hence, the decision to file a
review petition does not signal closure of the mandir-masjid debate. If
anything, the issue seems to be alive and well. It will be used by bodies such
as the AIMPLB to mire the Muslim community in fear and insecurity and it
simultaneously portends huge political gains for the Hindu right. Mandir wahin banega (we will build the temple in Ayodhya) has been the
BJP's long-standing election agenda. It has followed through on its promise.
Even as it fails at delivering on anything on its "development agenda", this
issue will remain a feather in its cap, firmly securing its position as the
The court has ordered the state
to set up a trust and use public money to build a temple, but not a mosque.
What does this bode for the future of secular India? Now that the BJP seems to
have established itself as the savior of Hindus and Hinduism, what more can we
expect in the coming years as women?
The authors are feminist
activists with the Bebaak Collective. The views are personal.