Ayodhya Judgement, A Win For Majoritarian Rule
Written By: Akriti Choudhary, Student, Institute of Law, Nirma University, Ahmedabad
(P.C. The Indian Express)
“The Advaita philosophy clearly says that there is no difference between God and ourselves. We have to realize that God is not in the mosque or in the temple only, but God is the heart of a person…” - Union Minister of Home Affairs
The enduring contest over a plot of land of 1500 square yards, sited in the city of Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh in the northern part of India had been a place where religious sects, pilgrims, lawyers and, even Gods battled to make their claims of rightful ownership. Since the birth of Independent India in 1947, this issue had been simmering and it has emerged even before that time. The courts have been called upon numerous times to adjudicate over this contentious issue, where their rulings are not merely determining the boundaries of the right to freedom of religion but are also involved in the very development of faith and belief. A long-running controversy over this holy site of Ayodhya between Hindus and Muslims took a dramatic turn and altered the course of Indian politics forever. It also delivered a disruptive shock to the social equilibrium of the country.
However, a verdict of the Hon’ble Supreme Court on 9th November 2019 constitutionally ended one of the most controversial religious disputes of the day and paved the way for a Hindu temple at the site. The court had asserted on building a mosque too but on an alternative plot of land. But in doing so, the court placed a flag in the siding of the judiciary with the Hindu right, and with it the government, and it signed the transition of the nation from secularism to Hindu majoritarianism. The five-judge bench led by India's chief justice Ranjan Gogoi also exercised Article 142 of the Constitution to request that the Nirmohi Akhara, an organization of Hindu ascetics, also provide representation in the trust that the Centre will have to set up in three months to oversee the temple construction.[i] This direction given to the Central Government by the Supreme Court would amount to an infringement of the secular nature of the State. Justice K. Chandru, referred to the S.R. Bommai judgement in this regard, by saying, "The Bommai verdict specifically indicated that the State should be separated from religion".[ii]
MAJORITARIAN RULE LOOMS LARGE OVER SECULARISM
The grant of the entire contested site to the entity (Ram Lalla Virajman, declared a legal person) fictitiously formed by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad is no longer rational. Although the 2010 decision was brazenly focused on "faith", the latest one has just camouflaged it with exalted pronouncements of some constitutional maxims regarding secularism, the primacy of the rule of law, and becoming fair in all modes of religion, worship and, prayer. The influence of current Indian politics on both these decisions is equally striking.
A composed reading of the Ayodhya judgment delivered by the Supreme Court's Constitutional Bench last November may lead one to reasonably conclude that its discussion of the Places of Worship Act, 1991 (the PoW Act) was irrelevant to both the factual and legal matrices of the judgement. The PoW Act is a law designed to "prohibit the conversion of any place of worship and to maintain the religious character of any place of worship as it existed on the 15th August 1947...". And yet, the court considered it necessary to address the Act, with the key focus of its deliberation being "the Constitution's dedication to secularism".[iii] The model of state neutrality is based on the assumption that the protection of rights of religious minorities emanate from a neutral state, i.e., it does not recognize the presence of majoritarianism as structuring secularism and hence the state's position.
Since 1950 people in this so-called ‘secular’ state have pursued a judicial approach in the Ayodhya conflict for resolving their religious grievances, resulting in the rise of cultural differences, thereby worsening the problem of secularism. Majoritarianism structures the meaning of secularity, whether it is based on an equal treatment principle for all religions, or state neutrality. If there is something different this time since the beginning of the journey of majority politics, it is the stamp of legality because the deity made a legitimate entry, approved by the Indian Supreme Court. The Bhoomi Pujan marked the victory of majority politics, as the Prime Minister of India and Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh presided over the function at Ayodhya. This ceremony was neither a religious nor a sacred ritual. It was purely a political one, a ritual of colonialism. The ceremony symbolizes the fusion of multiple forms of power: state power, the dominant political party's power, the majority community's brute power, the power of modern media, and the power of religious authority.
Keeping in mind the secularity of the US Government, it appears that Donald J. Trump's administration is ready to fully turn this liberal philosophy upside down. Preferably, the president has made common cause with conservative Christians and their particular proposed policies, such as the re-establishment of the Reagan-era Mexico City Policy, which forbids state funding for any abortion therapy Organization. As for discriminatory practices, Trump's flagging "Muslim Ban" points the finger of allegations at individuals of one religious group.[iv] Across the domestic line, Trump's contempt for secular norms of the mid-century is apparent from the "Merry Christmas" sign obtrusively attached to his podium at a post-election rally to his nominations for the Supreme Court and Cabinet. The Majoritarian rule is evident when these leaders who are appointed to lead a nation, use their power to promote any particular religious movements such as these. Trump is set to become America's most anti-secular president in recent history.
If anything, the ceremony in Ayodhya on 5th August, 2020 was a remembrance of the injustice inflicted on one class of people. The area where a mosque had stood for centuries and was demolished by rampaging mobs, affecting not only the brick-and-mortar structure of a religious building but also the facade of communal harmony that the liberty movement aimed to build. This event marks a significant shift toward majority politics when the prime minister, who took an oath to uphold the Constitution, chose to portray himself as the hero of a controversial movement that ransacked the fundamental values of India. Although his speech was filled with appeals for unity, his act of legitimizing the movement of Ram Janmabhoomi would have the effect of further marginalizing leaders of India's largest religious minority.[v]
Muslim response has been mixed. Some rejected the decision while others supported the ruling. Whatever path they want to take, one thing is clear that this decision would certainly empower and encourage the Hindu rightists, who will now feel assured that they can take on broader issues. With religious tensions already strong between Hindus and Muslims, and nowhere more so than in Uttar Pradesh, where bitter political and religious lines are drawn in the soil, more religion-based battles can reasonably be expected to take place. This verdict will surely impact future generations and it will also have consequences for the polity of this country.
A future historian could record the death of secularism in India on 5 August 2020, not because there was Bhoomi Pujan at Ayodhya for a grand Ram Mandir. For a secular state, building a temple, a church or a mosque for that matter should not cause sorrow, much less death. A magnificent temple in Ayodhya might usually be an occasion to celebrate, but a politician who presides over a religious ceremony is not the best practice in a secular state, but in India, there is nothing strange about it. Though the reaction to the verdict has so far been muted, it will take time to figure out whether this is due to fatigue, a cultural change, or the irregularity of power between Hindus and Muslims. Hence, it is reasonable to say that the outcome could once again be dangerous.
While the State is quick at functioning against Islamist groups, the Hindu majority groups often have active and obvious support of the Government. This phase will also pass, but for it to happen, the country and its functionaries must turn out stronger than the belief systems of the political party which mostly governs them. Secularism has to become a non-negotiable feature of the Indian system for something like this to happen.
REFERENCES [i] What is Article 142 of Constitution and Why Does it Find Mention in Ayodhya Verdict?, NEWS 18 (Aug. 12, 2020, 04:50 PM), https://www.news18.com/news/india/what-is-article-142-of-constitution-and-why-does-it-find-mention-in-ayodhya-verdict-2379957.html [ii] S. R. Bommai v. Union of India, 1994 3 S.C.C. 1 (India) [iii] J. Sai Deepak, Ayodhya Verdict and the Places of Worship Act, THE NEW INDIAN EXPRESS (Aug. 14, 2020, 10:35 AM), https://www.newindianexpress.com/opinions/2020/jun/03/ayodhya-verdict-and-the-places-of-worship-act-2151505.html [iv] Jacques Berlinerblau, President Trump’s Anti-Secular Foreign Policy?, LAWFARE (Aug. 16, 2020, 04:22 PM), https://www.lawfareblog.com/president-trumps-anti-secular-foreign-policy [v] Shruthisagar Yamunan, Modi’s Speech in Ayodhya Marks a Decisive Turn Away From Secularism for India, SCROLL.IN (Aug. 13, 2020, 09:28 PM), https://scroll.in/article/969553/modis-speech-in-ayodhya-marks-a-decisive-turn-away-from-secularism-for-india
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