It requires resolve to solve a tricky problem like Ayodhya. It is said to be a matter between Hindus and Muslims. I am neither. Hence what have I got to do with Ayodhya? Everything. Because the Babri Masjid (BM) – Ram Janam Bhoomi (RJB) issue in Ayodhya has been on the boil since Independence. It impacts all Indians, and even beyond our geographical boundaries; because there are Islamist movements outside India that have sworn revenge for the demolition of the BM in 1992.
This presentation addresses the issue from various angles – Legal Rights, Social Cohesion, The Political Atmosphere, Religious Beliefs and International Precedents; before proposing a solution.
A. LEGAL RIGHTS: This is actually the easiest part to address. Because it limits itself to the material evidence on record. The case now pending in the Supreme Court has been described as a title suit. That is, who does the disputed 2.77 acres of land belong to? However, when referring the matter to arbitration the Supreme Court had opined that this was more than just a title suit, and needed to be looked at from all angles. Even the three judge split verdict of the Allahabad High Court in 2010 went far beyond legalities, to address historical, archaeological and mythological issues; about which noted jurist Nani Palkiwala had earlier opined that the Supreme Court was not competent to adjudicate. The High Court seemed to evolve a compromise formula that did not please any of the parties to the dispute or the affected communities, which is not unsurprising.
Acceding to a compromise requires not just resolve, but also a huge dose of magnanimity, and a willingness to bury the bitterness of the past. Hence the three mediators, Justice Ibrahim Kalifullah (Retd), Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and Sriram Panchu will have to look beyond the parties to the dispute, to find acceptance across the board. Bearing this in mind I too am presenting my rationale for a negotiated and viable solution. I am therefore giving a go-by to the ownership of the complex, something that may not go down too well with the Muslims who feel that on the basis of legal documents alone their claim is undisputed.
It would have been the easiest thing in the world for the Supreme Court to just state that the ownership of the complex vests with the Muslims, so they should have it. Such a verdict would be impossible to implement. No Government or administration would have the strength or will to implement it. Sabarimala is a case in point, where it was only an internal matter of Hindu women of a certain age seeking access to the temple.
B. SOCIAL COHESION: India is a secular country, not just because of its Constitution, but because of the robust constitution of its people who believe in “Live and let live”. Hence whatever solution is arrived at, it must bear in mind the basic nature and character of the nation. We must aim at a WIN-WIN situation where, with a little give and take, nobody feels cheated.
C. POLITICAL ATMOSPHERE: After his stupendous victory in the recent Lok Sabha elections Prime Minister Modi stated that the time had come for “sabka vishwas” (earning the trust of all). His political opponents and detractors do not trust the PM, putting it down to mere rhetoric, to please his international audience. His foot soldiers, however, may not be on the same page, and are just waiting for opportunities “to teach the Muslims a lesson”. After violent attacks on Minorities we are quickly assured that these are just “fringe elements”. Others, however, are inclined to believe that their acts are actually “central” to the overall plan, to browbeat the Minorities into submission.
Exploiting religious sentiments is an easy way to win elections, but the after effects, like that of a nuclear explosion, would be dangerous and long lasting. After its victory, despite not talking of constructing the Ram temple this time around, the BJP would still see this as its most potent weapon to ensure that “mandir wahi banega” (the temple will be built there only). How much magnanimity can we expect from a party that has just won a brute majority in parliament? It is a moot question. The Shiv Sena, the BJP’s political ally, has already upped the ante on this issue.
D. RELIGIOUS BELIEFS: This is the sticky point. Most Hindus have deeply entrenched beliefs about the RJB, making it difficult to rationalize. Despite that I shall attempt to do just that.
The common belief is that Lord Ram, the 7th incarnation of the God Vishnu, lived in the Trethayug, 9,00,000 years ago, when he ruled for 11,000 years. This is the first problem, because there was no recorded history at that time. Nor were there any human beings in India, as the earliest evidence of the same is 65,000 years ago. The advent of writing is only in the Early Bronze Age about 3200 BCE. So any claim that Lord Ram was born at the exact spot claimed by the proponents of the RJB does not pass muster.
On the other hand historians date the Ramayana epic as late as the 7th/ 8th century BCE. According to noted historian A.L. Basham, in his book “The Wonder that was India”, the cult of Lord Ram only gained popularity after the Muslim presence in India (pg 306). He further states that “For all his later fame, the literature of the period ignores Ram and his father Dasaratha completely, so we must conclude that both were comparatively insignificant chieftains” (Pg 41).
In the past historians depended heavily on archaeological finds to draw various conclusions that were subject to different interpretations. We now have a new science that minimizes the room for error. It is genetics, and the tracing of one’s genealogy based on the Y chromosome transmitted by the male and embedded in his DNA. I shall quote from the book “Early Indians – The Story of our Ancestors and Where we came from” by Tony Joseph.
The DNA trail firstly establishes that all Indians are migrants beginning with those called “Out of Africa” 65,000 years ago, followed by various other migrations from West, East and Central Asia. There was very little reverse migration out of India, except for the Buddhist missionaries in the time of Emperor Ashoka (5th Century BCE), and the Roma gypsies that migrated to Europe about 1500 years ago.
The DNA trail shows our ancestors moving east from Iran circa 7000 BCE, and the Yamnayas from the central steppes region north of Afghanistan, who moved south into India circa 3000 BCE. Notice that these migrations pre-date the Ramayana epic. The Yamnayas had the wheel, the wagon, the horse and metallurgy. So conquering other lands was easy. Since these invaders (migrants) were exclusively male their Y chromosome was easily transmitted to the local inhabitants. Basham further tells us that the Harappans did not even have domesticated horses (Pg 18).
DNA studies are based on analyzing people from the same location at different times, in different locations during the same period (Pg 165). As far as we are concerned there is the Y chromosome haplogroup R1a, subclade R1a-M417, again divided into R1aZ282 and R1aZ93. The Indian R1aZ93 lineage is clearly traceable to the Eurasian steppes region. The strongest strains of this DNA are to be found among the Tiwaris and other Brahmins of U.P. (Pg 207).
The point therefore is that DNA lineage clearly points to the migration of the so-called Aryans, synonymous with Sanskrit (an Indo European language like English, German, Russian, French, and Iranian) and Vedic culture. That being so, the claims of the Thretayug may respectfully be left in the realm of mythology. It cannot be made the basis of modern day claims, pinpointing or dating a particular spot as being the RJB.
E. INTERNATIONAL PRECEDENTS: The judiciary often prefers to follow a precedent. The best precedent for Ayodhya is in the Middle East, specifically Palestine that is in modern day Israel. There has been a centuries old conflict between three ancient religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
Even today there are several disputed sites that I visited in 1980. Let us begin with what is most sacred to Christians – Mount Calvary, where the Lord Jesus was crucified, buried and where he rose again 2000 years ago. Till today this site, known as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, is “owned” by a Muslim family on the basis of an edict of Emperor Saladin in 1187 CE. It is this, together with several other sites that Christians consider the “Holy Land”, that occasioned the Crusades organized by erstwhile European Christian kings to free them from what they called the Saracens.
The second most poignant example is that of King Solomon’s Temple, that covered the Sanctum Sanctorum, Holy of Holies, equivalent to the Garb Grih. It too was destroyed and over it is erected the Al Aqsa Mosque, which again is under Muslim custody. Right wingers in India talk of how tiny Israel showed the Muslims their place! However, even though this part of Jerusalem was captured by Israel in 1967, the area has no Israeli flag and security is limited to outside the site. Inside control is with the Muslims. The Israelis (Jews) not entering is also because of a Jewish Halakhic prohibition, whereby only the Jewish High Priest could enter the Holy of Holies. Since, after the demolition of the Temple, the exact spot cannot be identified, the Jews do not enter there; restricting their obeisance to the extant Western Wall, also known as the Wailing Wall.
Another example is the Tomb of King David, sacred to the Jews. It is close to the Cenacle, the place of the Last Supper, sacred to the Christians, and adjacent to a mosque of the Muslims. To avoid conflict and competition, people of all three faiths are permitted to visit these sites, but without speaking, singing or any other form of external religious expression.
All these sacred places are governed by what is called the “Status Quo for the Holy Places” established in 1929 by one L.G.A. Cust, of the British Mandate, that then controlled the region. This Status Quo is actually a formal affirmation of the Ottoman Sultan’s Firman (Decree) in 1757, and another one issued in 1853.
My practical suggestion to the mediators is that they visit Israel, together with representatives of the stakeholders in the dispute, as also some legal luminaries and neutral persons, to study how this Status Quo operates. It is worth noting that the erstwhile British rulers were of Christian origin, the present political dispensation is Jewish, and yet they have accepted certain Muslim claims for the sake of PEACE. Religious sites are really not worth fighting over. This is the LESSON from HISTORY.
A POSSIBLE SOLUTION: Keeping all these factors in mind I propose a solution as follows:
- That an area of 100 sq mtrs where the Ram Lalla is now ensconced be permitted to be the symbolic RJB
- That at the other end of the plot a similar area of 100 sq mtrs be allotted to the Muslims to symbolically re-erect the BM.
- That the remaining part of the plot be handed over to the Forest Department for planting a dense stand of tress, where no other construction will be permitted.
- That learning from the provisions of the Jerusalem Status Quo, specific provisions be laid down for ingress/ egress to the symbolic RJB and BM and celebrations therein.
- That other than the above, both communities be allotted 3 acres of land each, at least 2 kms away from the existing site, and 5 kms from each other. These allotments may be done at concessional rates and thereafter the parties may be permitted to construct their own places of worship, as per existing building laws.
It is fervently hoped that the Supreme Court appointed mediation committee, as also the Supreme Court itself, will take cognizance of this proposal as a WIN-WIN situation for all stakeholders, and to maintain peace and harmony in the land of the Mahatma.
* This proposal has been sent to one of the mediators, Sriram Panchu whose email ID was available. It is firstname.lastname@example.org. Those who share these concerns could write to him at this address.