Ayodhya and the loss of pasts and imaginations

The Babri Masjid was built in 1527 in Ayodhya, in present-day Uttar Pradesh. Some claim that a Central Asian invader and the first Turkic/Mongol emperor of Northern India had this mosque built by demolishing a pre-existing temple – one that stood on the birth-site of Lord Ram (Ram Janmabhoomi). Between 1949 and 1992, various attempts had been made, by action and inaction sponsored by the state, to change the nature of access to the site from the conditions existing before 1949. On 6 December 1992, a large group of communal Hindu activists, egged on by leaders of India's second largest political formation of the time, demolished this mosque. Eventually, on 30 September 2010, a three-judge bench of the Allahabad High Court passed the now famous judgement – the disputed area is to be divided between the three litigants. The Muslim litigant group will receive one-third of the land but not the area under the central dome of the erstwhile Babri mosque structure.

The nature of the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid debate shows how much certain parts of Indic society are now prisoners of a historical mode of thinking. This is evident not only in the kinds of arguments and evidence that the court case dealt with but also the talking points that populated the media. People spoke about the past with clinical precision; of scientific evidence, without a shred of doubt, that the divine location of the avatar's birthplace would not transcend evidence-based historical research methods. It would rather be the opposite: evidence-based methods would legitimise the ancient; indeed the timeless. There has been a change in the way crucial sectors of India conceptualise the past; and it is an ongoing process. A clandestine transformation of the nature of consciousness about the past has important implications on our imaginations of the future. It involves, in this case, the possibility that the very soul of our peoples – a plural soul – will undergo degeneration.

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Himal Southasian