Sunday, October 31, 2010



(Posted below is a statement issued by Arundhati Roy after a slogan
shouting mob turned up outside her house and tried to ransack her
residence on 31st October 2010 in the full glare of TV)

A mob of about a hundred people arrived at my house at 11 this morning
(Sunday October 31st 2010.) They broke through the gate and vandalized
property. They shouted slogans against me for my views on K…ashmir,
and threatened to teach me a lesson. The OB Vans of NDTV, Times Now
and News 24 were already in place ostensibly to cover the event live.
TV reports say that the mob consisted largely of members of the BJP's
Mahila Morcha (Women's wing). After they left, the police advised us
to let them know if in future we saw any OB vans hanging around the
neighborhood because they said that was an indication that a mob was
on its way. In June this year, after a false report in the papers by
Press Trust of India (PTI) two men on motorcycles tried to stone the
windows of my home. They too were accompanied by TV cameramen.

What is the nature of the agreement between these sections of the
media and mobs and criminals in search of spectacle? Does the media
which positions itself at the 'scene' in advance have a guarantee that
the attacks and demonstrations will be non-violent? What happens if
there is criminal trespass (as there was today) or even something
worse? Does the media then become accessory to the crime? This
question is important, given that some TV channels and newspapers are
in the process of brazenly inciting mob anger against me. In the race
for sensationalism the line between reporting news and manufacturing
news is becoming blurred. So what if a few people have to be
sacrificed at the altar of TRP ratings? The Government has indicated
that it does not intend to go ahead with the charges of sedition
against me and the other speakers at a recent seminar on Azadi for

So the task of punishing me for my views seems to have been taken on
by right wing storm troopers. The Bajrang Dal and the RSS have openly
announced that they are going to "fix" me with all the means at their
disposal including filing cases against me all over the country. The
whole country has seen what they are capable of doing, the extent to
which they are capable of going. So, while the Government is showing a
degree of maturity, are sections of the media and the infrastructure
of democracy being rented out to those who believe in mob justice? I
can understand that the BJP's Mahila Morcha is using me to distract
attention the from the senior RSS activist Indresh Kumar who has
recently been named in the CBI charge-sheet for the bomb blast in
Ajmer Sharif in which several people were killed and many injured. But
why are sections of the mainstream media doing the same? Is a writer
with unpopular views more dangerous than a suspect in a bomb blast? Or
is it a question of ideological alignment?

Arundhati Roy
 October 31st 2010

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Ayodhya Verdict: Whither Indian Constitution ISP I November 2010



Ayodhya Verdict 2010: Whither Indian Constitution!


Ram Puniyani


The verdict given by Lucknow bench of Allahabad high court (Sept 2010) has been a landmark of sorts. On one hand it is culmination of the process of demolition of Babri Masjid, now that illegal act of demolition has got a legal sanction. On the other this judgment is the one based on every other consideration than the legal one. It has no rooting in the values of Indian Constitution, no guidance from the directive principles of the Constitution and no grounding in the law of the land.


Despite this glaring fact a large section of the popular opinion went on to keep quiet about it, or criticize it in a muted way. The atmosphere has been created that it is a balanced judgment pleasing all; it has been the best option in the present circumstances etc. We do need to recall that there was heaviness in the atmosphere before the judgment. The Hindus were apprehensive that if by chance there is violence and they or their near and dear ones are caught in the melee, it will be a disaster. Muslim minority on the other hand feared the destruction of their properties or loss of their lives in case the violence breaks out. Fortunately those who orchestrate the violence, as shown by the inquiry committee reports time and over again, chose not to unleash 'celebratory violence', as they had done in the aftermath of Babri demolition on 6th December 1992. This time while probably the RSS combine and communalized sections of society felt more jubilant then before, still they had restrained themselves from creating a situation where the violence takes place.


Muslims on surface felt a bit relieved that they do not have to suffer another cycle of violence and its aftermath. But they also felt let down by the court. They did feel that this judgment is a symptom of Hindu Rashtra in the offing. While there is a spectrum of opinion amongst Muslim community, now there is a feeling that even the law cannot protect their just rights. Deep frustration, anger and dejection are the response from large section of the Muslims who dared to speak. The atmosphere created by communal propaganda has pushed them to the wall and 'we should move on' is the thinking of a section of Muslim community. The unevenness, the contrasting situations of 'two sides' of the dispute is very obvious, one side which is dominant got more than it could dream of and the other side feels betrayed once again..


While RSS combine is joyous that a path has been paved for the national sentiment of Bhavya (grand) Ram Temple, and has asked Muslims to contribute in the 'national' agenda. One knows that we are dealing with the contrasting notions of nationalism. The Nationalism RSS is talking is the anti thesis of secular democratic nation, the aspiration of freedom movement, the nation enshrined in the Indian Constitution. What else can one expect from this political outfit, RSS, which aims to transform our democratic polity into a Hindu nation, with all past political-social ideologies presented in newer language? RSS combine is already feeling that their agenda has gone one step up, as the illegal act of installation in 1949 and the criminal act of Babri demolition has been legitimized and has also 'quietly' become part of social common sense.


The reaction of Congress has been very pathetic. One knows that so far in the communal violence which has stalked the streets it has kept quiet, and many a times a section of its Chief Ministers and other top leaders have presided over the carnage. When communalists have been on their 'job' of massacring and maiming the innocent populace, the Congress has been looking the other way around. Congress reaction has been no different in the aftermath of this judgment. Congress is happy that 'peace' is prevailing; it is immaterial for them that this is not the peace of harmony but the peace based on injustice. In their electoral calculations to speak as per the Constitutional values and adherence to law has been dispensed with long ago. Sticking to principles does not suit Congress opportunistic communalism. There are still some voices of protest and introspection which are deeply disturbed by this judgment. This section does feel that the judgment is a big jolt to the values of pluralism, democratic law and all that the idea for which India stands.


The bureaucracy and the other arms of state apparatus are satisfied as what matters for them is the apparent calm. The preservation of the law of the land is not their deeper concern. As such a large part of this machine called Indian state has been heavily coated with the paint of divisive ideology and it has imbibed the propaganda of the Hindutva, masquerading itself as the representative of all Hindus. In the steel frame of Indian state a section swears by Hindu nation openly and still larger section is the quiet accomplice in the process of erosion of democratic norms due to multiple factors. These factors are the ceaseless communal propaganda, adverse effects of globalization and the accompanying cultural changes. So the question is, in this situation who is the guardian of Indian Constitution? If the political leadership is happy with the apparent clam and unconcerned about justice, the future of values of Indian Constitution and principles of justice seem to be threatened as never before.


The judgment and the reaction to it is a matter of serious and severe concern for all those who want to adhere to Indian Constitution and abhor the concept of Hindu nation. It is the communal common sense which is dominating the day. The legitimacy being conferred on bypassing of legal foundations of India is a matter of much more serious concern then the previous assaults on the Indian Republic, the murder of the Father of the Nation Mahatma Gandhi, the anti Sikh pogrom, the Babri demolition, the burning of Pastor Graham Stains, the Gujarat pogrom, and the Kandhamal violence. One sees barring in the anti Sikh program, the common link in all these attacks on the idea of secular democratic India, is the ideology of Hindu nation, the political agenda of RSS. In this phenomenon, assault on Indian Constitution by RSS combine, the Congress plays an opportunist role of an accomplice, letting the things take place. In that sense it plays a supporting role in the violation of all whatever the founding fathers of Indian nation stood for. One is reminded of an analogy from the world of cricket. In this analogy Indian Constitutional values are batsmen, RSS-Hindutva politics is the bowler, Congress the fielder, communalized social common sense is the Umpire raising his finger at every appeal by the bowler and the section of state apparatus is the one deliberately overlooking the mischief of those preparing the pitch suitable for this bowler.


It is also reminiscent of the Nazi Germany where the demonization of Jews, Communist, Trade unionists, the erosion of popular culture and its impact on all the wings of state got seeped by the fascist values, values of suppression of minorities and other weaker sections of society. One knows the painful fact that every episode of violence takes the communal politics one notch up. The disturbing point is not just that the judgment has by passed the law of the land, but also that this has got such a welcome reception from all those powers which matter.


The progressive forces and secular movement has a lot of thinking to do. If secularism is being attacked by RSS combine, if secularism is not being honestly protected by the party in power, Indian National Congress, then what is to be done to protect it? How will idea of India, Indian Constitution be saved and by whom? The progressive liberal and democratic forces have to wake up that. It is a 'do or die' situation for Indian democracy. The prevalent social common sense, the erosion of democratic norms, the bypassing of Indian law by the Courts, is a matter of serious concern.




Issues in Secular Politics

I November 2010

response only to

Thursday, October 21, 2010

An Open Letter to Ten Percent India, Myself Included

An Open Letter to Ten Percent India, Myself Included

The Games are over.   Our  revels have ended for now. Many white people have gone satisfied; some even impressed. What might have been a bland and colourless event elsewhere was rendered magical as the hooded cobras put in an appearance to greet the visitors.  In what other country would you have pressed Langurs into service to shoo off mere monkeys. You might say that the abiding world of Kipling rendered what might have been the anasthetised efficiency of gadgetry a seductive, orientalist bonanza.  Brand India once again proved itself distinctive, syncretising anti-deluvian flood with exotic food, laid-back timelessness with the flurried event,  Brahminical self-regard with the fear of failure, devotion to imagined glory with the shame-faced  last-minute attention to reality on the ground.
But the worry about corruption remains, and it shames  our sense of our collective self.  Canny operators made killings, as too many cooks  stirred the froth to gainful purpose.  But the screaming channels would have us believe this is the first we have seen of corruption in India. Really?  When and where has it been otherwise?  Your point must be that this once we were shamed because it was for all to see, most wretchedly the  first world media to whom we wished to sell ourselves as  something other than we are.
By all means, get at them in the days to come.  But do answer me this one question:  why, just why does it happen that corruption, understood as take-on-the-sly, so undoes  our uprightness while the metropolitan eye carries on winking at the congenitally inhuman depravity that suffuses  our soulless self-absorption in the successes of a nation-state where  some ten percent of us own some ninety percent of  the national wealth, and the "other" ninety percent or so (whom we hid behind the grand Games posters or shunted out of town) subsist (cruel word) on the rest of the ten percent?  Does such an order of inequity protected by systems of orderly injustice comprise corruption?  Or should the thought simply perish, while we rail at those among our own kind who did us in?  One way of sorting this out might be to say "crony capitalism no, no; capitalism yes, yes." Is it that simple?
Of the 8 million or so children worldwide who die before the age of 5, 2 million die in India.  42 % of the world's under-nourished children and 31% of the "stunted" ones are Indians.  Nowhere, not even in sub-saharan Africa, are pregnant and lactating mothers as anaemic and as prone to die as in India.  Nowhere else do as many millions defecate in the open for want of sanitation as in India. Nowhere are millions obliged to drink water from chemically contaminated ditches and drains for want of potable sources. Nowhere do as many millions die from preventable gastro-enteric diseases for want of  access to  clean water and  the most primitive of preventive medication. And what of food, since nutrition is out of the reckoning? Do I hear  us complain of astronomical food prices, and yet never wonder whether some 800 million or more Indians who have no greater than half a dollar to spend on everything a day eat anything at all?  If  we do wonder, where is the energy of attention that ought to go into all that in comparison with the righteous anger  we spout at low quality of macadam on the highways of the capital city? Or trash thrown uncaringly out of gleaming automobiles?  And the lack of promptness with which the menials must be ordered to remove it from sight?
Yet none of this qualifies as corruption; and rightly: would you not agree that our collective disregard, our accomplished Podsnappery, in relation to those details connote something far worse than corruption as  we define the term?  Would it be wrong to designate an order of things that makes such cruelties of exploitation, expropriation, inequity, the law's oppression, the contumely of policy necessary to "advancement"  depravity and barbarism of a conquistador dimension?  And all in the name of pursuing democracy, wherein the legitimating "demos" is  left without a loaf. Or do  we have a ready answer for that, namely, dangerously anti-national left-wing voices the sooner quelled the better.  After all,  we do at bottom think  we are the nation, don't  we?
Another thing:  how  we have been lauding the fact that so many medals have been won.  To that computation you might add won to some 2/3rd measure by our women sportspersons.  And of those some 3/4th  nameless women from the "hinterlands" that never seem to form any part of the "emerging great power" narrative with which we cloy our earholes day in and day out.
Medal winning women from the land of Irom Sharmila who has been on a fast for over a decade in Manipur.  When was she last in focus on  our tv screens?  Medal winning women from the badlands of Haryana where unborn female foetuses are put to the sword by order of the scions of martial patriarchy.  Did you hear Krishna Poonia (Gold medal in Discuss throw) allude to that irony?  And Deepika Mahato from Jharkhand Adivasi forgotten land (father auto driver) who shot the arrow home for another Gold, leaving the Brits and the mighty Aussies and the New Zealanders behind?  And the foursome who  raced to that magnicicent Gold in the 4x400 Relay?  And many others.
And practically none of them English-speaking.
So is it too much to ask that  we might now use the power the state bestows upon  us  in diverse ways and through diverse means to campaign for the following:
--that the powers-that-be begin to demonstrably include the "hinterlands" in their grandiose schemes of "development," and not just in sports; and not just for electoral propaganda, allowing the women especially on the ground to lead from the front;
--that the khap warlords in the badlands of the north where women are either killed off in the womb, or subsequently ordered dead should they stray into thinking for themselves are rounded up and put into  medieval torture chambers where they belong;
--that the mettle that these our undemanding and selfless women have shown for us to flaunt to the world now become cause for us to lay siege to political party offices, legislatures, and the parliament until the promised 33% reservation for women in these bodies is made the law of the land;
--that those thousands of labouring hands who put the Games infrastructure in place while the busybodies were busy  cutting each other and strutting upon the stage  be now given  their due in housing, health care, education, dignified wage, and in the hallways where policies are made for the nation; and not just those who thus laboured in delhi (a hundred of them paying with their lives; think of the jingoism that invades our living rooms at the news of a single soldier's  death), but the entire class of  famished and degraded workers whose sweat and blood and dour defiance of hunger and pestilence oil the wheels of our modernity and greatness.  Can we campaign that their disenfranchised children be now allowed free and full use of the facilities their mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters have built for the glory of India?
--that the cacophony about "corruption" is somewhat remedied to include our own un-named complicities and culpabilities in the silent ways in which we subscribe to and legitimize the gluttony, greed, and class-based grab which enriches the one and consigns the nine into animal existence, or worse.  Can we pick up the courage to remind ourselves and the nation at large that the Constitution enjoins upon us to be not just a "secular" but also a "socialist" republic?
Any hard-boiled Left ideologue would retort that much of what I ask is baloney bred of unfounded idealism.  And he/she would have a point.  After all the same middle class that applauds the maverick and marauding cinematic icon, the "angry young man," who disregards the rule of law etc., (showing   all representatives of the state  complicit in the villainous cruelties of the Thakur, the smuggler, or the heinously corrupt and criminal politician), unleashes unconscionable violence, kills off one tainted scion of the state after another, is ready to go for the kill if the "Maoist" or the "Naxalite" does the same in real life as opposed to reel life.  So the ideologue would indeed have a point.  Yet, I say with the Gypsies in Tom Jones, let us try the power of shame for now.  Its effects are invisibly slow but often long-lasting.
So, dear ten-percent India, of whom I am one, is it time to say "yes we should, yes we can"?  Ergo, yes we should, yes we can first of all revisit our own socializations and our own loci, a circumstance without which our bark will remain hollow.
Can we acknowledge to ourselves that democracy is not only a matter of free speech wherein the fourth estate stands for all of it, but about the other three estates doing their assigned and foresworn bit to ensure that the dispossessed who make the nation go round have access to the bite which is by right their's? 
The Games have come and gone, but let us stop playing the games we play all year round.  We no longer fool even ourselves.

From: Z Net - The Spirit Of Resistance Lives

Friday, October 01, 2010


Fr. Cedric Prakash sj
The world observes today, (October 2nd) the 'International Day of Nonviolence' celebrating the memory of Mahatma Gandhi, on his birth anniversary. Gandhi's most powerful tools, in his quest for liberation, were 'Satyagraha' (the force of truth) and 'Ahimsa' (nonviolence).
It is appropriate therefore, on a day like this, to do a reality check and see how falsehood and violence have gripped us in many different ways and have permeated every section of society. Acts of violence hog the media every single day. The front page of most newspapers regularly carry news of murder, arson, rape, hostility, hate, divisiveness, corruption. The list is endless! The tragedy is, we all seem to accept it, as the order of the day.

The whole country heaved a sigh of relief when not a single violent incident was reported anywhere, in the aftermath of the judgement on the Ayodhya issue. The general refrain was, "we have come of age"; but the fact also remains, that a massive amount of troops and security were deployed "to prevent" any untoward incident. Can we still remain nonviolent and secure, if the military / police are not around? Or do our political leaders have to decide when we should be violent or non-violent?

We have institutionalized violence. There are several who readily accept the 'fake' encounters committed by the police. Violent attitudes are apparently systemic: be it towards a girl child, a lower caste or from a different religious background. When we allow prejudice to be the mainstay of our attitudes, we ultimately don't care about the consequences of our actions.

It is therefore, appropriate that as we celebrate the fact that we gave Gandhi to the world, each one of us does something small, (however insignificant) to ensure that we live in a society which is more truthful and less violent. As Gandhi himself reminds us "we need to be the change, we want to see".

Pledge to Practice Non-Violence and be a Peacemaker

Most loving God, and all friends of Non-Violence and Peace gathered here today: I recognize the violence in my own heart, yet I trust in the goodness and forgiveness of God. I wish to walk in the Spirit of Peace. I wish to walk in the company of Jesus who lived and is the way of non-violence, justice, peace and truth. I wish to walk in the company of all other seekers of Truth and of Non-Violence, very specially Mahatma Gandhi, whose birth anniversary we celebrate today.

Therefore, before God the Creator, the Sanctifying Spirit, and this Community of Peacemakers, I ______________________ pledge, beginning this day,

to practise Nonviolence and be a Peacemaker :

· by acting with persistent non-violence, to resist every form of injustice and violence -by myself and / or by others.

· by acting to remove the causes, and heal the effects of violence;

· by striving for peace within myself, and seeking to be a Peacemaker in my daily life;

· by accepting suffering in the pursuit of justice rather than inflicting it;

· by refusing to retaliate in the face of provocation and violence, returning forgiveness for harm, while continuing to insist and stand up for the Truth as far as it is known to me;

· by living conscientiously, and simply, so that I do not deprive others of the means to live;

· by working constantly, and non-violently, to abolish war and the causes of war, from my own heart, and from the face of the earth.

· by doing everything possible to ensure that justice, truth, non-violence and peace, be the characteristics of our great country India and for every single citizen.

God of Peace and Justice, I trust in Your sustaining love and believe that just as You gave me the grace and desire to offer this Pledge, so will You also bestow on me, the abundant grace to fulfill it.

(This pledged could be pronounced on October 2nd, the Birth Anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi and which is also designated by the UN as the International Day of Non-Violence)

SAHMAT's Statement on Ayodhya Verdict



29, Feroze Shah Road,New Delhi-110001

Telephone- 23381276/ 23070787


Date 1.10.2010

Statement on Ayodhya Verdict

The judgement delivered by the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court in the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid Dispute on 30 September 2010 has raised serious concerns because of the way history, reason and secular values have been treated in it. First of all, the view that the Babri Masjid was built at the site of a Hindu temple, which has been maintained by two of the three judges, takes no account of all the evidence contrary to this fact turned up by the Archaeological Survey of India's own excavations: the presence of animal bones throughout as well as of the use of 'surkhi' and lime mortar (all characteristic of Muslim presence) rule out the possibility of a Hindu temple having been there beneath the mosque. The ASI's controversial Report which claimed otherwise on the basis of 'pillar bases' was manifestly fraudulent in its assertions since no pillars were found, and the alleged existence of 'pillar bases' has been debated by archaeologists. It is now imperative that the site notebooks, artefacts and other material evidence relating to the ASI's excavation be made available for scrutiny by scholars, historians and archaeologists.

No proof has been offered even of the fact that a Hindu belief in Lord Rama's birth-site being the same as the site of the mosque had at all existed before very recent times, let alone since 'time immemorial'. Not only is the judgement wrong in accepting the antiquity of this belief, but it is gravely disturbing that such acceptance should then be converted into an argument for deciding property entitlement. This seems to be against all principles of law and equity.

          The most objectionable part of the judgement is the legitimation it provides to violence and muscle-power. While it recognizes the forcible break-in of 1949 which led to placing the idols under the mosque-dome, it now recognizes, without any rational basis, that the transfer put the idols in their rightful place. Even more astonishingly, it accepts the destruction of the mosque in 1992 (in defiance, let it be remembered, of the Supreme Court's own orders) as an act whose consequences are to be accepted, by transferring the main parts of the mosque to those clamouring for a temple to be built.

          For all these reasons we cannot but see the judgement as yet another blow to the secular fabric of our country and the repute of our judiciary. Whatever happens next in the case cannot, unfortunately, make good what the country has lost.

Romila Thapar

K.M. Shrimali

D.N. Jha

K.N. Panikkar

Amiya Kumar Bagchi

Iqtidar Alam Khan

Shireen Moosvi

Jaya Menon

Irfan Habib

Suvira Jaiswal

Kesavan Veluthat

D. Mandal

Ramakrishna Chatterjee

Aniruddha Ray

Arun Bandopadhyaya

A. Murali

V. Ramakrishna

Arjun Dev

R.C. Thakran

H.C. Satyarthi

Amar Farooqui

B.P. Sahu

Biswamoy Pati

Lata Singh

Utsa Patnaik

Zoya Hasan

Prabhat Patnaik

C.P. Chandrasekhar

Jayati Ghosh

Archana Prasad

Shakti Kak

V.M. Jha

Prabhat Shukla

Indira Arjun Dev

Mahendra Pratap Singh

Ram Rahman

M.K. Raina

Sohail Hashmi

Parthiv Shah

Madan Gopal Singh

Madhu Prasad

Vivan Sundaram

Geeta Kapur

Rajendra Prasad

Anil Chandra

Rahul Verma

Indira Chandrasekhar

Sukumar Muralidharan

Supriya Verma

N.K. Sharma

S.Z.H. Jafri

Farhat Hasan

Shalini Jain

Santosh Rai

Najaf Haider

R. Gopinath

R.P. Bahuguna

G.P. Sharma

Sitaram Roy

O.P. Jaiswal

K.K. Sharma


Force of faith trumps law and reason in Ayodhya case


Force of faith trumps law and reason in Ayodhya case

Siddharth Varadarajan
If left unamended by the Supreme Court, the legal, social and political repercussions of the judgment are likely to be extremely damaging

New Delhi: The Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court has made judicial history by deciding a long pending legal dispute over a piece of property in Ayodhya on the basis of an unverified and unsubstantiated reference to the "faith and belief of Hindus."

The irony is that in doing so, the court has inadvertently provided a shot in the arm for a political movement that cited the very same "faith" and "belief" to justify its open defiance of the law and the Indian Constitution. That defiance reached its apogee in 1992, when a 500-year-old mosque which stood at the disputed site was destroyed. The legal and political system in India stood silent witness to that crime of trespass, vandalism and expropriation. Eighteen years later, the country has compounded that sin by legitimising the "faith" and "belief" of those who took the law into their own hands.

The three learned judges of the Allahabad High Court may have rendered separate judgments on the title suit in the Babri Masjid-Ramjanmabhoomi case but Justices Sudhir Agarwal, S.U. Khan and Dharam Veer Sharma all seem to agree on one central point: that the Hindu plaintiffs in the case have a claim to the disputed site because "as per [the] faith and belief of the Hindus" the place under the central dome of the Babri Masjid where the idols of Ram Lalla were placed surreptitiously in 1949 is indeed the "birthplace" of Lord Ram.

For every Hindu who believes the spot under the central dome of the Babri Masjid is the precise spot where Lord Ram was born there is another who believes something else. But leaving aside the question of who "the Hindus" referred to by the court really are and how their actual faith and belief was ascertained and measured, it is odd that a court of law should give such weight to theological considerations and constructs rather than legal reasoning and facts. Tulsidas wrote his Ramcharitmanas in 16th century Ayodhya but made no reference to the birthplace of Lord Rama that the court has now identified with such exacting precision five centuries later.

The "faith and belief" that the court speaks about today acquired salience only after the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bharatiya Janata Party launched a political campaign in the 1980s to "liberate" the "janmasthan."

Collectives in India have faith in all sorts of things but "faith" cannot become the arbiter of what is right and wrong in law. Nor can the righting of supposed historical wrongs become the basis for dispensing justice today. In 1993, the Supreme Court wisely refused to answer a Presidential Reference made to it by the Narasimha Rao government seeking its opinion on whether a Hindu temple once existed at the Babri Masjid site. Yet, the High Court saw fit to frame a number of questions that ought to have had absolutely no bearing on the title suit which was before it.

One of the questions the court framed was "whether the building has been constructed on the site of an alleged Hindu temple after demolishing the same." Pursuant to this question, it asked the Archaeological Survey of India to conduct a dig at the site. This was done in 2003, during the time when the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance government was in power at the Centre. Not surprisingly, the ASI concluded that there was a "massive Hindu religious structure" below, a finding that was disputed by many archaeologists and historians.

The territory of India — as of many countries with a settled civilisation as old as ours — is full of buildings that were constructed after pre-existing structures were demolished to make way for them. Buddhist shrines made way for Hindu temples. Temples have made way for mosques. Mosques have made way for temples. So even if a temple was demolished in the 16th century to make way for the Babri Masjid, what legal relevance can that have in the 21st century? And if such demolition is to serve as the basis for settling property disputes today, where do we draw the line? On the walls of the Gyanvapi mosque in Varanasi can be seen the remnants of a Hindu temple, perhaps even of the original Vishwanath mandir. Certainly many "Hindus" believe the mosque is built on land that is especially sacred to them. The denouement of the Babri case from agitation and demolition to possession might easily serve as a precedent for politicians looking to come to power on the basis of heightening religious tensions.

Even assuming the tainted ASI report is correct in its assessment that a Hindu temple lay below the ruins of the Babri Masjid, neither the ASI nor any other expert has any scientific basis for claiming the architects of the mosque were the ones who did the demolishing. And yet two of the three High Court judges have concluded that the mosque was built after a temple was demolished.

From at least the 19th century, if not earlier, we know that both Hindus and Muslims worshipped within the 2.77 acre site, the latter within the Babri Masjid building and the former at the Ram Chhabutra built within the mosque compound. This practice came to an end in 1949 when politically motivated individuals broke into the mosque and placed idols of Ram Lalla within. After 1949, both communities were denied access though Hindus have been allowed to offer darshan since 1986. In suggesting a three way partition of the site, the High Court has taken a small step towards the restoration of the religious status quo ante which prevailed before politicians got into the act. But its reasoning is flawed and even dangerous. If left unamended by the Supreme Court, the legal, social and political repercussions of the judgment are likely to be extremely damaging.