Koenraad Elst: A maharathi without a rath – Shankar Sharan

Koenraad Elst

Prof Shankar SharanDr. Koenraad  Elst is personally known to many tall Hindutva leaders who are directly in power for decades. But it never occurred to anyone to set even a little ground beneath his feet, so that he could continue work comfortably. – Prof Shankar Sharan

Koenraad Elst has coined two evocative terms to help understand Indian socio-political situation: “Negationism in India” and “Decolonizing the Hindu mind”. These are also the names of his two most important books published in 1992 and 2001 respectively. Going through just these two books one can understand his great contribution to current Indology. Yet his assistance to the Hindu side on the Ayodhya debate is as significant, though surprisingly little known even to Hindutva leaders.

In fact, the Ayodhya issue changed the course of Koenraad’s life. He was incidentally in India when the controversy erupted on the national scene. He observed the falsehood being spread by eminent Marxist historians and liberals in Indian media, and could not resist the urge to fight it out. The common adventurer in this European young academic decided to take it on, even without any support. Except that Sita Ram Goel decided to publish his first book: Ram Janmabhoomi vs. Babri Masjid, A Case Study in Hindu-Muslim Conflict (Voice of India, 1990).

It was also the first book on the dispute based on first-hand sources written by an unbiased Western scholar. Koenraad rebutted the false claims of the Marxist historians, then actively campaigning for the Muslim side, or put better, against the Hindu side. The book was released by none other than L.K. Advani and Girilal Jain, then the most important figures in politics and media respectively. Advani at the time was the Hindutva hero, after his recently concluded famous Rath Yatra that put the Ram mandir in Ayodhya on the national agenda.

However, as it became clear later painfully, Koenraad had inadvertently put his career and by implication his life on line to defend the Hindu position on Ayodhya and other related issues. Hindu leaders and organizations happily used his hard research, data, facts and arguments he marshaled. But hardly thanked him and, more importantly, never provided some succor to compensate the hardship he invited upon himself by just becoming the friends of Hindus.

The situation has not changed since. Although today Koenraad is an internationally recognized Indologist, well known to all organized anti-Hindu forces. He is even feared by many left-liberals. No Indian left-liberal or Islamic apologist is ready to face him in any standard debate on Ayodhya or on issues related with the theory and practice of secularism in India. For the same reason he has also been denied academic situations in the Western world, mostly controlled by left-liberals. The unstated reason everywhere is the same: he is a supporter of “Hindutva forces”, by itself deemed as a bad entity.

Yet, the very Hindutva forces never invested even in his well-being, let alone thanking and celebrating his scholarship. A first rate scholarship that put leftwing superciliousness in place. Hardly any Indian left-winger or secularist ever took up Koenraad’s works to find faults, though they all know its weight. Initially they tried even to deny his existence, saying that Koenraad Elst is a fictitious name created by cunning Hindutvawadis to give their “lies” a Western support! An uber-secularist Khushwant Singh also fell for this propaganda, until he by chance met Koenraad in real flesh. This kind of denial attempt by the left-liberal powerhouses in India was also a revelation of their puerile scholarship. By the same token, it was also a left-hand recognition of Koenraad’s prowess.

That is why it is so strange even by common sense, not to say political-intellectual sense, that Hindutva quarters did not see the need to make his stature influential or at least more visible. Koenraad is personally known to many tall Hindutva leaders, who are directly in power for decades. But it never occurred to anyone to set even a little ground beneath his feet, so that he could continue work comfortably. The work which benefited the Hindutva leaders themselves. His scholarly contribution on the Ayodhya controversy is just a case in point.

The VHP and BJP were campaigning for Hindu claim over the disputed Ramjanmabhumi-Babri Masjid site for years. Yet they did not collected hard evidences to be used in court for their claim. The campaign was largely emotional, based on traditional lore. It was important but where a court was hearing the matter and the issue was debated in media and academia, such an approach was hardly winnable. It was Koenraad, encouraged and helped by Sita Ram Goel, who took upon himself to present a systematic case for Hindus with authentic historical and logical evidences. This was his second book Ayodhya and After: Issues before Hindu Society (Voice of India 1991), a first introduction to all aspects of India’s religious conflicts.

Thus, Koenraad Elst was one of the rare individual scholars who put paid to the pretensions of eminent Marxist historians. Soon they started dragging feet because they depended on the mere emotionalism of the Hindu forces, and were sure to win the thinking classes by flaunting their high academic chairs. Koenraad, Sita Ram Goel and also some others such as Arun Shourie, Swapan Dasgupta, etc. challenged them on facts, arguments and historical method. Thence the Marxists changed their tune, fled the court contest and finally also the arbitration the Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar had constituted to resolve the issue on evidence.

It would be ungrateful if we do not recognize the role Koenraad also played, indirectly, in Hindus winning the Ayodhya court case. The archeological evidence, after the Allahabad High Court ordered the Archeological Survey of India to dig into the site, further corroborated the contentions of Koenraad and Sita Ram Goel presented in their books about temple destructions.

This long prelude is necessary to explain the importance of his new book, Hindu Dharma and the Cultural Wars (Rupa, 2019). It may be useful to evaluate the book, as it helps to understand the continuity of his concerns and consistency ever since he voluntarily took up the case of Hindus vis-à-vis their opponents in politics and academia.

The articles in this book are on diverse issues, all combined make the outline of a cultural war presently raging which Hindus are compelled to fight. Yet they are ever so reluctant to fight, as the articles about the BJP and their governments in this volume also indicate. Many Hindus, including their leaders, are not ready yet to even acknowledge that there is such a war going on. Even as they are feeling the heat of the war for a long time. This strange apathy is also addressed in some articles in the collection.

Hindu Dharma and the Culture Wars (Contents)

Some new insightful pieces in this collection of 25 articles are: Hindu Fearlessness through the Ages (pp. 1-6), A Diversity of ‘White saviours’ (178-194), Debating the Hindu Right (43-46), The Modi Government as an Exponent of BJP Secularism (39-42), Hindus Need Dharmic Awakening? Rather, the BJP needs Dharmic Awakening (72-74), Academic Bullies (152-167) , and The RSS in Western Media (127-133). For a new reader every article would be a novelty and provide food for thought. They all combined make the title meaningful, suggesting that the Hindus are in the midst of a cultural war. Even though many highly educated Hindus are blissfully unaware of it.

That makes this book rather more valuable. The author himself said it is a “very good book”. Should Hindu organizations study and propagate it seriously, a great need of the time may be fulfilled. The need of making uninformed Hindus aware of the dangers they are facing. The Modi government in power has not thwarted it. At best the dangers seem subsided or waiting at a distance, but they are very much alive and focused.

Take, for example, any issue discussed in the book. Yoga, Ramakrishna, Saint Thomas, Golwalkar, Aurangzeb, Macaulay, Hinduphobia, nationalism, or even Ayodhya. The daily discussions, observations and comments about it in our prestigious media are found invariably opposite to the hard realities, past or present. They tend to take, as a rule, an anti-Hindu and pro-Islamic or pro-church stance. Sometimes even knowingly so. What this shows, if not that many leading Hindu intellectuals are fighting from the enemy side? They even take pride in being “liberal” and more “fair” to others. Totally oblivious of the dire results of such a naïve Gandhian stance in the recent past, as in Bengal and Punjab during the years 1947-48 or in Kashmir since 1989 onwards for more than a decade. Not to speak of the great devastation the Hindu society earlier suffered during centuries of barbaric Islamic onslaught.

Being increasingly ignorant of the un-natural calamities that fell upon Hindus, past or present, is the hallmark of Indian academic discourse in independent India. By extension of our media too. As a result, they simply deny there is any cultural war going on. If at all, they say it is the “minorities” who are at the receiving end. Any single day a prestigious Indian English newspaper would reveal a score of evidence in its coverage, headlines, comments, op-ed articles, and even in selection of pictures or data or words. Not only they summarily speak a different tune, from the concerns expressed in this book of Koenraad, but also definitely ridicule it in more or less open manner.

Therefore, the problems the Hindu society is facing on cultural fronts are as acute as ever. In fact, the BJP securely in power has somewhat lulled many in the Hindu movement. All the while the enemies of Hindus are relentlessly playing the victim card, and getting rewards, even more easily. Any event of significance, be it the legislation for banning triple talaq, or the hearing on Ayodhya in the Supreme Court, or abrogation of Article 370, or meeting of the RSS chief with an Islamic leader, or even just BJP winning an election is used as a common indicator of the “hurt” non-Hindus are feeling regularly. This refrain is articulated and propagated more regularly and forcefully by Hindu liberals than a Muslim or Christian writer. In no case, such as mentioned above, a left-liberal Hindu would even care to give a voice to a single Hindu hurt, as if such a hurt is non-existent or irrelevant.

This makes the Koenraad book much more noteworthy. It brings to light some still hidden truths about the history of the Hindu society. It also challenges many wrong notions entrenched in its intellectual classes. At present is a golden opportunity because influential Hindu organizations in India could use such works to awaken sleeping sections of our country, reeducate the misinformed sections and correct the wrong notions wantonly propagated by misinformed or misguided intellectuals. Not only the Hindus but at least a section of Muslims also mouth falsehoods due to plain ignorance.

If candid rebuttals and correct information could be disseminated with equal seriousness and regularity, the tide of the cultural war can be turned successfully. That is the opportunity at hand. Are the so-called organized Hindutva forces up to it? It remains to be seen. Meanwhile individual Hindu warriors may rejoice that one of their inspirations—a maharathi—is still fighting the battle, despite being without a rath. This seems an apt imagery to depict Koenraad Elst, the Belgian scholar and orientalist. Through his scholarly contributions he has been fighting for Hindus with his two bare hands—without weapons customarily available to those on high academic chairs. Grateful Hindus must salute the rare warrior on completing his 60 years recently! – IndiaFacts, 21 December 2019

Dr. Shankar Sharan is Professor of Political Science at the NCERT, New Delhi.

Hindu Dharma and the Culture Wars (Cover)


 

Ganesha: A monstrosity for Christians, a celebration for Hindus – Aravindan Neelakandan

Ganesha

Aravindan NeelakandanThroughout our history and culture, Ganesha represents the deepest spiritual reality and the height of Hindu civilisation. Naturally, He attracts attacks of the enemies of this civilisation. But He endures and protects. – Aravindan Neelakandan

The year was 1944. With the Quit India Movement and the Indian National Army (INA), the Indian struggle for Independence had achieved a new momentum.

That year, Winston Churchill, who through the Bengal Famine, had wiped out three million people the previous year, was deeply moved by a newly published book.

The book was Verdict on India written by a Beverley Nichols, and was an argument against giving Hindus, specifically Hindus, freedom.

Pakistan was fine. But giving freedom to Indians with Hindus as a majority was wrong, it argued.

In his book, “by way of foreword”, Nichols had trained his guns on an interesting target to prove the “civilisational superiority of Christendom over the Hindus”—Ganesha:

I shall never forget my first visit to a Ganesh temple. It was in Bangalore. … The sun shone on a tiny building of crumbling brick, and inside this building, the monster squatted awaiting us. He was carved from a single hulk of black shining stone, and his trunk and his misshapen limbs were contorted like angry serpents. The forgotten sculptor who had evoked this creature from the rock, so many centuries ago, was a genius, but he was—I felt—an evil genius, a man possessed. For this Ganesh was imbued with a malevolent life; in the fading light his limbs seemed to twitch, as though impelled by ancient lusts. He would escape if he wanted; a flick of that sinuous trunk, a gesture of those twisted arms, and the walls would crumble, and he would walk abroad in the darkness.

A true Christian and a colonialist, Nichols was scandalised that Hindus not only defend this “monster” but even continue to worship it.

To show how Hindus defend Ganesha, he quoted C. Rajagopalachari, “ex-President of Congress and one of Gandhi’s closest friends.” Rajaji had said:

People of the West might not find beauty in Ganesh and might say that the figure was funny and that at best it was a mascot. But to the Hindus, Ganesh represents the sense of universal unity … beauty and ugliness are combined to make one ineffable beauty in Him. He has the body of a fat man and the head of an elephant, with a mouse as His vehicle. He is fond of good eating but He is not stupid as a Westerner might suggest. We are a curious people, let us continue to be curious, that is my prayer.

If anything, this explanation by Rajaji angered him even more. If it was a “strange thing when a man must apologise for his God”, it was “an even stranger thing when, having apologised, he continues to worship”.

It may not be a coincidence that every Hindu-hater, from Beverley Nichols with his fanatic Christian supremacist convictions to E.V. Ramasamy with his pseudo-rationalism as well as Dravidian racism, to Paul Courtright with his pretensions of Freudian deconstruction, loves to hate Ganesha.

The reason may be that Ganesha embodies in Him the core civilisational ethos of this culture so boldly and vibrantly that the hatred for His form is instantaneous.

What are those core values?

In 1941, Sri Chandrasekarendra Saraswati of Kanchi Math was at the port town of Nagapattinam for his Chaturmasya Virata. He narrates an interesting event that happened then.

They were breaking coconuts in front of Ganesha (who is called in Tamil Nadu as Pillayar—pillai meaning child. Pointing it as “a custom peculiar to the Tamil province”, Swamigal explains:

The people of the Math tried to regulate the mob of children, fearing they might fall on the Swami. So they shouted at the children not to mob and move away. A boy among those children looked at the person who shouted and said in a very clear voice: “After breaking coconut to Pillayar, only we children have the right to the pieces. Then you do not have the right to tell us not to come.” It was seeing the strength of truth in the voice of the child that I got fully convinced that the right of coconuts broken for Ganesha completely belong to the children (emphasis added). – Deivathin Kural

Thus, Ganesha infuses even in our children the right to food and then, it is no wonder that the cohort of Churchill who engineered the Bengal famine developed an innate hatred for the form of Ganesha.

He also destroys the false distinctions between the divine, the human and the non-human forms of life. He at once combines the non-human animal, the human form and the divine form (in the form of four hands).

For those civilisations which have thrived on the bifurcation of the divine and the human as well as human and the non-human as unbridgeable categories, what can be more shocking?

And this shock can only increase when Darwinian science also blurs the boundaries between the human and the non-human.

Today, the origin of Ganesha, the elephant-headed God of Hindu Dharma, is widely limited to one particular Puranic version. In this, Parvati creates Ganesha to protect her privacy and Shiva, infuriated by Ganesha challenging his right to enter Parvati’s mansion, beheads him.

Later realising what he has done, Shiva gets the head of an elephant and attaches it to the body of the boy, creating the beloved form of the deity whom Hindus love so much.

In 2014, in a jovial way, Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke of this as the first plastic surgery and the “righteous indignation brigade” went into hyper-action. “Mixing mythology and science” got essentialised as the RSS way of looking at history or rather pseudo-history.

As late as August 2019, almost after five years, this casual remark by the PM was dug out by a columnist who explained seriously its impossibility pointing out “a large human neck’s circumference would be around 48cm, while the smallest baby elephant’s neck would be around 120cm”.

Then he went on to declare in a pompous manner that “if Ganesh was not a human who needed plastic surgery, the plastic surgeon had to be a senior god who created junior gods”.

What Prime Minister made was not a policy statement. It was stated more in a lighter vein than in any seriousness that Ganesha should have been the first person to have undergone plastic surgery.

That being said, one need not think of it as literal but that the poets who sang the Puranas could conceive of an animal organ being transplanted to a human body is in itself a leap for human imagination.

So one wonders who is really against scientific temper—the PM or the columnists and outrage brigade which cling on to an off-the-cuff remark as if it has become the policy statement of the government.

Yet these are worrying times, particularly when it comes to the Puranas. Everywhere in the world including the so-called Abrahamic religions, even history-specific narratives are being turned into poetic metaphors.

In the West, the rationalist secular human movements have played a great role in that transformation. Of course, there is a fundamentalist backlash which is a different story.

In India, the situation is tragically different.

As this writer has often pointed out, the so-called rationalists here take a literal, fundamentalist view of the Puranas here and the so-called believers—for that is a wrong word for Hindus—often take a view of their deities as symbolic realities at another level.

The belief that the constant, high-voltage propaganda over the elephant-headed deity is nothing but a vile superstition brought by the Brahmins is in a way yielding results.

Spurred by inferiority complex, there are Hindus who look to explain their deities using terms such as “ancient aliens”. Not long ago, a famous guru was recycling the decapitation of Ganesha by Shiva, with a liberal ascription of “alien technologies” to his disciples.

But it cannot be emphasised enough that the decapitation story is only one of the many in the Puranas. And in South India, where Ganesha worship has a tremendous influence, there are other Puranic origins which do not need either ancient plastic surgery or alien technology to explain the elephant-headed God.

In Tamil tradition, the story of Ganesha’s origin that is emphasised is different. Thirumurga Krupananda Vaariyar narrates this thus:

In Kailasha is the famous hall of 70 million mantric paintings. One day, Siva and Parvati visited this hall. They both looked at two representations of the Pranava mantra—Vyashti Pranava and the Samashti Pranava. When Siva and Parvati looked at them, they both merged and came out as the elephant-headed God Vinayaka. – Pillayar Perumai

That Ganesha arose from the gaze of the Goddess is also stated in Sri Lalita Sahasranama (names 76 and 77). S.V. Radhakrishna Shastri, in his commentary based on that of the famous commentator Bhaskararaya, describes:

Because of the power structures of delusion created by the demonic forces, the Devas lost their fighting ability. Laziness, sleep, depression, loss of vigour, feeling inferior, delusion and loss of self-respect—all these eight characteristics developed in the army of the Devas. Even the generals of the army of the Goddess could not enthuse their warriors. When the Goddess was informed of this, She looked at the face of Siva who was seated next to Her as Kameswara and from His face emerged the elephant headed Ganesha embracing His consort Vallabai. He had 10 hands (along with the trunk 11) and in them He had the pomegranate, mace, bow made of sugarcane, Trident, discus, conch, binding rope, Nymphaeaceae flower, rice grains, His own tusk and a pot made of precious gems. – Sri Lalitha Sahasranama Stotram with Commentary

Then, Ganesha destroyed the delusional power structures created by the demonic forces and thus freed the army of the Goddess from the sense of defeatism, inferiority and loss of self-respect.

No wonder then that Lokmanya Bal Gangadara Tilak used Ganesha to shatter the tamasic tendencies engulfing the nation and rouse it to fight against the forces of colonialism.

It is to the credit of Saiva Siddhanta in Tamil Nadu that the inner significance of Ganesha worship has been turned into a very popular one.

Here, Ganesha represents the very basis of Hindu Dharma—unity and diversity—the One becoming the many and the many grounding their essence in the One. He is also Pranava Swarupaor the very form of the Omkara.

Saiva Siddhanta scholar Vidwan Arunai Vadivelu Mudaliyar explains:

In the auspicious form of Vinayaka, the four-handed form shows the Deva nature while the elephant-ears, trunk as well as the tusks show the animal nature; the big pot belly and the small legs show the Bhuta nature. The asymmetry of tusks with its absence in the right side shows the feminine and the masculine forms united in Him. The different categories we see namely ‘Ahirinai’ (non-human intelligence) and ‘Uyarthinai’ (human and supra-human intelligence), male and female, the celestials, the animals and goblins etc. in all these the Ganesha exists as the inner essence and He is in fact all these diverse forms, is well illustrated by His very adorable form. – Vinayagar Vazhipadu Nool

Most Western indologists and their brown-skinned clones have often concentrated on the speculative ethnic origins of this elephant-headed deity. In Tamil Nadu, the Dravidianists routinely call Him as a Brahminical alien deity brought in to enslave Tamils.

When that could not get enough traction, it was claimed that the decapitation and attachment of an elephant head was symbolic of crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. However, Tamil Nadu used Ganesha to disseminate the highest spiritual wisdom of Hindu civilisation through a hymn to Ganesha.

Vinayakar Akaval (a hymn in praise of Vinayaka in peacock-sound genre) is a composition by Avvaiyar—a poetess who probably lived around 10th century. The hymn, today famous throughout Tamil Nadu, particularly memorised by children at a very early age, is an exposition of the deepest Yogic path—combining both bhakti and yoga in an ingeniously harmonious way.

Thus, throughout history and culture, Ganesha represents the deepest spiritual reality and the height of Hindu civilisation. Naturally, He attracts attacks of the enemies of this civilisation. But He endures and protects.

With his elephant head, fat body, four arms and a mouse as vehicle, He is loved by all. He is especially dear to children. We grow up to love this form filled with paradoxes and it—for the inwardly oriented ones—becomes an eternal koan for meditation.

He who harmonises all opposing categories makes us embrace differences with respect and love. For the seekers of material prosperity, he is a deity who removes obstacles to prosperity. He also teaches us to fight against the aggressor, like he did with his very own tusk.

Ganesha is thus a quintessential universal deity who embodies in him the complete biological and spiritual evolution of this entire planet. – Swarajya, 2 September 2019

Aravindan Neelakandan is an author, psychology and economics major, and contributing editor at Swarajya.


Colonial enslavement of the ‘modern’ Indian mind – J. Sai Deepak

Supreme Court Judges

J. Sai DeepakThe typical “modern” Indian mind still seeks validation on benchmarks set by the erstwhile colonial master, which it has internalized so deep within its consciousness that it has come to accept them as not just the normal but also the ideal. – J. Sai Deepak

As the Republic of Bharat, the successor civilization State of Bharatavarsha, celebrates its 73rd Independence Day, the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India is hearing arguments in the Shri Ramjanmabhoomi case almost on a day-to-day basis. Judgements in the Shri Padmanabhaswamy Temple case and in the review petitions in the Shri Sabarimala Ayyappa Temple case are yet to be pronounced.

This is apart from the fact that the Shri Jagannath Temple of Puri also finds itself before the Supreme Court, whereas for some reason arguments are yet to commence in the writ petition filed by the late Shri Swami Dayananda Saraswathi challenging the temple control legislations of Tamil Nadu, Puducherry, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana which give “secular” state governments overarching and unbridled control over temples and temples alone. Add to this the fact that there exists this mind-bogglingly discriminatory and patently absurd legislation ironically titled The Places of Worship (Special provisions) Act, 1991, which prevents the victims of medieval barbaric invasions from reclaiming their places of worship and heritage, one has to wonder, how did things come to such a pass after the Indic civilization survived repeated attempts over a millennium to wipe out its existence and memory? 

The colonial mind of ‘modern’ Indians

Perhaps, there is no one answer to this question. But it would be fair to assume that despite having overthrown the overt foreign yoke in 1947, the yet-to-be-decolonized Indian mind is significantly responsible for the state of affairs, which is the assessment of several scholars of Indic origin as well as Indic-minded scholars of foreign origin. The typical “modern” Indian mind still seeks validation on benchmarks set by the erstwhile colonial master, which it has internalized so deep within its consciousness that it has come to accept them as not just the normal but also the ideal. So much so, that to this incorrigibly colonized mind, every strain of Indic thought is boorish, superstitious, casteist, misogynist, elitist and unscientific, each of which is an irrebuttable presumption.

In other words, neither facts nor logic can overcome these presumptions of the enslaved mind, which is why the “modern, secular and scientific” Indian mind has cut out for itself the noble task of civilizing the native. Of course, the qualifier is that this intervention is reserved exclusively for adherents of Indic faith systems. Everyone else is immune and exempt from this noble venture since (a) either they don’t need it or (b) such intervention cannot be fit in the curious definition of secularism that this enslaved mind has fashioned for itself. 

It is this enslaved mind’s need to identify itself as a “constitutional patriot” because it sees nothing of value before the coming into existence of the Constitution, and therefore, the only way forward, according to it, is to ruthlessly sever all ties with the Indic past, and if possible, re-interpret or even invent the past through its colonized civilizing lens. Nothing would warm the cockles of this mind more than performing the act of severance with the Indic past in halal-compliant fashion, for it crinkles its nose at the very mention of jhatka. How is this long-winded farrago (courtesy Shashi Tharoor pronounced with an accent) relevant to the introduction of the piece? Let us discuss.

The legal system’s approach to ‘civilise the natives’

Well, of all Indian institutions, the Indian legal system’s approach and attitude to Indic thoughts, traditions and institutions, in fact to the Indic way of life itself, is that of a colonized mind with a penchant for “reform”, which is the politically correct term for a patronizing intervention to civilize the native, and which is clearly a never-ending exercise. Almost every aspect of the Indic way of life, right from marriage to succession to religious traditions and even festivals, has come under the scanner of this uber-reformist exercise, more often than not without understanding the Indic perspective, but on occasion rightly so without a doubt. After all, even a broken clock is right twice a day. 

One school of thought traces the problem of the colonized Indian legal system right to the Constitution. To be honest, I am not sure if this diagnosis is correct. That does not mean that I am sure the diagnosis is incorrect. I am genuinely undecided. That said, if I was forced to take a position, I would have to say that I am of the tentative and inconclusive view that the problem is largely attributable to the training imparted to those who interpret and enforce the Constitution and in general the laws of the country.

The early foundations of ignorance

In your formative years, when you still have oodles of idealism and a streak of rebellion, if you are taught as part of legal education or otherwise that logic, reason, democratic values, free speech, fundamental rights, equality, the concept of rule of law, gender equality, the value of individual freedom, secularism, truth and justice are all foreign imports, and there is no attempt on the part of the curriculum to even explore or encourage exploration of the contribution of Indic thought to these areas, you naturally assume that this civilization has had nothing of value to contribute on these fronts. 

This coupled with the unadulterated venom that is spewed against the Indic way of life through history and political science curricula in schools, colleges and law schools, which are invariably taught by individuals of Marxist persuasion, with no room for ideological diversity even for appearances sake, one should not be surprised when every Indic institution finds itself in the dock forced to prove its worth on alien anvils to an audience which starts with the presumption that you are unworthy of protection and existence, until proven otherwise, which is almost always never. Clearly, no repealment of any existing legislation alone is going to undo the incalculable but hopefully not irreparable harm that a brazenly colonial approach to legal education and law has caused to the Indic society, its worldview and its way of life.

The solution

What, then, is the solution? A complete and simultaneous overhaul of history, political science and legal curricula, regardless of the tsunami of backlash it is bound to elicit from well-entrenched individuals and institutions of Marxist persuasion, who have come to view these domains as their fiefdoms, and which are out of bounds for anyone with a different ideological proclivity, so much for their professed love of dissent, diversity and free thought. Disappointingly, the draft National Education Policy 2019 is woefully inadequate in its analysis/diagnosis of and a prescription for legal education, which is limited to a single paragraph, despite the fact that law is all-pervasive and impacts every sphere of life, and so does the Supreme Court.

Will the Centre show the boldness and preparation it has on Article 370, in revamping legal education and allied subjects to do justice to the Indic civilization’s profound and universalist contribution to truth and justice, which is the essence of Dharma? – OpIndia, 15 August 2019

› J. Sai Deepak is an engineer turned lawyer. He is an arguing counsel in the Supreme Court of India and Delhi High Court. 

Supreme Court of India

Book Review: Flight of Deities and Rebirth of Temples – Koenraad Elst

Meenakshi Jain

Dr Koenraad Elst

Even in their hour of defeat, Hindus kept on trying to save as much as possible of their civilization. They didn’t take it lying down. They struggled, and in most of India, they ultimately won. – Dr Koenraad Elst

Dr Meenakshi Jain, Senior Fellow at the Indian Council of Social Science Research and former Associate Professor, Delhi University, has established herself as one of India’s principal historians. Most conspicuous and most relevant to the public debate have been her books on the Ayodhya controversy (judicially not yet ended at the time of this writing) and on Sati, long extinct but still used as a stick to beat Hinduism with.

Her present book, Flight of Deities and Rebirth of Temples, is essentially a sequel to the temple destruction part of her own work on Ayodhya and to the late historian Sita Ram Goel’s list of temple destructions across India plus analysis of their doctrinal justification (Hindu Temples: What Happened to Them, 1990-91). Now that we know about the large-scale and long-lasting campaign of iconoclasm, this book discusses what happened next: what did Hindus do to save what could be saved when unbeatable Muslim armies came in to destroy their society, beginning with their places and objects of worship?

The destruction of Hindu murtis and temples was sometimes met with clever ways of spiriting the deities to safety, and was mostly the beginning of long periods of struggle to somehow maintain or restore the tradition, including the worship of the targeted deities.

Fallacies

For a proper reporting on and analysis of temple destructions and the reaction to it, several fallacies have to be pin-pricked. One is the thesis by Irfan Habib, Richard Eaton, et al. that the perpetrators motive was only economic. This secularist narrative flies in the face of the Muslims’ own testimony ever since Mohammed himself, for whom idol-breaking was a central practice affirming loyalty to Allah alone.

Another fallacy is that Hindu temples were mainly political institutions, which flies in the face of the Hindu awe for the sacred, to be seen with your own eyes in Hindu temples even today. Conspicuous in this analysis is “the absence of any reference to the Hindu notion of the sacred. … What prompted ordinary devotees, far removed from political processes, to endanger their lives to protect deities enshrined in temples? And why were temples rebuilt again and again, even in the absence of Hindu kings?”

Yet another is that Hindu kings practised iconoclasm themselves, as if the handful of cases of idol abduction (to continue the idol’s worship in the victor’s own temple, allowing also the loser to continue the deity’s worship at the original site through a new idol) were the same in magnitude and especially in intention as the millionfold icon destructions as signs of the annihilation of the defeated religion. The ridicule gets complete with the recent addition that the re-use of temple parts displayed in mosques (like the walls of the Kashi Vishvanath or the pillars inside the late Babri Masjid) were nothing but a deliberate and creative “engagement with local traditions of temple architecture” by the mosque builders.

Hiding the icon

The Hindu practices described in this book refute these stories. In literally many thousands of cases, idols from every sampradaya were spirited away and buried. Cases are related of areas where hundreds of idols have been found buried face down, sometimes by temple priests who preserved the memory of their whereabouts, but in the modern age far more often coincidentally by villagers or by construction workers. One case I came across myself is the Brahma Temple in Varanasi, where the murti was hurriedly thrown under water and later re-installed.

The story of many icons is followed in detail. Thus, “during Muslim attacks, many idols … were saved from defilement by being hidden in saddle bags of people fleeing into the desert.” Often they were then re-installed in makeshift temples in still-safe territory. In Mathura, when Aurangzeb ordered mass iconoclasm in 1669, “the royal decree led to a mass migration of deities. … Temples were built for the deity in flight … the images were consecrated in a hurriedly raised structure. … It was the first temple without a shikhara, without a mandovara and without a pitha, all obligatory as per the shastras. The threat from Aurangzeb had made it difficult to adhere to shastric injunctions.”

In auspicious circumstances and in the geographical margins, Hindus sometimes managed to save the essential by means of delays and dissimulations, e.g. when Aurangzeb wanted Jagannath Puri destroyed, the Raja of Khurda prevailed upon the Subedar in Cuttack to mislead the emperor: “some minor structures were pulled down and a replica image of Jagannath was sent to Aurangzeb.” Later the emperor found out about it, deposed the Subedar, but the priests managed to wall in the temple and keeping it closed for years, but allowing a priest in through a secret entrance to continue the daily rituals.

In 1659 Afzal Khan desecrated the Bhavani image in Tuljapur, at least according to the Sabhasad Bakhar, a Marathi chronicle on Shivaji, which adds an apparition of the vengeful goddess correctly predicting his impending death. Probably more credence can be given to another chronicle, the Chitnis Bakhar, which states that “the priests managed to remove the deity to safety … to Pratapgarh fort.” Here, Meenakshi Jain exercises a historian’s caution when she considers both, including the possibility that the finally reconsecrated murti may have been a replica: “Whether the image was old or new, the pitha (place of residence of the deity) was ancient.”

Similar stories can be told of Christian iconoclasm, as when the Portuguese “destroyed an ancient temple called a pagoda”. What happened was that “in 1560, the Temple of Saptanatha was destroyed by the Portuguese and a chapel constructed at the site with material from the demolished temple. A devotee took the linga to Bicholim, where it was consecrated. Subsequently the Maratha leader, Shivaji, had a temple built for the linga.” (p.216-217)

In the easiest cases they could negotiate the return of stolen-but-not-destroyed idols, e.g: Akbar, patron saint of Nehruvian secularism, was not so innocent regarding iconoclasm, but when he needed the military aid of his new ally Rai Singh, the latter “succeeded in obtaining from Akbar the 1050 Jain idols looted from Sirohi in 1576. He dedicated them to the Chintamani Temple in Bikaner.”

Some temples or other centres of worship were reconstructed again and again, or kept alive even if not architecturally. Hindus kept on coming to Rama’s birthplace, celebrating his birth in the open air even when their temple had been demolished. The Somnath Temple was rebuilt eight times. The Kashi Vishwanath Temple was demolished a first time by Qutbuddin Aibak in 1194 but became “the prime symbol of Hindu resistance: they repeatedly rebuilt as Muslims continually destroyed.”

Art smuggling

Sometimes, the story of iconoclasm ends up mixed with a different problem: art smuggling. Thus, villagers found a Nataraja statue buried in Shivapuram (Tanjore) and gave it to the local temple. When sent for cleaning, “a copy was surreptitiously made and returned to the temple as the cleaned image”, while the original was “eventually purchased by the Norton Simon Foundation in 1973”.

In the Danish colony of Tranquebar in 1799, construction workers discovered a series of Chola bronzes buried five centuries earlier during an invasion by the Delhi Sultanate. They were judged too thoroughly desecrated by the local Brahmins and ceremonially entrusted to the local governor, who returned the favour with gifts to the then-existing temples. Later in life he took them home, and they are now in the National Museum of Denmark. ”From being objects of veneration in majestic temples, to being buried for centuries, to being transported to foreign shores, it has been quite a journey!” For once, this expatriate art has no history of being stolen.

Another modern problem is the sorry fate of temples at the hands of “atheists, sceptics, rationalists and unscrupulous idol smugglers”. Lust for financial gain often mixes with ideological motives to usurp temple lands or the income from them, and to siphon off funds meant for their upkeep. But that is another story, one that the ancestors who sacrificed so much to save them wouldn’t understand.

Doctrinal foundation

Like iconoclasm itself, the defence against it had a doctrinal foundation. Temple hagiographies and site histories discuss the issue, that had become an acute problem and an ever-looming eventuality. In the Ekalinga Mahatmya, devoted to the Eklingji Temple in Mewar, Vayu tells Narada that this is part of the eternal struggle between gods and demons, and advises to simply replace a destroyed murti with a newly-consecrated one, for which “stone images should be preferred to costly metal ones”.

The Vaishnava priestly handbook Vimanarcanakalpa “recommended interment of images in times of danger”.  It prescribes ritual rules for this, such as appeasing the Earth Goddess who is asked to give hospitality to Vishnu, and transferring the icon’s energy to a bundle of grass that was to serve as a temporary stand-in.

It was known to temple-destroyers that Hindus had a way of reviving idol-worship, e.g. the elderly Aurangzeb ordered an inspection around Somnath, that he had earlier had destroyed once more, to see whether “Hindus have revived worship”, in which case every trace of it should be uprooted.

Down with defeatism

The theme of this book, the Hindu reaction to temple destruction, is a novelty in Indian historiography. That already would make it a path-breaker, a milestone specifically for historians. But it is of even greater importance for Hindu society as a whole.

Among Hindus conscious of the Islamic atrocities, there is all too often a defeatist streak: “Look what happened to us. We Hindus have always been defeated by foreign invaders. Ultimately it was only yet other foreign invaders, in this case the British, who could defeat our conquerors.” This, of course, is not true. The scenario only happened to work out like that in Bengal, where the Hindu population did indeed applaud the British victory in Plassey (1757) over the Moghul forces. In the rest of India, Moghul power was pushed back by the Marathas, and in their wake the Rajputs, Jats and Sikhs.

But moreover, there was this constant resistance first brought to the attention of us moderns in this book. Even in their hour of defeat, Hindus kept on trying to save as much as possible of their civilization. They didn’t take it lying down. They struggled, and in most of India, they ultimately won.  – Pragyata, 28 March 2019

» Orientalist Dr Koenraad Elst studied at the Katholieke Universiteit in Leuven, Belgium, obtaining MA degrees in Sinology, Indology and Philosophy. After a research stay at Banaras Hindu University, he did original fieldwork for a doctorate on Hindu nationalism. He has earned laurels and ostracism with his findings on hot items like Islam, multiculturalism, the secular state, the roots of the Indo-European, the Ayodhya temple-mosque dispute and Mahatma Gandhi’s legacy.

 


 

Was India’s knowledge elitist? – Michel Danino

Book Knowledge

Prof Michel DaninoThomas Babington Macaulay … declared that traditional Indian knowledge consists of “false History, false Astronomy, false Medicine … in company with a false religion”, many Indian academics and intellectuals have implicitly or explicitly accepted that knowledge from the West is the real thing. – Prof Michel Danino

Indian civilization’s obsession with knowledge was our last “master idea,” with endless and still poorly explored contributions in nearly every field (“India as a Knowledge Creator”, The New Indian Express, 29 November). But there is another side to the story, which in many ways characterizes the paradox of Indian culture.

No Indian university, IIT or IIM has a regular, comprehensive course on Indian knowledge systems (IKS) (though IIT Gandhinagar made a beginning a few years ago). There are, no doubt, a few scattered courses on systems of ancient science (IIT Bombay and Kharagpur), and a few universities teach courses on Indian philosophical systems or even “Indology,” whatever that means. By and large, however, indifference, neglect, or hostility to IKS is the rule.

All three are part of India’s colonial legacy: ever since Thomas Babington Macaulay, a powerful British figure of the first half of the nineteenth century, declared that traditional Indian knowledge consists of “false History, false Astronomy, false Medicine … in company with a false religion”, many Indian academics and intellectuals have implicitly or explicitly accepted that knowledge from the West is the real thing.

Our philosophy courses cover mostly European philosophy; the same goes with psychology (from which yogic systems of self-knowledge are generally excluded); contemporary Indian literature is often studied; classical texts rarely are. Students of Ayurveda are compelled to devote much time to modern medicine, but not vice versa. Political scientists generally know nothing of the systems of polity that prevailed in ancient India. And so forth. In 1946, the freedom-fighter and statesman K.M. Munshi wrote: “Modern education in India assumes that Indian culture is dead, only requiring post-mortem dissection, and that a new culture can be developed by imitating the West. No attention is paid to the importance of a ceaseless reintegration.”

That accounts for the indifference and neglect. But why hostility? I see it essentially as a survival of the colonial-cum-missionary stereotype that Indian knowledge systems were “elitist”, “upper caste” when not “Brahminical”, and denied to the lower castes and “untouchables”. Such declarations are usually based on a few Dharma Shastra texts prohibiting the teaching of the Vedas to lower castes. Granted, those texts and a few more were Brahminical and set down a caste-based order for the society.

However, the said society was far from circumscribed or defined by a few orthodox texts. A careful look at the mechanisms of transmission of knowledge gives a very different picture. “Brahminical” texts of mathematics produced number systems and calculation methods that were, in time, adopted by the population at large, down to the carpenter and the farmer. Astronomy created calendars that punctuated people’s lives and stood behind astrology and the ever-popular panchangas (almanacs).

Architecture was rooted in Vedic principles but practised by Vishvakarmas: technically Shudras, they often regarded themselves as higher than the Brahmins in their application of those concepts to temple construction and iconography (for the making of bronze or stone images), and themselves wrote manuscripts in both Sanskrit and regional languages. So too, texts of medicine, metallurgy, agriculture, animal and plant treatment, water management and other civil engineering techniques, were often written by the practitioners of those disciplines rather than by “upper caste” theoreticians.

All this points to a sustained, intense and complex dialogue between the Shastras (the theories or systems) and the popular practices (loka parampara). From the Ayurvedic classic which declares that for the knowledge of medicinal plants one should consult the hunter or the tribal, to Kautilya’s Arthashastra which explains how the quality of a metal ore is to be assessed through its taste and smell, this dialogue has clearly enriched the two sides, if at all there are sides. In literature and the arts, it is the much-discussed marga-desi interplay, or classic (generally pan-Indian and Sanskritic) vs. popular (regional and often non-Sanskritic) texts and art forms. Again, it is a story of mutual enrichment, with classical forms often emerging from popular ones and eventually influencing them back. This is perceptible in the epic genre (Mahabharata and Ramayana), in all performing arts (drama, dance, music), and in sculpture. A scholar friend of mine has compared this interaction to the double helix of the DNA molecule; as the helices, though joined by numerous bridges, never meet, I prefer the symbol of Hermes’s caduceus with its two intertwined snakes.

In 1920, Sri Aurobindo wrote to his younger brother, “I believe that the main cause of India’s weakness is not subjection, nor poverty, nor a lack of spirituality or Dharma, but a diminution of thought-power, the spread of ignorance in the motherland of Knowledge. Everywhere I see an inability or unwillingness to think—incapacity of thought or ‘thought-phobia’.” The last term perfectly applies to our cultural negationists of the day. Indian knowledge systems were not “elitist” or exclusivist, even if specialized fields did exist for the various castes. Overall, while they invoked lofty concepts, they were often remarkably pragmatic. No, they did not tell us how to construct vimanas or nuclear weapons; instead, they sought to equip the society with all the tools it needed for a complete development in the material, aesthetic, intellectual, ethical and spiritual fields. – The New Indian Express, 31 December 2018

» Prof Michel Danino is a French-born Indian author, scholar of ancient India, and visiting professor at IIT Gandhinagar.

Vidhyarambham ceremony at Santhigiri Ashram


 

India as a knowledge creator – Michel Danino

India was once the world's greatest knowledge creator.

Prof Michel DaninoThe India that was a creator of knowledge, has become a consumer rather than a supplier in the market. Two centuries of colonial dominance certainly played a part, but we have enjoyed seven decades of independence. Clearly, as a nation we have not done justice to Indian knowledge systems, which no Indian university teaches today except in bits and pieces. – Prof Michel Danino

Launched with great fanfare in 2005, India’s National Knowledge Commission claimed to work “towards a Knowledge Society”, an objective which Dr. Manmohan Singh, then prime minister, repeated on many public platforms. It sounded quite noble, but few noticed how it implied that India was not yet a “knowledge society”, and perhaps never was one. Paradoxically, such a statement reflects a profound ignorance of the cult of—almost obsession for—knowledge in pre-modern India.

Indeed, India is the only ancient civilisation where knowledge was deified, with the honour going to Sarasvati. (Other cultures’ pantheons did often include knowledge, but only as a peripheral attribute.) Now, this fine move perhaps does not take us very far in practice—how do we assess whether knowledge was genuinely worshipped, or at least revered? We have a choice of methods; two will help us here, deviating from the stock answer that “Veda” comes from vid, or “knowledge”, that Upanishads view the knowledge of the Self as the highest knowledge, or that moksha is really liberation from ignorance—an objective shared by the Buddha. All that is fine, and perhaps essential; in the nineteenth century, however, it helped stereotype Indians as being “contemplative” or “otherworldly.” Let us be, therefore, crudely empirical.

A first answer comes from estimates of the number of manuscripts available in Indian libraries, repositories or private collections. They run into millions, with the U.S. scholar David Pingree once reaching an educated guess of 30 millions. This figure is but a tiny fraction of the mass of production over the last three millenniums, since numerous texts disappeared owing either to destruction (Nalanda’s library is an oft-cited case), the vagaries of time, neglect or obsolescence. A tiny fraction, again, of this figure has been published, and a much tinier fraction translated into some other language. We are therefore judging the mass of knowledge created in India by the tip of the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

What do those manuscripts deal with? Every topic under the Indian sun: philosophies, systems of yoga, grammar, language, logic, debate, poetics, aesthetics, cosmology, mythology, ethics, literature of all genres from poetry to historical tradition, performing and non-performing arts, architecture, mathematics, astronomy, astrology, chemistry, metallurgy, botany, zoology, geology, medical systems, governance, administration, water management, town planning, civil engineering, ship making, agriculture, polity, martial arts, games, brain teasers, omens, ghosts, accounting, and much more—there are even manuscripts on how to preserve manuscripts! The production was colossal and in almost every regional language (with, expectedly, Sanskrit having the lion’s share).

The second answer comes from formal or informal educational institutions, the humble gurukula or the large Buddhist monasteries. A great concern in imparting knowledge—both inner and outer—is perceptible through a number of texts and inscriptions, and struck several European travellers to India. The Italian writer and musician Pietro Della Valle reported in 1623, during his journey across Asia, “They [Indians] are particularly anxious and attentive to instruct their children to read and to write. Education with them is an early and an important business in every family.” Two centuries later, Bishop Reginald Heber, who spent a few years in India, noted, “The Hindus are brave, courteous, intelligent, most eager for knowledge and improvement.”

If India was such a creator of knowledge, how has it become a consumer rather than a supplier in this market? Two centuries of colonial dominance certainly played a part, but have we not enjoyed seven decades of independence? Clearly, as a nation we have not done justice to Indian knowledge systems, which no Indian university today teaches, except for a fragment here and a snippet there. Many scholars, Indian and non-Indian alike, have flagged this debilitating lack of self-confidence in our creative abilities, and have demanded a place for the best of classical knowledge to be given due place in our academic spaces—to no effect as yet.

Exactly a hundred years ago, Sri Aurobindo wrote: “When we look at the past of India, what strikes us … is her stupendous vitality, her inexhaustible power of life and joy of life, her almost unimaginably prolific creativeness. For three thousand years at least,—it is indeed much longer,—she has been creating abundantly and incessantly, lavishly, with an inexhaustible many-sidedness, republics and kingdoms and empires, philosophies and cosmogonies and sciences and creeds and arts and poems and all kinds of monuments, palaces and temples and public works, communities and societies and religious orders, laws and codes and rituals, physical sciences, psychic sciences, systems of Yoga, systems of politics and administration, arts spiritual, arts worldly, trades, industries, fine crafts—the list is endless and in each item there is almost a plethora of activity.” But that was in the past; the “inexhaustible many-sidedness” seems exhausted.

Even when India’s contribution to knowledge is somehow acknowledged, it has often been characterised as “elitist”: it was reserved, we are told, for the social elite and denied to the lower castes or the casteless. Does this serious charge withstand scrutiny? This will be the object of our next exploration, and our next master idea of Indian civilisation. – The New Indian Express, 29 November 2018

» Prof Michel Danino is a French-born Indian author, scholar of ancient India, and visiting professor at IIT Gandhinagar.

Village school in UP


 

Ram Temple: Why such a long wait? – Balbir Punj

Ram Temple in Court

Balbir PunjWhile the Ayodhya dispute is presented just as a title dispute for a small piece of land between two warring groups in a court of law, in fact it is a fight waged by a wounded civilisation to reclaim its original glory and self-respect. – Balbir Punj

Within less than two decades of raising the demand for a separate homeland, the Muslims of the subcontinent who put forth the demand managed to vivisect the country and get for themselves a theocratic Pakistan. In contrast, the majority Hindus have been struggling to reclaim Lord Ram’s birthplace in Ayodhya for the last few hundred years, with little success.

The two situations, however, are not comparable, either in their scale or their ramifications. The creation of Pakistan led to the killing of thousands and displacement of millions of innocents. Islamic Pakistan’s sole agenda since its birth has been to destabilise and dismember residual India. Rebuilding the Ram Temple in Ayodhya, in the manner of Gujarat’s Somnath, would not have hurt anyone. Instead its reconstruction would have removed a major irritant in Hindu-Muslim relations. And the proposition still holds good.

How did Pakistan become a reality in such a short time-span? Firstly, barring a few notable exceptions, the entire Muslim community rallied behind Mohammad Ali Jinnah after he articulated the demand for a separate Islamic nation in the 1930s.

Secondly, the then establishment—the Britishers—supported Jinnah’s bloody endeavour for their own strategic reasons. Since Jinnah’s divisive goal overlapped with the Left’s ideological paradigm, Communists happily worked with the Muslim League for a shared objective of dismembering India.

In contrast, the then Congress leadership, though opposed to Partition, lacked the courage to fight the divisive stratagem of the British-Muslim League-Left combine and meekly accepted it as a fait accompli. Have things changed for the better since Independence? If they have, the fate of the Ram Temple would not still be hanging in the balance.

Interestingly, the very caucus consisting of Communists, the Establishment and Islamic zealots, who worked for Pakistan’s creation, has also actively opposed the Ram Temple. The Establishment does not necessarily mean the party in power. It refers to the colonial mindset which pervades the ruling dispensation, the alienated English-educated and mostly Left-leaning elite that controls the bulk of the English media, academia, law and bureaucracy.

Despite the repeated destruction of four iconic temples—Somnath, Kashi, Mathura and Ayodhya—at the hands of Islamic invaders, the temples’ subsequent phoenix-like rise from the ashes sums up the indomitable spirit of people of the subcontinent and the struggle they put up against the 800 years of alien rule to save their timeless inclusive civilisation.

Mir Baqi, when he demolished the Ram Temple on Babur’s orders in 1528-29, did not bring down a mere building. He destroyed a value system. The Babri structure erected by him on that very site was not a place of worship, but an ideological statement by a barbarian victor to humiliate the vanquished. It was the defeat of pluralism at the hands of bigotry.

Ram is not only a deity worshipped by millions since aeons. His value system and life are intrinsically linked to the identity of the nation and civilisational ethos of pluralism and morality that define the Indian public and private life. While it is presented just as a title dispute for a small piece of land between two warring groups in a court of law, in fact it is a fight waged by a wounded civilisation to reclaim its original glory and self-respect.

How has the establishment dealt with issues relating to faith in India since Independence? In 1988, Salman Rushdie’s novel, The Satanic Verses, provoked protests from Islamic zealots in several countries, including India.  The government, under PM Rajiv Gandhi, feared a Muslim backlash and was the first in the world to ban Rushdie’s work [available online]. No legal or expert opinion was sought before denying non-Muslims (87 per cent of the population) their right to read the book, if they so wished.

The ban on the book was not based on merit, but was in deference to the supposed Muslim sentiments, or an abject surrender to a threat of violence by Islamic zealots. I am not sure if even all the Muslims in the country favoured such a ban. On 23 April 1985, the apex court in the Shah Bano case decided that a divorced Muslim woman was eligible for alimony from her husband. The Muslim orthodoxy took to the streets against it. Fearing a hostile reaction from Muslims, the Parliament hurriedly passed the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act 1986, effectively overturning the SC judgment.

The Noble Sanctuary in Jerusalem hosts Islam’s third holiest site, the al-Aqsa Mosque, and the Dome of the Rock, a seventh-century structure believed to be where the Prophet Mohammad ascended to heaven. The compound’s Western Wall, known as the Wailing Wall to Jews, is believed to be the last remnant of the Second Temple. The Islamic tradition refers to it as the al-Buraq Wall and believes it is where the Prophet tied the winged animal upon which he later ascended to the sky.

There have been numerous skirmishes and battles for the control of this site. In all such disputes, the Communists have always sided with the warring Muslims. But none has ever questioned the Muslim belief that the mosque was built over the Prophet’s footprint and other such beliefs.

But Hindus are asked for evidence in support of their belief that Ram was born on that very site in Ayodhya. And they are also asked to prove that there was a temple prior to the construction of the Babri Mosque, which they in fact have done. Can issues relating to matters of faith (and it applies to all religions) be put to test by any known tools or adjudicated by human institutions, including courts? – The New Indian Express, 15 November 2018

Balbir Punj is a columnist in New Delhi. He is a member of the Rajya Sabha representing the BJP.

Ram Janmabhumi Graphic

Ayodhya Dispute Timeline