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India’s troubled history- The Babri Masjid case

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Babri Masjid
Right wing Hindu activists demolishing the Babri masjid in 1992.
Hindutva groups demolish the Babri Masjid in 1992

The Babri Masjid case exposed the communal fault lines in India and its troubled history.  India has historically been home to multiple religions. But it also had an issue with religious conflict. This article looks at the impact of the Babri Masjid case in India.

Babri Masjid Steeped in History

First, let us look at the history of the Babri Masjid. This mosque is located in Ayodhya, a city in Uttar Pradesh, India. The Mughal ruler Babur built this mosque in 1528. Babur was the founder of the Mughal dynasty in India.

Centuries later in the winter of 1949, certain individuals placed idols inside the mosque. They then asked permission to conduct prayer services in the mosque. In 1950 litigation started. Consequently, the mosque’s interior was locked. Muslims lost access to their mosque.

Also Read: Communalism and Economic Marginalisation of Muslims

Subsequently, in 1984 right-wing parties took out processions in major cities in India. These processions often provoked riots. Later in 1986, the trial court granted Hindus permission to worship in the mosque. The situation in Ayodhya was tense. Police forces were deployed to protect the mosque.

But in 1992, a Hindu mob stormed the mosque and destroyed it. Following this event, the mob attacked the houses and businesses of Muslims in Ayodhya. The destruction of the Babri Masjid is one of the darkest days in Indian history.

Allahabad High Court’s Judgment

In the 2000s, the litigation is still ongoing. The Allahabad High Court took up this case due to its importance. The High ordered that the Archaeological Survey of India excavate the Babri Masjid site. The court wanted to determine if a temple lay underneath the remains of the mosque.

The Archaeological Survey released a controversial report stating there were remains of an ancient 12th-century temple. However, historians and archaeologists in India and around the world refuted this report.

Later on, in 2010, the Allahabad High Court delivered its judgment. The court divided the mosque and adjoining land into three parts. Two-thirds would go to the Hindu litigants and one-third to the Muslim litigants.

None of the litigants was happy with this outcome. All of the litigants in the Babri Masjid case approached the Indian Supreme Court.

Indian Supreme Court’s Babri Masjid Judgment  

Let us now look at how the Indian Supreme Court handled the Babri Masjid judgment.

Firstly there is the archaeological survey. This survey stated a mosque was built after demolishing a temple. The court rejected this part of the survey. The court found that the temple described in the report dated to the 12th century. However, the Babri Masjid was built 400 years later.

Secondly, there was nothing to show this 12th-century temple had anything to do with the mosque. The report didn’t conclusively say that portions of a temple were used to build the Babri Masjid.

So the Court concluded that there was no proof that a temple was destroyed. But this is where the table turns.

The Court then stated that the Muslim community was unable to show they had continuous possession of the mosque. So basically, the Muslim plaintiff was not able to show they had possession of the Babri Masjid from 1528 onwards. This is where logic and reason disappear.

Also Read: Islamophobia in India: The Hostile Treatment Against Muslims

The Court didn’t consider that the mosque was built by a Muslim ruler. Therefore, the Muslim community would use it for prayers.

How does one show that a mosque was used for worship in 1600, 1700, or 1800? Documents from that era are sparse and literacy rates in India were abysmal during that time period. Asking the Muslim plaintiffs to produce proof was an impossible task. Curiously, the Hindu plaintiffs were not subject to the same standard.

Verdict in the Babri Masjid case

The Indian Supreme Court came to the conclusion that the Hindu parties would get the entire land including the Babri Masjid. Whereas, the Muslims were awarded 5 acres in a separate location.

But, the issue is that this judgment was influenced by beliefs and faith rather than the law. The judgment comes to the conclusion that the site of the Babri Masjid was where Lord Rama was born. How the court comes to such a broad conclusion is mysterious. At best one can say some Hindus believe in this statement. But does it include every Indian?

Another question would be – why do the beliefs of Hindus hold greater merit than the beliefs of Muslims? The Muslim litigants in the case argued that their community was using the Babri Masjid as a mosque for centuries. This argument was based on their strongly held belief.

Now we need to remember how the dispute started. Initially, Hindu plaintiffs sought permission to worship within the premises of the mosque. Hindu mobs demolished the mosque in 1992. By 2019, the Muslim litigants lost their rights over the entire land.  

Conclusion

One thread connects these events. A BJP government was in power in the State of Uttar Pradesh in 1992. And the mosque was demolished in 1992. The controversial report of the Archaeological Survey came out when the BJP was in power in the centre. Later, the Supreme Court’s decision also occurred during the time of the present BJP government. The present agitations for demolishing mosques are also in states where the BJP is in power.

Normally in India, bureaucracy and the government tend to move at a snail’s pace. Yet within weeks of the judgment, the foundation stone for a new temple was laid. This ceremony at the site of the Babri Masjid was attended by the Prime Minister of India.

Also Read: Why Is Indian PM Modi’s Silent About Attacks Against Muslims?

We cannot ignore this link. A political party that is governing a diverse nation like India needs to look after everyone’s well-being. It cannot be only in the interests of one community. Even within the Hindu community. Most Hindus don’t care about these issues. It is only fringe elements that push these communal narratives.

Also Read: Video From Haryana Used to Create Communal Tensions

So one has to wonder, why a narrow and divisive approach is becoming the norm in India. Why is the country moving away from pluralism? Every Indian citizen has equal rights and deserves the same protection. The same principle should apply to religions as well.  

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Kashmiri Journalists Caught in the Battle of Narratives

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Kashmiri Journalists Caught in the Battle of Narratives

A proscribed militant outfit in Kashmir recently made anonymous online threats to over a dozen journalists belonging to several media organizations. The outfit published the threat on a website and people circulated it on social media. The Kashmiri journalists were accused of being “collaborators”. Five of the journalists who were threatened have already resigned.

Subsequently, the Jammu and Kashmir Police registered a case under the anti-terrorist law Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) and launched an investigation. On November 19, police raids were underway at the residences of journalists Gowhar Geelani, Qazi Shibli, Rashid Maqbool, Khalid Gul, Waseem Raja, Sajad Kralyari & militant Momin Gulzar, Mukhtar Baba and advocate Abu Adil Pandit.

The police alleged that The Resistance Front (TRF), which is an offshoot of Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), was behind the threat to journalists. The security agencies further found that journalist Mukhtar Baba was the mastermind behind putting out the list of journos accusing them of being informers for security forces. Baba, who is currently based in Turkey, is has worked as a journalist in Kashmir. He is familiar with the media environment in Kashmir. The police also revealed that Baba is very close to Pakistani intelligence agencies.

The police requested media houses “not to fall for sensationalism in discussing names of victims in reporting and also to behave responsibly and not endanger the safety and security of their fellow journalists”.

Battle of Narratives

The ongoing battle of narratives in Kashmir between pro-India and anti-India has created a false and dangerous binary in Kashmir. Journalists, who work for various media houses and newspapers in Kashmir, increasingly face themselves choosing sides between anti-India and pro-India narratives. Choosing sides has led journalists into a trap. If they report and support the pro-India narrative, militant groups accuse them of being collaborators. If they report anti-India narrative, the Indian security agencies accuse them of supporting terrorism in the region. In this vicious cycle, many journalists have lost their lives, and many are languishing in jails.

Also Read: Political Activities Resume in Kashmir after Three Years

Kashmiri Journalists Face Killings and Jail

The same Let killedpProminent Kashmiri journalist Shujaat Bukhari in 2018 in Srinagar. The police alleged that Sheikh Sajad alias Sajjad Gul was responsible for his killing.

In February this year, the police booked and arrested Fahad Shah, the Editor-in-chief of the online news magazine, ‘The Kashmir Walla’, under anti-terrorism law and sedition for his reporting on Kashmir. He continues to be in jail. His online magazine faces several cases for reporting controversial news. The security agencies have alleged that Fahad was propagating fake news through his portal.

In August 2018, the police arrested Aasif Sultan, an assistant editor of the magazine Kashmir Narrator, under the anti-terror law. The police accused him of “harbouring known militants”.

There are several other stories of Kashmiri journalists being harassed by militants and police alike. While militants make death threats to journalists, the security agencies in Kashmir arrest and intimidate the journalists. There are several cases where chilling details of threat and intimidation of journalists by police have emerged. 

In October this year, Indian authorities prevented Pulitzer-winning Kashmiri journalist Sanna Irshad Mattoo from travelling to the US. Mattoo, a freelance photojournalist, was part of a Reuters team that won the Pulitzer Prize for feature photography for their coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic in India. She was flying to the US to receive the award. Earlier in July this year, Indian authorities prevented Mattoo from travelling to Paris.

This was not the first time that Indian authorities prevented a Kashmiri journalist from flying abroad. Several other journalists were prohibited from flying.

Also Read: India Gags-up Media in Kashmir

Journalists in Dilemma

The threats by the militants and the harassment by the Indian agencies have put Kashmiri journalists in dilemma. They do not know when their reporting will invoke the wrath of Indian agencies or the militants. It is a huge risk to invoke the wrath of any one of them.

As a result, political reporting in Kashmir has become very difficult. Various news agencies, in order to evade the binary, do not cover political issues. They just restrict their reporting highlighting societal issues. 

Hence, in this battle of narratives, objective political reporting has become the real victim.

Also Read: The Rise of Hybrid Militants in Kashmir

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The Forgotten Jammu Massacre

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Jammu massacre during the partition of Indian subcontinent

In November 1947, thousands of Muslims were murdered in Jammu by paramilitaries under the command of Maharaja Hari Singh’s army, the Hindu Dogra ruler of Jammu and Kashmir. Although the precise number of victims in the killings that lasted for two months is unknown, estimates range from 20,000 to 237,000. Nearly half a million Muslims were compelled to flee across the border into the recently formed country of Pakistan. These Muslims had to settle in the part of Kashmir that is under Pakistan’s administration. The massacre of Muslims in Jammu and the forced migration of others set off a chain of events that included a war between India and Pakistan, two newly independent countries. These incidents also gave rise to the Kashmir issue. The massacres occurred as part of a British-designed strategy to divide the subcontinent into India and Pakistan, as millions of Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs crossed the border from one side to the other.

An Orchestrated Massacre

Before the two-decade-long massacre against Jammu’s Muslim majority really began, The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) leaders from Amritsar met in secret with the Maharaja and his officials. They chose Poonch as the beginning place for the massacre of Muslims because of its record for fierce resistance. A two decade long and horrifying anti-Muslim pogrom began with the murder of a herdsman in the Panj Peer shrine and a Muslim labourer in the centre of Jammu city in the first week of September. Extremist Hindus and Sikhs committed the murders with the help and complicity of the Maharaja Hari Singh-led armies of the Dogra State. The RSS leaders and workers were complicit in organising and carrying out the atrocities.

Idrees Kanth, a fellow at the International Institute of Social History in Amsterdam who studied the history of Kashmir in the 1940s, told Al Jazeera that the immediate impact (of partition) was seen in Jammu. “The Muslim subjects from different parts of Jammu province were forcibly displaced by the Dogra Army in a programme of expulsion and murder carried out over three weeks between October-November 1947,”.

The Dogra Army personnel started evicting Muslim peasants from Jammu province in the middle of October. The majority of the refugees were housed in refugee camps in the districts of Sialkot, Jhelum, Gujrat, and Rawalpindi after being directed on foot toward West Punjab, which would eventually become a part of Pakistan.

On November 5, Kanth claimed about the Dogra Army forces’ planned evacuation of Muslims that  “Instead of sending them to Sialkot, as they had been promised, the trucks drove them to wooded hills of Rajouri districts of Jammu, where they were executed.”

Also Read: How Practical is the Secular Democracy of India? Curbing of Religious Freedom in Kashmir

Demographic Changes

After the deaths and expulsion, the Muslims, who made up more than 60% of the population in the Jammu region, became a minority. According to a story from The Times, London, dated August 10, 1948: “2,37,000 Muslims were systematically exterminated – unless they escaped to Pakistan along the border – by the forces of the Dogra State headed by the Maharaja in person and aided by Hindus and Sikhs. This happened in October 1947, five days before the Pathan invasion and nine days before the Maharaja’s accession to India.”.

According to historians, the executions carried out by the Sikh and Hindu ruler’s armies were part of a “state sponsored genocide” to alter Jammu’s demographics, which had a predominately Muslim population.

Reports mention that Muslims who earlier were the majority (61 percent) in the Jammu region became a minority as a result of the Jammu massacre and subsequent migration.

According to PG Rasool, the author of a book The Historical Reality of Kashmir Dispute “The massacre of more than two lakh (two hundred thousands) Muslims was state-sponsored and state supported. The forces from Patiala Punjab were called in, RSS was brought to communalise the whole scenario and kill Muslims.”

Also Read: India Revives Controversial Village Defence Committees (VDCs) in Jammu and Kashmir

Covering up of the Jammu Massacre

While it is unknown how many people were killed during the two-month-long killing spree, Horace Alexander’s report from The Spectator on January 16, 1948, is frequently cited. Alexander claimed that 200,000 people had died and that nearly 500,000 people had been displaced across the border into the recently formed country of Pakistan and the region of Kashmir that it controls.

India has ever since tried to free itself from the accountability of the past. The Jammu massacre has not only been left out of J&K’s historical narratives by the Indian state, but it has also been openly denied in its entirety.

Khurram Parvez, a noted human rights defender in Kashmir, told Al Jazeera that the ongoing conflict in Kashmir has its roots in 1947 massacre. “It is deliberately forgotten. Actually, the violence of that massacre in 1947 continues. Those who were forced to migrate to Pakistan have never been allowed to return,” he said.

Also Read: The Rise of Hybrid Militants in Kashmir

What Does the Jammu Massacre mean for Kashmir today?

The Jammu massacre gave India the opportunity to rewrite history, therefore relieving the Indian government from owning up to any responsibility for the atrocity. The Indian government is attempting to replicate this pattern in the Kashmir valley by systematically killing and exterminating Muslims and then covering it up. As more and more Indians obtain Kashmiri citizenship and are granted the ability to vote in state elections, this provides the necessary motive and encouragement for non-Kashmiris to relocate to Kashmir. While the right-wing BJP government has been milking the targeted killings of Kashmiri pandits in Kashmir. The communal violence against Muslims and the Jammu Massacre is the least talked about and written about in the history of the region.

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What is wrong with BJP’s Appropriation of Sardar Patel?

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BJP is appropriating Patel

It was Sardar Vallabhai Patel’s 147th birth anniversary last week. Patel worked with Mahatma Gandhi as a freedom fighter during India’s anti-colonial struggle and served as independent India’s first Deputy Prime minister and Home Minister under Jawahar Lal Nehru. 

What is Patel’s Legacy?

In Srinagar, on National Infantry Day, union home minister Rajnath Singh mentioned that what we started on August 5 2019, will end with integrating what he termed Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK) and Gilgit-Baltistan with the rest of India. He added that this would fulfill the dream of the National Unity of Sardar Vallabhai Patel. A couple of years back, Prime Minister Narendra Modi mentioned him in both houses of the Indian Parliament. Taking a dig at the opposition, he said that India would not have faced the issue of Jammu and Kashmir had Patel been India’s first Prime Minister. He questioned why Congress does not own him and his legacy. Signaling that the owner of his legacy is BJP, the question is, what is Patel’s legacy? Is it the same picture that BJP is painting? 

Also Read: Gujrat Riots: Has Indian Democracy Breathed its Last?

Patel Banned RSS

From building the Statue of Unity to declaring his birth anniversary as National Unity Day, the ruling party BJP embracing him today makes Patel a contested figure who openly opposed the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s (RSS) activities. BJP’s forerunner is RSS, its ideological parent, and Patel banned RSS right after Gandhi’s assassination. “India is a secular country and it will be nothing else. There is no doubt in my mind that the extreme section of the Hindu Mahasabha was involved in the conspiracy. The activities of the RSS constituted a clear threat to the existence of the government and the state. Our reports show that those activities, despite the ban, have not died down. Indeed as time has marched on the RSS circles are becoming more defiant and are indulging in their subversive activities in an increasing measure,” remarked Patel in a letter to Hindu Mahasabha leader Syama Prasad Mukherjee in 1948. Therefore, we must know the BJP’s ironic yearning to convey that it is the only party concerned about Sardar Patel. The BJP is an outfit which does not have the greatest freedom-fighting heritage—so going ahead and settling down for Patel, who conveniently fits all the parameters of a freedom fighter and strong mass leader and not having Gandhi or Nehru as a surname. Thus, owning a stalwart, even from the pantheon of Congress, has become obvious. 

Over the years BJP has created a sense that Congress has tried removing Patel’s name from history. The claim is ironic in that last year in February, the ruling BJP chose to rename the Motera cricket stadium in Ahmedabad, which had been given Patel’s name, to Narendra Modi Stadium.

Also Read: India’s Gulf Trade and Ties: How Hindutva Hatred is Harming India’s Economy?

Patel and Kashmir

The BJP’s portrayal of Patel as someone who unified erstwhile princely states seems far-fetched regarding the accession of Jammu and Kashmir to Indian dominion. Once the Partition Plan was announced, Congress and Muslim League engaged in high politics. The major Princely states aimed for relative independence instead of joining either of the newly formed dominions. VP Menon, Secretary to the Ministry of states under Vallabhai Patel, came up with the idea of acceding to Indian dominion on three subjects; foreign affairs, defence, and communication. This would give these states relative autonomy in deciding on other subjects on their own.

Most princely states joined the Indian dominion with the same sense of autonomy; however, Hyderabad, Junagarh, and Kashmir held out. The government of India, after a lot of internal deliberations, offered to hold a Plebiscite in Junagarh. The point is that the idea of a referendum was there even before the question of Kashmir popped up. In November 1947, M A Jinnah shot down the offer of holding referendums in the three princely states. Jinnah, Governor General of Pakistan, says why do not we exchange Junagarh with Kashmir? The real question is, would Patel have allowed giving Kashmir to Pakistan? In the rounds of dialogues with Pakistan, Patel offered an exchange of Hyderabad with Kashmir. So the BJP’s claim that Kashmir would have entirely been part of India falls apart. At this point, he was ready for Kashmir to become part of Pakistan. In his book Integration of Indian states, Menon mentions that “He went so far as to tell the Maharaja (king of Kashmir) that if he acceded to Pakistan, India would not take it amiss and that he had a firm assurance from Sardar Patel himself.” The aim is to prove how uncomfortable Patel was with Kashmir joining India, given the political environment at the time.

The case is convincing. Despite Prime Minister Modi’s assertions to the contrary, Patel’s behaviour, attitude, and worldview did not align with the BJP. One can claim that there is a huge possibility that the first deputy prime minister disagreed with much of what is happening in India today.

Also Read: India’s troubled history- The Babri Masjid case

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