Ayodhya is in many ways greater than a sum of its parts. In mythology, the city was the capital of the Kausalya kingdom in ancient India and is said to be the birth place of Lord Rama. From mythology comes the very real and modern problem in the city of Ayodhya- the Babri Mosque debate.
Built in the mid-16th centrury, the Babri Mosque was destroyed in the Ayodhya riots in 1992, razed by politically driven Hindu nationalists who believed that mosque was built after destroying the temple that stood before to commemorate the birthplace of Lord Rama. The Liberhan Commission was started after the mosque was demolished and has the dubious distinction of being the longest running commission in Indian history. The commission’s report has been long awaited and its implications for India are far reaching. Some of the findings like the premeditated nature of the riots that demolished the mosque have been common knowledge for a while. Rather it is interesting to see how the ones responsible will be punished and whether it will used by the RSS or the BJP (the organizational and political arms of the Hindu nationalist movement in India) to cause further mayhem.
As the decision on the Babri title suit comes out this week, I kept thinking about the Ground Zero mosque controversy. In both cases, people have been politically mobilized by the construct of importance that is attached to physical location. The destruction of the mosque in Ayodhya caused ripples of violence to not only spread through the city but also the rest of the nation, particularly in Bombay (where the riots rended the very fabric of understanding in an immensely multicultural city and cost numerous lives). It has changed the way a country that thought of itself to be secular viewed itself and made the term “Hindu nationalism” into one that is commonplace in India. As the country figures how to deal with Kashmir and other separatist movements in the northeast, the idea that India is at the core a Hindu nation needs to be dispelled if there is any chance in addressing the main concern of these groups.
(Neither here nor there but is a Muslim community centre the same as as mosque? Just because both allow Muslims to congregate does not afford enough reason to stop its construction. I think subtle distinctions are important.)