Judgement for Ayodhya

Today, the Allahabad High Court in Lucknow, India announced its decisions in the Babri Masjid case, the controversial site that both Muslims and Hindus lay claim to in Ayodhya. Among other questions, the three-judge panel was determining whether the controversial site was indeed the birthplace of the Hindu Lord Ram. Sopan Joshi, of  the Indian newsweekly Tehelka wrote, before the verdict, “There is always agitation when a matter of faith is tested on scales of science and history.”

Eighteen years after the mosque was destroyed by Hindu extremists who had already made their decision on the matter, 89 court witnesses, and a thousand-page report later, the verdict is in. Sort of. Of the three judges, two have stated that the site is indeed the birthplace of Ram. This was just one of more than a hundred major and minor issues at hand in the four suits that together made up the Ayodhya case. It could still be contested and brought up before the Supreme Court, but for now the site, bare but for its weighty history, has been declared two-thirds Hindu and one-third Muslim. Seems a perfect time for some fusion architecture, no?

Robert Mackey writes in The New York Times today:

Since they do make factual assertions about beliefs and faith traditions, the rulings of the three judges make for remarkable reading. One judge, Dharam Veer Sharma, for instance, ruled, “The disputed site is the birth place of Lord Ram,” and then added this, about the presence of the deity’s spirit at the site:

“Spirit of divine ever remains present everywhere at all times for anyone to invoke at any shape or form in accordance with his own aspirations, and it can be shapeless and formless also.”

Spirit of divine. It is land on a hill in Uttar Pradesh. Sweet water emerges from a well. Maybe Ram was born there. Archaeology shows there were Hindu temples there before the mosque was built in 1527. Jains say they had a temple there as well. A report from 1918 mentions Buddhist shrines. How easy it is to forget that the land now known as India, which is predominantly Hindu today, was ruled by Muslims from 1000 AD until the Brits arrived in the 1700s. The Muslims and Hindus, at least for a time, shared the sacred space on Ramkot Hill, brought together to drink from the magic well whose waters were believed to be healing. The Brits, in a literal divide-and-conquer move, erected a barrier in the mid-1800s separating the space. Muslims here. Hindus there. Violence would burst periodically — mine! mine! — but it was the destruction of the mosque in 1992 that  resulted in 2000 dead, mostly Muslims, who make up 13% of India’s population today.

There are 40,000 extra police on the streets of Mumbai, but that city, and the rest of India (less Kashmir, but that’s another story. Or is it?), is calm. It seems a good sign. Politicians and community groups cite a “maturity” in India’s manner of dealing with such matters. Perhaps. Perhaps.

Meera Subramanian is an editor of Killing the Buddha and writes about the environment and culture for Nature, InsideClimate News, Virginia Quarterly Review, Orion, and others. Her first book is A River Runs Again: A Natural History of India from the Barren Cliffs of Rajasthan to the Farmlands of Karnataka (PublicAffairs, 2015). Visit her at meerasub.org.