National Shrine of Secularism

THE Allahabad High Court’s decision on the Ayodhya dispute is a fine blend of vision and realism. By dividing the 2.7 acres of disputed land equally between the Sunni Central Waqf Board, the Nirmohi Akhada and Ram Lalla shrine claimants, the three-member bench has tried its best to leave no room for any more contestation.

It is a settlement that sets a new milestone for communal harmony. It is going to make the strong foundations of secularism in this country even stronger with the iconic symbolism of a temple and mosque standing next to each other. There are many parts of the country where temples and mosques and churches exist in close proximity. But the ones in Ayodhya will be the greatest national symbol of secularism once they come up because of the site being in public focus for over two decades.
At last it was the judiciary that has found a solution to the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute. Only a judicial solution was possible because the judiciary is the most respected estate of our democracy. In normal case, the government should have been the problem-solver, but for the reason that all political parties tried to make capital out of the dispute they became ineligible as a mediator. The BJP earned the notoriety of being partial to one party to the dispute, of course, but the Congress did no better, with the late Rajiv Gandhi allowing concessions to the Ram Lalla devotees that aggravated communal tensions. Rajiv Gandhi hoped to earn Hindu votes by earning Hindu chauvinist goodwill.
With political parties thoroughly discrediting themselves, it was almost destined that the solution would come from the judiciary. Decisions of the courts are accepted by all in this country, and hence are preferable in conflicts, even those pertaining to religion. It is the courts that finally decided on matters such as ‘exclusion’ of certain castes from Hindu temples or temple vocations. In the south Indian temples, particularly in Tamil Nadu, only Brahmins could be priests. In the past decades, however, men from other castes, including those earlier considered inferior, have been recruited. When men and women belonging to scheduled castes failed in their attempt to enter the Keradagarh temple in Orissa, the matter went to the Orissa High Court which ruled that all Hindus, irrespective of caste, should be allowed to enter the temple.
When political parties aligned themselves with forward or backward castes depending on their electoral support bases on the Mandal issue, the responsibility fell on the shoulders of Supreme Court judges to decide whether the recommendations for grant of reservations to the Other Backward Classes (OBCs) in future employment in central government services should be implemented or not. Much as the Hindus and Muslims fought over the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid issue, the higher castes and OBCs came in conflict over the Mandal Commission recommendations. Higher caste youths self-immolated themselves in public. The whole country was agitated. It was the Supreme Court which eventually decided that the recommendations must be implemented but with the exclusion of the “creamy layer” of the OBCs. The judges took both the constitutional provisions as well as the current social reality in view in arriving at their decision.
The Allahabad High Court judgement is imbued with a similar spirit to strike a balance between the legal reason and the social reason, between the State’s respect for the individual’s religious faith and the citizen’s respect for the State’s secularism which provides all religions equal space. The court has devised the best course for the settlement of the Ayodhya dispute. Let all of us accept it and build a monumental national icon to the basic principle of our philosophy of life, ‘vasudhava kutumbkum’.


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