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Thursday, December 9, 2021

“I am amazed that despite vast body of evidence, courts are taking so long” – Historian Meenakshi Jain on Ayodhya Ram Janmabhoomi issue

The Ayodhya Ram Janmabhoomi issue has been dragging on for 133 years in Indian courts. Recently, the Supreme Court cited “other priorities” and adjourned the case till January to decide ‘which court and when’ it will be next heard.

In this interview with acclaimed historian Meenakshi Jain, who has penned the definitive book ‘Rama & Ayodhya‘ on this subject, Shri Mayank Jain goes into the background of this important issue and why it remains legally unresolved despite decades of hearings, archaeological excavations and scholarly research.

Full transcript of this interview follows:

Q.) Meenakshi ji, welcome to HinduPost. The Ram Janmabhoomi temple controversy issue has continued for so long without any solution. The recent decision of the Supreme Court (to further delay the hearing) has disappointed many. As a scholar, how do you view the issue?

As a scholar, I find it absolutely amazing that the issue has dragged on in the courts for so many decades. When I studied this topic, I was amazed to find evidence of Hindu presence at the site from 1604 CE onwards, i.e. within about 80 years of destruction of Ram temple, when an English traveler William Finch visited Ayodhya he wrote about Hindu presence there but did not mention namaz or any presence of Muslims. From 1604 right upto 1949 when the image of Ram Lalla was placed under the central dome, there is a vast variety of evidence which shows Hindus were always present at that site. Obviously, that site was sacred to Hindus and they refused to vacate that site even at the peak of Mughal power despite a masjid having been constructed there. 

Apart from this, there was a lot of other evidence which pointed to sanctity of that site for Hindus. Continued Muslim presence at the site cannot be certified. I am amazed that despite such vast body of evidence, our courts are taking so long. The Allahabad HC gave its judgement in 2010 after decades of hearing the case.

From 2011, the issue is pending in SC – and it is so disappointing for believers that the case was dismissed so summarily by the court which said ‘we have no time for this right now’. Vast majority of Hindu community was waiting anxiously to hear the Supreme Court verdict on this issue. Now the issue could have been postponed indefinitely – because if the court is going to tell us in January or March what is the procedure for hearing, by then the general elections will be around the corner. Obviously, the court will say that we cannot hear this matter now.

Q.) So it seems that neither the scholars, nor politicians, nor activists have any say in the solution? It is finally only the judiciary?

At the moment it is the judiciary. Because scholars have played their part, very negatively if I may say so. The scholars dragged the issue for so long and misled the public. In fact, an archaeologist KK Muhammad has said in his auto-biography that when the issue first broke out, there was a feeling among large sections of Muslim community that this site does not have much meaning for us, and let us hand it over to Hindus for whom it is so sacred. According to KK Muhammad, at that moment some Left historians got in touch with the Muslim leadership and said don’t surrender, because you have a very strong case.

I don’t think I will be wrong in saying that the Babri case, the case for the masjid at Ayodhya was actually invented by a group of scholars whom we call ‘Left historians.’

Q.) Don’t you think after presenting this case in your book ‘Ram and Ayodhya’, in which you have exposed leftists making them look silly, why have they not given a rejoinder to your book?

The answer is simple. It’s an old Left strategy that you kill by silence. If something exposes you, you pretend it does not exist. In this book, I have taken every argument that Left scholars have been propounding for decades and shown that it is false and invented. For eg., the Left historians said Ram worship was a very late phenomena in Indian history and only dated to 19th-20th century.

In my book, I have shown how the Ramayana was a very popular text from early on, and the first sculptural evidence we have is of a terracotta sculpture of Ravana taking away Sita, and Sita is shown throwing away her ornaments in the hope someone will find her. This depiction of a scene from the Ramayana on a terracotta piece would have no meaning unless majority of the people who saw it would know the story.

After that, when temples began to be built around 4th century onwards, we have scenes of the Ramayana sculpted on panels of the temples. And in the 12th century, we have three important Ram temples built with inscriptions on the walls stating that these temples were built in honour of Bhagwan Ram. Two are in Madhya Pradesh – inscriptions can still be seen there- and the 3rd was in Ayodhya, and the inscription was found when Babri masjid was broken in Dec 1992.

Q.) Why do you think the kind of arguments they have given, which have been thoroughly exposed, have still not been picked up by the media which is otherwise very quick to lampoon such claims? For eg., these Left historians first said the masjid was built on vacant land, and when the archaeological evidence disproved them, they changed their stance.

What they said in court is something which should be really publicised – in the court, they exposed how bigoted and ignorant they are. When they refused to change their initial argument that the masjid was built on vacant land, finally the Allahabad HC decided to order ASI to excavate beneath the masjid. The excavations proved 3 main points –  1.) Presence of a structure at the site from 2nd millennium BCE. 2.) That site was never used for residential purposes 3.) The remains of a circular shrine, the Ram Chabutra, a temple from the 10th-11th century and then the 12th century temple were all found over there.

When this evidence of Hindu structures at that site began to be excavated, the left historians and archaeologists suddenly changed their argument and said ‘Babri masjid was built on the site of an earlier masjid’. The High Court found this very argument very interesting. The court said, ‘All this while you (the leftists) have made the argument that the masjid was built on vacant land. Secondly all the books you wrote during this period never said the Babri masjid was built over an earlier masjid. Now, when architectural remnants of a Hindu structure are coming up, you are changing your line or argument?’

There are so many such things that have exposed the left and their ignorance…these are all part of the court proceedings. Unfortunately, a large section of the media has already made up its mind on this issue and it is not interested in exposing the follies of certain section of historians.

Q.) What is the solution? You, as an intellectual and historian, can give arguments, supply facts…but what it does come to after all this hard work? How do you feel?

I feel amazed. There is no evidence that supports the Muslim point of view. The revenue records also show that during the British period there is no mention of Babri masjid – the British revenue records show that site as Janmasthan (birthplace). Even in the Muslim records, it is called Masjid-e-Janmasthan – why would a masjid be called janmasthan? The first evidence from 1858 we have of Muslim presence there – that person says, this is Masjid-e-Janmasthan. Why does no other mosque in Bharat have the name Masjid-e-Janmasthan? The name itself, in Persian sources, is proof that it was the site of a Janmasthan (birthplace of Bhagwan Ram) temple.

Now, what is the solution? Whatever arguments and evidence the proponents of the mandir could give or unearth, they have done all that. I cannot understand how the solution can be found, because the solution that will be acceptable to Hindus in light of this huge body of evidence is the whole piece of land. Giving 1/3rd of the land for a mosque is totally impractical and unacceptable.

The reason for the deadlock, according to me, is that it is not just a question of the birthplace of Bhagwan Ram – of course, that is there – but a section of historians and Indians view this as a struggle over what kind of polity should be established in independent Bharat. They feel that if a ‘victory’ is handed over to Hindus, it will pave the way for a new kind of political idiom to dominate the public space, and that idiom will be more rooted to the indigenous culture and traditions of this society. This is actually an attempt to block the re-assertion of a culture, of a civilization with an ancient ethos. That is the crux of the matter.

Inspite of all the evidence pointing to the existence of a temple before Babri masjid was built, this issue is not being settled because it is linked to the nature of the Indian state. People with a vested interest don’t want the terms of the discourse to be altered in favor of the Hindus.

Q.) Do you think they are scared that a pandora’s box would get opened up? So many temples were destroyed and the theory of iconoclasm is well known now. If the judgement comes through in the RJB issue, the same logic could be applied to other destroyed temples too?

There is no doubt about the massive incidents of iconoclasm in the Bharatiya sub-continent. If you study North Bharat itself, you will hardly find a temple dating to pre-18th century. All the temples that we see, for eg, in sacred cities like Benares..Benares was denuded of every ancient temple, and its all recorded…so ancient Benares was actually recreated by the Marathas in the 18th century. So the incidents of iconoclasm all over the country have been documented by scholars like Sitaram Goel.

But in the last 50 years, Left historians have tried to brush aside the issue of iconoclasm. They have ensured it is not discussed and if somebody discusses it, that person is branded ‘communal’. But what is equally surprising is that in the last few decades the left historians have got great support from historians in America. There is a lobby of historians in America who have tried to undermine and belittle Bharat’s experience of iconoclasm.

The kind of theories that have been propagated recently are all aimed at undermining the Hindu position. For eg., there is a group of historians in the West who say Hindus used to destroy each other’s temples much before the coming of the Turks. They say that destroying temples was an ‘established practise’ in Bharat, and the Turks only followed this practise. This is totally ridiculous, but it is the kind of reinforcement that left historians in Bharat have got from ‘scholars’ abroad.

Q.) Despite archaeological evidence, literary & ideological accounts being in the favour of Hindus, even then they are totally at lost. It seems to be a hopeless situation that despite all this they cannot build a temple at RJB. Does it reflect on Hindus as a society, that it still not assertive?

My study of the issue of iconoclasm has surprised me that Hindus never lost memory of their sacred sites. I will give you the example of Mahakaleshwar temple in Ujjain. This was a very important sacred site for Hindus even in the early Christian era. This temple was destroyed by the Delhi sultanate emperor Iltutmish in 1234 CE, and he took the Shivling to Delhi which has been recorded by Minhaj (a Muslim chronicler).

After that, there is evidence that several unsuccessful attempts were made to rebuild the Mahakaleshwar temple. Finally, in the 18th century, we have the commander of the Peshwas building the Mahakaleshwar temple again. The temple you see today at Mahakaleshwar is a temple built in the 18th century – so from the 13th century to the 18th century, the memory of that site remained with the people.

As far as the popular sentiments and maryada (honor & dignity) of the place are concerned, it has never been forgotten. What has happened is that academically we have faltered, and the reason we have faltered is because the Left dominated the academia. Anyone wanting to be a career historian or scholar had to work under Left historians – they controlled all the funding, jobs and research. So they just blocked out certain fields of research, so no work was done in those areas. This is a modern phenomena, of the last 5-6 decades. 

It is not that the Hindus have forgotten. In fact, the kind of resilience & commitment the Hindus have shown is extraordinary. The terms of discourse have turned against Hindus in only the last half century, which coincides with the dominance of the Left in academia. This is what I feel.

Q.) It was thought the solution would emerge after a party which is sympathetic to the Hindu cause would come to power – they were expected to bring the required changes in academia & education. We find this is moving at a snail’s pace….

If it is moving at all!

On this rather discouraging note, we would like to thank you for giving this interview to HinduPost.

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