The Ram Temple argument
Before you get sucked into the temple-rebuilding debate, ask yourself how it will change your life
My memory of the Babri Masjid demolition is of an evening after December 6, 1992. I remember an uneasy calm around us; the lull before an impending storm. We lived in an essentially Hindu locality surrounded by Muslim-dominated areas. There was a threat of Hindu-Muslim riots because Hindu kar sevaks had destroyed the 16th century Babri Masjid in Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh. The site of the masjid was Ram Janmabhoomi and the RSS, VHP, and BJP wanted a temple built there. There was fear of Muslim backlash in the city and curfew had been imposed.
That night, our otherwise peaceful and cosmopolitan area was divided on religious lines. I still remember bricks being piled up on our terrace by some neighbours to protect against an attack. All lights in the locality were switched off and the area plunged into darkness. The tension in the air, the unfamiliar sound of utter silence, and my parents whose worry was palpable even in the pitch black of the night are etched in my mind. Neighbours sat huddled together, children were asked to keep silent, and the entire 'para' waited. Nothing happened that night, not in our locality. But at least 32 people died in riots in the West Bengal.
When I see clippings of the demolition, the angry mob of kar sevaks shouting 'ek dhakka aur do, Babri Masjid tod do', fear grips me - not only of the repercussions of destroying a masjid but fear of the perpetrators of the demolition too. Years later, through several discussions, I have tried to understand what propels people to destroy ancient structures. The same thought that crossed my mind when the Taliban destroyed the Buddhas of Bamiyan. I have no answers yet but I do fully understand that when breaking and rebuilding of masjids and temples assume centre stage, it smacks of political opportunism.
It is a standard tactic of deflection from the failings of governance as well as a desire to polarise the masses ahead of elections. Today, if we are once again hearing chants of 'Mandir wahin banayenge', then it shouldn't surprise anyone. The current dispensation has failed with demonetisation, farmers are protesting, the common man feels living is more expensive than ever before. With this long list of goof-ups, the political party in power is once again taking recourse in the age-old temple-building ruse. There is also the inane, unnecessary trend of rechristening names of cities but while the latter is an attempt to rewrite history and/or leave behind (an albeit hollow) legacy, the temple-rebuilding narrative is a dangerous one.
Before you too, dear reader, get wound up in the 'us versus them' argument, before you too start questioning the doles given to minorities, and most importantly, before you too are brainwashed to accept that the majority is at risk…please ask yourself: Does a temple or a mosque truly change your life? Your daily lives -- rent, safety, transport, children's education, old age security etc. Will having a temple make you feel safer? Will your fundamental rights have been safeguarded? Will fuel get cheaper? Will the cost of your day-to-day ration be less pricey? Will you get that clean air that you're now dying to breathe? The answer is a resounding 'No'.
This fear-mongering perpetuated by right-wing parties is the greatest scam of all. A scam to fool you into believing that you will be saving yourself by demanding your right as the majority. If you fall for this, you will be only doing the politician's bidding who will once again forget you after 2019 Lok Sabha elections. If you must protest, then demand policies and rights that will improve your life and those of your fellow citizens. Instead of the Ram Temple, why can't we demand an international university offering free education or a state-of-the-art healthcare centre? And if it really must get religious, can't we say, 'Mandir aur masjid, dono wahin banayenge'?
(The writer is a journalist and media entrepreneur. The views expressed are strictly personal)