Déjà vu over Ayodhya

First published in The Pioneer, October 16, 2010


President Obama came into office believing he could change how Washington worked. Two years into his tenure he realizes that the cussedness of human beings is ingrained, and that revolutionary changes are not the norm in human society. Slowly, a step forward, a half-step back, tarrying in the same place for a while… these are the moves of peoples and societies, even when the issue confronting them is benign. What then could be the response of groups when they have invested heavily in a particular strategy, and/or committed to winning at any cost? The left/progressive groups, the Indian Muslim Congress-USA (IMC-USA), and Pankaj Mishra writing for The New York Times, seemed stunned at the verdict of the Allahabad High Court in the Babri Masjid case. So, two weeks after the verdict, we see them -- mostly anti-Hindu groups who have donned the mantle of high-minded humanists -- resorting to their old, high-pitched attack, and their reject and refute strategy. Mishra, the hired Katherine Mayo in pants, wrote one of his usual drain inspector’s reports, three days after the Allahabad verdict -- a diatribe castigating all things Indian, including the Allahabad verdict. And the newspaper, which claims to publish “all the news that’s fit to print,” has refused to publish letters decrying the vile nonsense penned by Mishra.

Hindu-Americans have mostly kept quiet, and there have been no triumphalist letter-writing campaigns, and no letter published in Indian-American newspapers – with large or negligible circulations – trumpeting the victory of “Hindutva,” the victory of Lord Rama, or the defeat of the smug “secularists”. One senses a wariness among Hindu-Americans for they know well that they have been pushed into corners before and even mild victories have been snatched from them on a variety of previous occasions, that this verdict will be appealed, and the Supreme Court can sit on the case for another two hundred years.

The IMC-USA, which diligently archives every newspaper report and blog entry that seeks to provide evidence for the discrimination of Muslims in India, and ignores every bigoted statement by Indian Muslim clerics and politicians, and every attack against Hindus and others by Muslims (like in Deganga, West Bengal, or in Kerala where Muslim extremists chopped off the hand of a Christian professor, and the ululations by Syed Ali Shah Geelani demanding that Kashmir be dismembered from India) said one day after the Allahabad Court pronounced its verdict: "We had expected objectivity not political consideration from the courts. By passing judgment based on religious beliefs rather than on facts, the High Court has set a disturbing precedent. It is troubling that the High Court has chosen to ignore the archeological evidence and scientific evidence and ruled based on the emotions and beliefs of the parties in the dispute.” Rasheed Ahmed, its president, whose bona fides cannot be verified because there is nothing about him on the IMC-USA website, is not an archaeologist, nor a historian. But how could he weigh in so confidently on the Allahabad verdict? What we do know is that he and the IMC-USA simply cut and pasted the response by the Sunni Central Wakf Board lawyer way back in 2003 when the Archeological Survey of India (ASI) released the report on the excavations it conducted on the orders of the Allahabad High Court. He was also drawing from the playbook of the “eminent” historians who have proved to be past masters in political gamesmanship.

Groups like “Communalism Watch,” which have made it a habit to speak of the “Hindutva forces” in the starkest terms, struggled to come to grips with the Allahabad verdict, and so took recourse in posting invective laden, shrilly mocking pieces by tired, old Indian Left/Marxists known for their diatribes against the BJP and the RSS, and for their ostrich-like attitude to all other threats to the Indian nation. That those who claim to speak for peace and brotherhood can so easily and glibly mock all that is Hindu is evidence for the special type of “secularism” practiced in India. But this is not unexpected or new because as the Allahabad court observed, the experts asked to depose before the court deposed twice – once, before the ASI excavations, when they said there was no temple beneath the mosque and, the second time, after the site had been dug up, when they facilely claimed that what was unearthed was either a mosque or a Buddhist stupa! As Justice Agarwal pointed out, these “independent” scholars were all connected through the activist/academic umbilical cord — one had done a PhD under the guidance of the other, another had contributed an article to a book edited by another, and so on. As Justice Agarwal noted of the “eminent” historians’ depositions, "…instead of helping in making a cordial atmosphere it tends to create more complications, conflict and controversy."

These “eminent” historians and those on their bandwagon will also ignore what we are hearing from the few remaining Hindus in Pakistan: that they are fleeing from their homes fearing a backlash to the verdict, and that hundreds of students and clerics from the Jamia Ashrafia religious seminary in Lahore blocked the Ferozepur highway after the Allahabad verdict threatening to “repeat the events of 1992” if the “biased” verdict was not reversed!

Finally, in a leaked email on the Friends of South Asia (FOSA) discussion list, a former reporter for a leftist magazine wrote, unable to fathom how those working with and volunteering for the Hindu American Foundation (HAF) were given space in mainstream American and British newspapers: “Why The Guardian and The Washington Post are giving airtime to these HAF loons will always be beyond me. It's like giving Glenn Beck serious exposure.” This reporter, who it seems comes from a landed family, going by her last name, offers a bait for her fellow-travelers: she asks if anyone wants to “write a nasty email to HAF,” and “tell them to stop speaking for the so-called imagined community of ‘Hindu Americans’”. Having assumed authority to speak for the “dispossessed, distressed, and the abused” (all excepting Hindus), these radicals, trained in programs at the University of California, Berkeley, and at the University of Chicago, where again all but Hindus get excused for acts of murder, mayhem, and terrorism, cannot fathom how a lawyer or a pediatric urologist, working or volunteering for the Hindu American Foundation, could have the skills and the knowledge to write, and to write for mainstream newspapers, and that Hindu-Americans could even be an identifiable group. It is best to chuckle at this viciousness and this ignorance simply because there is no use arguing with ideologues. Nothing will defeat them and lure them away from the trenches from where they keep lobbying spitballs at Hindus, and from where they seek to mislead their local American fellow-travelers into believing that those who speak for Hindus must not only be as crazy as the Mormon Glenn Beck but are also in cahoots with him.

While the Indian Left has remained silent on arguably progressive issues of religious persecution of Hindu minorities outside of India or the separation of church and state in America, the paradox is that is many in the HAF are liberal or moderate in their social and political views, some even lifelong Democrats, who are willing and capable of working with Republicans and Conservatives, Muslims and Jews, Scientologists and Sikhs, even pagans and atheists, in making the world a better place.

Ramesh N. Rao, is professor and chair of the Department of Communication Studies and Theatre, Longwood University, and Human Rights Coordinator for the Hindu American Foundation. The views expressed here are his own.

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