A Gandhian solution for the Gyanvapi feud - Hindustan Times
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A Gandhian solution for the Gyanvapi feud

Jun 22, 2022 08:01 PM IST

The Gyanvapi matter is pending in the court. The core issue is: Was the mosque built over a temple? If yes, what next? Gandhi-ji had the answer

While the Gyanvapi Masjid feud is pending in the courts, calibrated efforts are on to reduce it to an issue involving a mere interpretation of the law (Places of Worship [Special Provisions] Act, 1991), an avoidable property dispute between two warring groups, or part of a diabolical plot by unscrupulous elements to stoke communal fires to meet their political ambitions.

This picture taken on May 19, 2022 shows a view of the Gyanvapi Mosque after its survey by a commission in Varanasi. (Photo by Sanjay KANOJIA / AFP) (AFP) PREMIUM
This picture taken on May 19, 2022 shows a view of the Gyanvapi Mosque after its survey by a commission in Varanasi. (Photo by Sanjay KANOJIA / AFP) (AFP)

This obfuscates a complex civilisational issue. Throwing the 1991 Act in the face of those fighting to reclaim the ancient Shiva temple — one of the holiest of Hindu shrines — is a cheap joke, given the fact that the Constitution has been amended over 100 times to date. In 1971, privy purses (guaranteed by the Constitution) were abolished by Indira Gandhi for political expediency; and in 1986, Parliament, dominated by Rajiv Gandhi’s Congress, overturned the Supreme Court judgment in the Shah Bano case to placate fundamentalist Muslims. In the recent past, what happened to the acts related to agriculture? The Narendra Modi government was forced to withdraw the farm laws, following a massive agitation.

In the Gyanvapi case, Hindus are not struggling for a piece of land. For millions of devotees, this is not a political issue — but one of faith, coupled with their desire to retrieve self-respect, identity, and a part of a long-drawn civilisational war that started with Muhammad ibn Qasim subjugating Sindh in 712. The 1,200-year-old incursion is still relevant because the official website of Pakistan, traces the country’s origins to Qasim’s victory.

Why did Islamic invaders come to India? Not just for the loot. Their more dominant motive was to earn religious merit by killing or forcing kafirs (infidels) to convert and by demolishing their places of worship. Muhammad of Ghazni invaded India multiple times in the 11th century. According to the Tarikh-I-Sultan Mahmud-I-Ghaznavi (History of Sultan Mahmud of Ghazni): “…at the time he was going to break Somnath, a band of Brahmans appealed to the nobles (saying): ‘If the Sultan will not break this idol we will pay so much into the State treasury’.” The Sultan’s candid response reveals the intent of invaders: “…if I do this thing, people will call me Mahmud, the idol-seller, and if I break this, they will call me Mahmud, the idol-breaker. Now it is better that both in this world and the next they should call me the idol-breaker, not the idol-seller.”

The 1,200-year-odd history of Islamic invasions against India is replete with such instances. In the 12th century, Muhammad Bakhtiyar Khalji, reduced centuries-old universities, including Nalanda, Vikramshilla and Udaygiri, to ashes and rubble. He didn’t do so for pillage. Faith was his inspiration.

Three arguments are forwarded to absolve Islamic invaders of their sins.

First, they adopted India as their home and didn’t carry the loot back to where they came from. Second, the wars between them and local Hindu rulers had no religious angle for a number of Hindus fought for Muslim kings and the Hindu rulers too had Muslims in their armies. Third, there are several instances of Muslim rulers giving grants for the repairs/maintenance of Hindu temples — underlining their non- communal and generous character.

Stretch this argument a bit further, and we reach an absurd proposition: The British were not colonisers. The British empire in India was largely run by Indians, but that didn’t make it either Indian or in the interest of Indians. But the British stole India’s wealth and went back to their homeland with the loot. The Islamic rulers didn’t, so runs the argument.

Before the Mughals, most invaders returned home with pillaged wealth, followed by trains of infidel slaves. The Mughals stayed back and perpetuated Islamic rule, which continues to colonise one-third of erstwhile India to date, in the shape of Pakistan and Bangladesh, where non-Muslims have little right to life or dignity. A random grant by an Islamic invader for maintenance or repairs of a temple cannot whitewash the character of their rule, which was essentially iconoclastic.

According to Benjamin Walker, “People are still people, and they make their decisions based on their life experiences and their beliefs. You really can’t divorce the two. It’s important to fight against stereotypes and oversimplifications in very complex people.”

It’s against this intricate backdrop, one has to view the Gyanvapi controversy. Oversimplification or the use of cliches to trivialise the issue will not help.

Interestingly Gandhiji, answering a reader in Young India (February 5, 1925), wrote: “The question of mosques built on another’s land without his permission is incredibly simple. If A is in possession of his land and someone comes to build some things on it, be it even a mosque, A has the right at the first opportunity of pulling down the structure. A building to be a mosque must be duly consecrated. A building put up on another’s land without his permission is a pure robbery. Robbery cannot be consecrated. If A has not the will or the capacity to destroy the building miscalled mosque, he has the right of going to a law court to have the building pulled down.”

The Gyanvapi matter is pending in the court. The core issue is: Was the mosque built over a temple? If yes, what next? Gandhi-ji had the answer.

Balbir Punj is a former Member of Parliament and a columnistThe views expressed are personal

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