One strand that ties together Babri Masjid, Gyanvapi, Qutub Minar and other 2022 temple-mosque controversies is the search for the “hidden truth.” Under Babri Masjid is a Hindu religious structure; behind the Western wall of Gyanvapi Mosque is shiv ling; give respect to “Ulta Ganesh” and “Ganesh in a cage” that lies behind a wall and iron cage respectively in Qutub Minar. An even more devious claim, reverberating in the Trads ecosystem is that the only way in which the Ganesh Murtis’ respect can be restored is by “returning” the Qutub complex to Hindus.
Looking for the hidden truth–what’s behind–has become the favourite past-time of India’s Right, hindutwadis and the majority who are in the process of discovering the hidden “Hindu rashtra”’ behind or in the past of “secular” India as expressed by JNU’s VC Santishree Dhulipudi Pandit in her recent article.
Court’s search for a hidden truth
In the atmosphere of Hindu rashtra, searching for the hidden truth has come to be a national drill as India’s institutions increasingly come to practice it. For example, the court, with its uncritical belief in the scientism and objectivity of archaeology and videography, ordered the use of technological tools to dig deeper and look inside/under Babri Masjid and Gyanvapi mosque.
Law and technoscience aid each other in the path to “truth,” assessing the hidden character of religious places with little focus on the action that often follows such (constructed) truth. We are missing the all too obvious in excavating the hidden truth—the violence of Hindu rashtra as an everyday experience.
Here, I would like to narrate the famous story of famous Greek painters Zeuxis and Parrhasios who competed to paint the most convincing illusion of a fruit basket. As Zeuxis drew out the curtains of his painting, a bird quickly flew towards his painting, and started pecking at the fruits assuming they were “real.” The people of Greece commended Zeuxis’ illusion as it deceived the bird’s senses and immediately awarded Zeuxis as the best painter. Although Parrhasios was defeated, Zeuxis and the people desired to see his painting.
As Parrhasios stood still by his creation, Zeuxis and the people asked him to not be ashamed of his defeat and to unveil the curtains so that they could see the painting. Parrhasios quickly responded that the curtains that they were seeing is the illusion he had created and that is looking for the fruit basket, they missed the painting itself. While narrating this story, Philosopher Slavoj Zizek observes “In Parrhasios’ painting, the illusion resided in the very notion that what we see in front of us is just a veil covering up the hidden truth.”
The search for the hidden truth at the least is illusionary and at worst, perverse as the below meme of Salim-Anarkali captures it. Perversity lies not so much in the act of lying as it lies in the pervert’s “unconditional attachment to truth” that stops them from seeing “the truth delivered in and through the act of lying,” observes Zizek.
As the court confronts claims of mosques being temples and fountains being Shivling, its interest rests on figuring out the true character of religious places. With such an unconditional attachment to excavating the hidden truth, the technoscientific court misses the truth that is delivered in and through such political lies by the Right, namely the violence of Hindu rashtra which is rather on the surface, the curtain.
Political organisations and opposition search for hidden truth:
Think about this search for hidden truth in the case of the Karnataka Hijab controversy wherein the court quickly abstracted the question, “should hijab-clad students be allowed to write exams?” to “is Hijab an essential practice of Islam?” As courts and liberal academics turned political Muslims obsess with Islam in the search for the hidden truth about the essence of Islamic practices, the academic future of hijabi students and their suffering doesn’t seem to interest anyone.
While academic and legal exercises are busy interpreting and abstracting the toxic events of Hindu rashtra as legal issues, the suffering of those marginalized by Hindutva is overlooked and neglected.
Simply, the suffering of the average Muslim is overshadowed by legal and academic exercises on the inquiry into truth.
One might find parallels in the close-to-heart rhetoric of India’s left, so-called truth-centric news media and the Congress: “communal polarization is a distraction from real (economic) issues.”
The rhetoric constructs the former as a distraction from and overshadowing the latter and former as less real than the latter.
Newslaundry and NDTV astoundingly join the chorus by drawing parallels between episodes of anti-muslim violence in India today and the economic issues. In such a way, they go behind the surface of Hindu rashtra’s anti-muslim violence, to discover “real (economic) issues.”
Against a state whose ideological superstructure revolves around the axis of demonizing, trespassing and aberrating Muslims, their spaces and their bodies, it’s naive to assume that the communal violence is a distraction from economic degradation. Actually, their naivete is rather a dogmatic position–the left has to translate any social event into a political-economic issue before they take it up as their cause.
Jahangirpuri Muslims then have to be “poor” and “refugees” before their cause is addressed by CPI(M). Muslim have to then be reinterpreted and recategorized as toiling Muslims, lower caste or “Paswandi” so as to fit their suffering in Left/Ambedkarites/caste activists’ political struggle templates.
It’s funny how lawyers representing anti-CAA protestors like Umar Khalid and Devangana Kalita claim their protest to be more secular than that of Sharjeel Imam who called for allies “to stand with us [Muslims] on our own terms.”
The assertion of “the religious” in the Muslim doesn’t resonate with major political organisations in India despite religion which makes several of us the victims of a Hindu rashtra. So, the Muslim stands alone. The Hijabi student, with her Hijab, is “too religious” for the left that follows the classic template of Marxism wherein the working-class struggle is the ultimate one. Should intersectionality go through these kinds of hegemonic political, categorical and cultural assimilation? The opposition and political organisations’ inability to stand with the “Muslim” in desperate times is horrifying and astounding.
Of course, with great speeches comes great responsibility. So, India’s Muslims only have the responsibility of setting these “terms” as community-centric and as plural as possible so an imagination of India can be reinvented, and retracted from the loop of oppressor becoming the oppressed and vice versa.
Babri Masjid behind 2022 mosque-mandir controversy?
In considering Gyanvapi as Babri Masjid 2.0, aren’t the Muslim and non-Muslim communities “looking behind” what’s happening today and at what cost? Of course, it’s inevitable that the 2022 temple-mosque controversies invoke the brutal and bloody memory of the temple-mosque clash that led to the killing of 3000 people. However, reducing today’s events to Babri Masjid as it fits the frame of sustained demonization of Mughal history by Hindutva could be detrimental to understanding the structure of violence unfolding in the 2022 temple-mosque debate.
The changing structure of violence in 2022 mandir-masjid controversies:
Firstly, be it Gyanvapi, Qutub Minar, Shahi Eidgah, Tipu Sultan palace, Ajmer Dargah or the local dargah at the Neemuch district of Madhya Pradesh on whose walls a Hanuman Statue was placed (an incident that received little attention), each mimics different features of Babri Masjid.
Hannah Arendt in Origins of Totalitarianism writes, “wherever totalitarianism possesses absolute control, it replaces propaganda with indoctrination and uses violence not so much to frighten people (this is done only in the initial stages when political opposition still exists) as to realize constantly its ideological doctrines and its practical lies.” As mimicry, these events help the followers of Hindu rashtra to constantly experience “its ideological doctrines and practical lies.”
Secondly, if Babri Masjid was “the event” in the archives of India’s mandir-masjid (temple-mosque) controversies, the 2022 events make the mandir-masjid controversies an everyday experience. If the demolition of Babri Masjid, Gujarat genocide, etc were events of anti-Muslim hatred, lynching made anti-Muslim violence every day and gave authority to every Ram, Ganesh and Vishnu to lynch any and every Muslim and Dalit. In a lot of ways, the 2022 temple-mosque controversies look very similar to the structure of violence in the lynching of Muslims by the right-wing and the majority.
The focus on Gyanvapi alone which dates to the 1990s fails to capture this changing structure of violence in the mandir-masjid debate. As we speak, people from the Hindu majority are either placing idols in local dargahs, and mosques or calling for them and Mughal monuments to be made into temples.
If Babri Masjid was orchestrated by stalwarts and propagandists of Hindutva, today’s mandir-masjid controversies will be spurred by walkers, neighbours and commoners. Every Hindutwadi has hence empowered #tostartamandir-masjid controversy in their locality like how Hindutwadis were empowered to lynch beef eaters and cow smugglers by weakening institutions and providing impunity to perpetrators of anti-Muslim violence.
In the Hindu right-wing, the court and the majority looking behind mosque structures, in the court and academic discussion looking behind the hijabi students for reflections on essential practices, in the left and news media looking at the hidden truth of economic decay behind anti-Muslim violence and unfortunately, in Muslim and non-Muslim organisations looking at Gyanvapi, Qutub, Mathura and so on through the lens of Babri Masjid, we remain illusionary.
In searching for the hidden truth, we forget that Hindu rashtra has never been or will never be the ultimate destination for independent India. Neither the arrival of Hindu rashtra will be declared by the Hindu right. It’s not an event but an everyday experience. We forget that since 1947, Hindu rashtra has been an experience eroding the everydayness of India like termites and will aggressively continue to be under Modi’s and the BJP’s rule.
I, as a Muslim woman, want to assert, that we are not pawns in your greater discussion on matters of concern to law and Marxism namely that of “political economy” or for your obsession with Islam’s inherent principles and essences. Attend the violence against us! Attend Hindutva! How long will it take for the court to analyse the issue as a part of India experiencing Hindu rashtra and less of a Hindu-Muslim and mandir-masjid controversy?
Misria Shaik Ali is a doctoral candidate at the Department of Science and Technology Studies, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.