Sunday, February 25, 2024

Ram Mandir and Hindutva Fascist myth of Decolonisation

The aftermath of the grand inauguration of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya has resurrected the haunting spectres of 1992. The jubilations that erupted across the country centring the foundations of a temple, built upon the carcasses of the nation’s Muslims has cast a shadow of majoritarian hate and brutal crackdown. A pertinent symptom of this violence is the unrest in educational institutions. 

In the state of Karnataka, the infamy of the Hijab ban lives on as a stark reminder to all that is unfurling today – the ruling dispensation’s ideology that masked the disenfranchisement of Muslim women from educational spaces as a stake in ‘uniformity’ has now translated into open and threatening celebrations of the Ram Mandir in universities. 

Recently, right-wing outfits entered the campus of the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) in Pune and assaulted students over a banner condemning the Babri demolition. The screening of Anand Patwardhan’s ‘Ram ke Naam’ has elicited severe backlash from saffron terror groups. Universities that are supposed to be the bastions of free thought have turned into public and theatrical displays of fascism, preventing students from any form of dissent. This is symptomatic of the larger project of the Sangh Parivar in saffronising pedagogy – a common rhetoric springing up recently among sympathizers of the Sangh has been deifying the Ram Mandir as a historical moment of ‘decolonisation’ and ‘restoration’. As students of humanities and so on, the popularity of this majoritarian consensus is both concerning and ahistorical. 

The clinical understanding of Decolonisation in the Indian context has taken a drastic turn in the wake of mosques being razed and Muslim settlements being bulldozed into oblivion. Hindutva fascism, as prevalent as it is today, has existed for hundreds odd years. The genesis of such an ideology is found in BS Monje’s reverence of Mussolini in Italy, the leader of the Hindu Mahasabha in 1927 and the predecessor of Savarkar. The political project of Hindutva fascism long has to construct a homogeneous ‘Hindu’ identity – one of indigenousness and nativity. This was carefully peddled to turn the focus away from British imperialism and towards so-called internal enemies. Their claim to ‘decolonisation’ rests on the shoulders of the RSS’s undeniable admiration of Nazism. This assertion isn’t made lightly given M.S Gowalkar’s deep-seated idolization of Hitler. Such historical circumstances of ideology have birthed the assertion of the Ram Mandir today, a case that sets a deadly precedent, as is evident in the imminent destruction of the Gyanvapi Mosque. 

The overhaul of Islamic structures that have formed the basis of Indo-Islamic syncretism under the guise of a vulgar ‘decolonisation’ is an undertaking of the Sangh that holds no historical and archaeological backing. The 1980s in India witnessed the mass mobilization of fascism with the Ram Janmabhoomi movement at its centre. The popularity of this movement however lies in the vulgar politicization of Archeology post-independence. 

The Archaeological Survey of India started as a colonial enterprise, the director general of the ASI, Alexander Cunningham surveyed Ayodhya in 1862 and made no mention of the Babri masjid in his findings.  In October 1990, almost a century later, B.B Lal, wrote an article for the RSS magazine wherein he published a photograph from the excavations conducted in Ayodhya, in this photograph there were several brick bat heaps which he claimed were temple pillar bases. It was however surprising that these claims were not published in an archaeological journal but in a RSS-run magazine. The excavations that followed remain a hot topic of contention both within and outside the ASI for its ambiguity and the manufactured evidence it seemed to have produced. A primary example is the creation of “pillar bases” – the presence of pillar bases has been the primary ‘evidence’ spouted by academics and politically motivated individuals to justify the razing of Babri. However, while lime-surkhi floors were excavated and dug through, brickbats, mud and stone blocks were found. On finding the stone blocks, the ASI archaeologists left them in place along with the brickbats around them, sometimes on top, sometimes below. The rest of the brickbats lying in the trench under the whole floor were cleared away. Through this exercise, they created “pillar bases”. The 1967 excavation report remains unpublished to this day. 

While the Sangh and its proponents have weaponised the excavation process of the ASI as a stand-in for irrefutable truth, it is pertinent to understand that most archaeologists in India, when it comes to historical period, see archaeology in the role of affirming oral traditions. It is then of no surprise that certain members affiliated with the RSS saw the saffronisation of Archaeology to fit their preconceptions of the lost birthplace of Ram. Year after Year, the ASI excavates sites because a budget exists for excavation, not because it has a serious curiosity to unearth research questions.

Post-independence, certain motivated factions of the polity were invested in uncovering the ‘golden age’ of the subcontinent. For a country only newly freed from the manacles of colonialism, the fascist line of thought began to infiltrate schools, shakhas and organs of the state. Moving away from British colonialism, the revival of the fascist forces witnessed a reactionary understanding of history wherein the British were no more the enemies, it was the ‘foreign invaders’ that had in the ethno-nationalist imagination ‘looted’ the rich cultural heritage of Brahmanism. A ‘Ram Rajya’ was in the making, and there was no room for the deemed traitors, Muslims especially. 

It is then of no surprise that 22 January is being viewed as a ‘restorative’ event, many have heralded the temple as a symbol of ‘decolonisation’ and the resurrection of a lost civilisation. The pretext of decolonisation in India has strayed away from its historical bearings and significance. This of course is a byproduct of the age-old saffron fascist line of thought that believes that the Mughals were part of a colonial machine.

However, the very framing of the ‘outsider-insider’ dichotomy is entirely reliant on imposing post-independence borders on the subcontinent and deliberately projecting contemporary ideas of nationhood and citizenship in the medieval period. Colonialism requires the economic exploitation of a country’s resources to further one’s own national/foreign interests and the history of the amalgamation of local cultures with Islamic culture is a longstanding one, the Mughal assimilation into the subcontinent does not qualify even the basic parameters of colonialism. For example, the Sufi tradition of the Indian subcontinent is rather distinct and the amalgamation of cultures was a mutual phenomenon, the Sufi orders are known to have fused their practices with local traditions, birthing a new blended philosophy. 

The NCERT decree has decided to wipe out Mughal history and turn a cornerstone of Indian history arbitrarily obsolete. The word ‘syncretism’ is often employed in the innermost sanctums of academic circles while the nation remains far from it, the Indian liberal elite parade stories and ‘memories’ of a fictitious unity in the face of premeditated riots and subjugation, the word rests uneasily on the tongues of many Indian Muslims today. Such is the hollowness of a syncretism that is only expected and never owed. 

Another assumption that the decolonisation myth operates on is the uniquely evil ‘Muslim’ rule that destroyed and pillaged temples. The lens with which this destruction is pontificated rests on the ahistorical notion that the Mughals were the sole perpetrators of such ‘religious’ violence. Extensive historical research however shows us that the looting and destruction of temples was less of a religious practice but a politically motivated one, especially carried out by rulers of the Cholas, the Chalukyas, and the Vijayanagara Empire. Hindu kings often would desecrate Hindu temples to replace them with their dominant god and praying sanctums. The subcontinent has been privy to the turbulent destruction of several Buddhist and Jain temples and their conversion to Shaiva-Vaishnavite temples. The looming question then remains, why are the excavations and ‘restorations’ overwhelmingly concentrated on Mosques that do not even bear the historical burden of destruction? 

The framing of a homogenous ‘Muslim’ rule does not exist, just as a homogenous ‘Hindu’ identity doesn’t exist. Saffron terror outfits for long have tried to birth such an identity but a cursory glance at the rife, multilayered, often strenuous and complex history of the subcontinent will prove otherwise. An underlying reason behind this is the question of caste, which continues to undercut the Hindutva myth and relentless attempts at heralding a singular Hindu identity, despite its caste-ridden violent history. Early Hindutva thinkers were proponents of caste reform, and the new wave of Hindutva attempted to construct the singular logic under which all Hindus must operate. While caste atrocities against Dalits continue to pile on, those hoping to assimilate into the mainstream caste Hindu structure, have become foot soldiers of the Hindutva brigade; the country is but an ethnostate in the making. 

It has constructed the idea of the temple being one of national achievement and ‘decolonial’ awakening. Yesterday’s vandals who tore down a 16th-century mosque in the name of god are being lionized as heroes by the same newsrooms and reporters who once documented the destruction of the Babri masjid. The milking of a people’s Ram has turned into the public facade of ethno-nationalism, at the expense of thousands who continue to live in the horrors of 1992. The memory of Babri in collective memory remains ripe as ever yet the birth of an aggressive Hindutva machismo that plagues the nation has lulled majoritarian consciousness into a state of hibernation, blinded to the disenfranchisement and ethnic cleansing of Muslims. 

In times when pedagogy is saffronised and history textbooks are subject to alterations and gross misrepresentations by the ruling dispensation, the memory and history of Babri cannot be defiled even in the absence of the razed mosque. The Sangh cannot stomach the bone-chilling reality; the people’s religiosity and sanctity cannot be invoked on the countless scores of bodies killed and massacred ruthlessly. Fascistization does not mean decolonisation and no amount of semantic sanitation and erasure will change that. 

The fascist falsification of history serves not only the goal of manufacturing consent for hundreds of massacres but grants the right to celebrate it as national jubilation – such is the case with the Ram Mandir and the Hindu Right’s perverse fantasy of canonizing a time that left the country plagued by the bloody carnage of thousands of bodies maimed, raped and butchered. 

Rida Fathima is a student of Literature and History at Azim Premji University.

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