- By Bhargavi Kulkarni and Suman Guha Mozumder Nov 12, 2019
The Nov. 9 verdict of the Supreme Court that granted Hindus permission to build a Ram temple at the centuries-old Ayodhya holy site, ending one of the country’s most politically-charged land disputes, has evoked a mixed reaction from Indian-Americans.
The Hindu-American community and those supporting Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his ruling Bharatiya Janata Party have hailed the Supreme Court for delivering “a just and fair judgment,” and providing a “closure” and “victory” to both the Hindu and the Muslim communities. On the other hand, are the minorities, the liberals and the progressives, who call the verdict “flawed” and a “failure for democracy.”
According to the unanimous court judgment by a five judge bench comprising of Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, Justice Sharad Arvind Bobde, Justice Ashok Bhushan, Justice S. Abdul Nazeer, Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, Hindus will get the disputed land of 2.77-acre complex, while Muslims will be allotted an alternative piece of 5 acres of land for the construction of a mosque. It was also ruled that the Babri mosque was not built on vacant land and the scientifically conducted survey in 2003 by the Archeological Survey of India confirmed in their findings the existence of a temple-like structure underneath.
Hindu-American activist Satya Dosapati, who aligns himself with VHP and RSS, told India Abroad that for the first time in over 1,100 years, “somebody stood for the rights of the Hindus,” referring to the Nov. 9 Ayodhya verdict.
Dosapti of Malboro, New Jersey, has been active in the community for several decades. In 2016, he organized an ‘All American Rally for Trump’ in Philadelphia, with Bruce Carter, founder of Black Men for Bernie and Hindu activist Arvind Kumar from Texas.
Dosapti, who pursued a career in telecom here, was also engaged in animal rights movements in the U.S. for health, environment and compassion, his biodata on PG Gurus says.
He said it was the first judicial acknowledgment of the Hindu right to worship their deities. “Imagine someone going and building their temple in Mecca or the Vatican,” Dosapati questioned. “How can you say that the temple can be divided,” he wondered. “The Supreme Court’s decision has restored the dignity and the rights of the Hindus and righted the wrong that was committed for so many years,” he said.
Similarly, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America, also known as the World Hindu Council of America, in a statement said that for Hindus around the world, the Ram Janmabhoomi movement is a symbol of their centuries old struggle against colonialism and the brutality and tragedy that came with it. “It is a cause that was served by the sacrifice of thousands of Hindus, many of them who gave up their life as they faced bullets by doing Karseva in 1990,” the statement said. It also acknowledged that the struggle for the Ram Janmabhoomi “memorializes the women and children of Sabarmati Express who were burnt alive in the tragic Godhra train massacre of 2002.”
“Ayodhya is the foremost of the seven sacred cities of Bharat as lauded in ancient texts,” David Frawley, an American Vedic teacher and founder of American Institute of Vedic Studies, told the Sunday Guardian. “Now its most iconic ruler Shri Ram has been given back his dignity,” said Frawley, a recipient of the Padma Bhushan, the fourth highest civilian award instituted by the Government of India. “A new India that is Bharat has arisen for another millennium, its wealth of spiritual knowledge spreading worldwide,” he told the paper.
Meanwhile, Dosapati also noted that Ram is not just a Hindu God. He said Ram is worshipped in Indonesia, a Muslim majority country, as well as among all Buddhists and members of many other religions, countries and communities. He said the government has to build a “worship town” for Ram, “not just as a God, but as a revered human being.”
Historic Verdict and Balanced Judgment
Several political, social and religious organizations like the Overseas Friends of BJP, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America, the Hindu American Foundation and the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh, celebrated the Supreme Court’s decision on Nov. 9 and welcomed the “historic” verdict which put an end to the 491 years old Ramjanma Bhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute.
OFBJP-USA president Krishna Reddy Anugula told India Abroad that the Supreme Court’s decision is the victory of faith of millions of Hindus. “The verdict will also put to rest one of the most and longest contentious issues that have caused friction among communities for centuries,” he said.
Former OFBJP President, Prof. Dinesh Agrawal, in a statement said that the verdict had “a very special significance for OFBJP since OFBJP was founded in 1991 as the byproduct of RJB Movement mainly to counter the false and misleading propaganda in the Western media against Hindu cause and to inform the Western countries about the truth of Ramjanmbhoomi issue.” He also said that the day of the verdict was indeed historic as it coincided with the day when the Kartarpur Corridor was opened, bringing down a wall between India and Pakistan. The day also marked the day when 30 years ago the foundation (Shilanyas) was laid at the disputed Ayodhya site, and the day that the Berlin wall was brought down to unify East and West Germany on Nov. 9, 1989.
Suhag Shukla, executive director and cofounder of the Hindu American Foundation told India Abroad that the Ayodhya verdict is a victory of India’s secular and pluralistic fabric.
“The ruling by the Indian Supreme Court is equally a victory for Hindus and Muslims, as it is for archeologists, historians, and the Indian legal system,” she said, adding that the verdict was based solely of facts and science. “The verdict has shown us that even though the wheels of justice are slow, there is always a silver lining at the end.”
Also lauding the decision was the Foundation for India and Indian Diaspora Studies (FIIDS), USA. “This balanced judgment sets precedent for all the future disputes and shows the maturity of the Indian judicial system to resolve a challenging situation in a calm, collected and fair manner,” the foundation said in a press release.
Healing the Trauma and Moving Forward
Several Hindu-Americans India Abroad spoke with said they are happy with the verdict and are confident that both the Hindu and Muslim communities will accept the decision and move forward. They said the court’s decision brings to a legal closure a long dispute that has resulted in violence between Hindus and Muslims and led to the deaths of thousands of people.
Shukla said that while she and the HAF “unequivocally denounce the violence that arose in the tearing down of the Babri Masjid, permission to rebuild a Hindu temple on the site of Ram Janmabhoomi delivers both justice and closure to a deep and historic wound.”
Certain sites are deeply sacred to the Hindus, she said, adding that “the historical destruction of the sacred sites and places of worship for Hindus, as well as for followers of other Indic religions, must be acknowledged and addressed constructively in order to heal past traumas and foster positive interreligious relations going forward.”
The New York Times reported that when the Babri Masjid was demolished by Hindu extremists, “it set off riots across the country that killed around 2,000 people in some of the worst violence India had seen since its bloody partition in 1947.” The report said that “in place of the mosque, Hindus erected a tent resembling a temple, which still stands and draws thousands of tourists every day.”
Indian Overseas Congress vice chairman George Abraham said while he welcomes the judgment on Ayodhya, he hopes that at last, one can “get some closure on this polarizing issue” that has divided the country along the religious lines. “India needs to move on from matters like these and focus on development, jobs, and uplifting of the masses from poverty,” he told India Abroad.
Striking a Balance
In an interview with the China Global Television Network, Sadanand Dhume, Resident Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, said that what the Supreme Court is trying to “strike a balance” between the law and the prevailing social and political reality of India. “The decision is ensuring that some kind of peace is maintained,” he said.
Few like Gaurang Vaishvav, executive vice president of Global Indians for Bharat Vikas, also an active member of the VHPA, seem to agree with Dhume’s point of view. Vaishav told India Abroad that although he’s happy with the decision, “the situation is still very delicate,” and the governments has to “maintain a balance.”
He feels that the decision should be seen as a chance for both the communities “to come together and forget the past.”
But at the same time, he also feared that the land allotted to the Muslim, shouldn’t become another Babri Masjid. Maybe the Muslim community might not eventually build the mosque, he said.
Dosapati concurred with Vaishnav. Though he is of the opinion that giving the Muslim community a land to build the mosque is “the right thing to do,” he feels that the “Muslims should also understand how many temples were destroyed by them to build their mosques. “It was a great temple site,” he said of the land.
Abraham said that while “there is no doubt that BJP has profited from the polarization arising out of Ayodhya dispute,” he hopes that “they will show more maturity in dealing with such sensitive issues in the future.”
He noted that “if any party uses this verdict to gain political mileage, it would not heal the nation that suffered for so long from this simmering dispute,” adding that the IOC urges the citizenry in India “to respect the court verdict and maintain peace and harmony among communities.”
Celebrating the fact so far there has not been recourse to violence, Rev. Joseph D’Souza, President of the All India Christian Council urged Indians to now find a way forward toward peace and communal harmony.
“Those who are aggrieved with the decision need to find the strength to work for peace and communal harmony, while those who feel they have won must also find the humility to accept this judgment with the kind of attitude that respects the Muslim community and their rights in a democratic India,” he said in a statement. “With the kind of deep-seated religious divisions that currently plague India, it is critical that people of all faiths in India work toward peace, communal harmony and economic development,” the statement said.
‘Mixture of Glaring Contradictions’
Several news reports, including a Nov. 9 report in The New York Times indicated that many of India’s Muslims fear that the Ayodhya decision will relegate them to second-class citizenship and empower Hindu extremists.
“Though many appeared to accept the ruling with sullen resignation, they see an India where mob lynchings of Muslims are seldom condemned by the government and where members of the governing party are implicated in sectarian violence,” the Times report said.
Echoing that sentiment, Kaleem Kawaja, executive director of the Association of Indian Muslims of America, said the Indian Muslims are very disappointed by the “flawed” Supreme Court judgment which he said is self-contradictory in several respects.
“While we Indian-American Muslims respect the Supreme Court as the apex legal body in India, we respectfully disagree with their judgment,” he told India Abroad.
“At the least they could have awarded one-third of the land where the mosque had stood to the Muslim community,” Kawaja said, adding that “the Muslim community should not accept the five acre of land elsewhere that the court has allotted to them for a mosque.
Similarly, the Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC) expressed dismay over the ruling.
“The Supreme Court’s ruling is of a piece with the Modi government’s revocation of special status of Jammu and Kashmir, India’s only Muslim-majority state, and the decision to incarcerate half a million Muslims in detention centers in the state of Assam,” IAMC National President Ahsan Khan said in the statement.
Calling the judgment a mixture of glaring contradictions, he urged Indian Muslims to pursue legal avenues such as filing of a review petition before the court.
“The Supreme Court’s ruling emboldens the decades’ old project of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu extremist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) — whose thousands of members had criminally razed the mosque in 1992 and who were yet to be punished for it — to make India a Hindu Rashtra and turn India’s 200 million Muslims, who are its largest minority, into second-class citizens,” the IAMC statement said.
Failure of Democracy
Celebrated historian Romila Thapar said that the verdict has created a precedent in the court of law that land can be claimed by declaring it to be the birthplace of a divine or semi-divine being worshipped by a group that defines itself as a community.
“There will now be many such janmasthans wherever appropriate property can be found, or a required dispute manufactured,” she wrote in a speak piece in the Hindu.
“Since the deliberate destruction of historical monuments has not been condemned what is to stop people from continuing to destroy others? The legislation of 1993 against changing the status of places of worship has been, as we have seen in recent years, quite ineffective,” she wrote.
She noted that, “What happened in history, happened” and it cannot be changed. “But we can learn to understand what happened in its fuller context and strive to look at it on the basis of reliable evidence.
“We cannot change the past to justify the politics of the present. The verdict has annulled respect for history and seeks to replace history with religious faith,” she said in the article. “True reconciliation can only come when there is confidence that the law in this country bases itself not just on faith and belief, but on evidence.”
For Angana Chatterji, co-chair, Initiative on Political Conflict, Gender and People’s Rights, Center for Race and Gender at the University of California, Berkeley, the judgment, while a “victory for Hindutva,” is “a failure for democracy.”
She told India Abroad that “the Ayodhya judgment sanctifies mythos as social fact.” She says it will “embolden Hindutva ideologues and their cadre in enforcing nationalist Hinduism.”
Several Indian-Americans did not see eye-to-eye with the court judgment.
One such was Sunita Viswanath of New York-based Hindus for Human Rights.
Viswanath said that one must accept this Supreme Court decision and continue to build unity among all faiths and all who desire communal harmony. “Since the verdict states clearly that the demolition of the mosque in 1992 was a criminal act, we must ensure that the people responsible for the demolition are prosecuted,” Viswanath told India Abroad. She said her organization stands “with our Muslim brothers and sisters” and offer love and support in rebuilding their place of worship.
Reiterating Viswanath’s sentiment was her colleague Raju Rajagopal, cofounder of Hindus for Human Rights. He told India Abroad that he this verdict could set precedence to similar incidents.
He also lamented the fact that the Supreme ruled on the criminal case before the civil case.
Claiming that incomplete justice is meted out, Rajagopalan said that he does not see a silver lining He said it wouldn’t cause an alarm if the incident was in isolation, but earlier issues in Kashmir and Assam makes this decision nothing but a nail in the coffin of secularism.”