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Balancing equities? Polarization of an already divided nation on August 5, 2020

By Fr Cedric Prakash SJ*

Fifth August 2020: A ‘bhoomi pujan’ has take place in Ayodhya, marking the beginning of the construction work for a Ram temple, at the site where the Babri Masjid once stood. The construction of the temple is expected to take three years and the costs, yet undisclosed, will surely run into astronomical amounts. The Babri Masjid- Ram Mandir fight, has been one of the most contentious issues in post-independent India. It has resulted in plenty of bloodshed, destruction, violence, hate and divisiveness.
In November 2019 in a rather unpalatable, controversial, yet historic written judgement (which is still unsigned), the Supreme Court granted the entire 2.77 acres of disputed land in Ayodhya to the Hindu litigants. In that very judgment, for apparently ‘balancing equities’, the court directed the Central and Uttar Pradesh governments to allot an alternative five acres of land to the Muslim party to build a mosque.
Many thinking citizens of India (mainly from the majority community) are not unhappy with the judgement, but also the fact that the ‘bhoomi pujan’ has taken place -- which will add to the polarization of an already divided nation! A lamentable day indeed!
Fifth August 2020: The Prime Minister was present for the ‘bhoomi pujan.’ He did not go there as a private citizen but as a Constitutional authority, who is expected to protect and promote the secular fabric of the country. Despite pleas from several sections of society that he does not participate in the event, he threw all caution and propriety to the wind, in order to display his threw colours (he stopped hiding them a long time ago). 
The majority of Indians are Hindu; but thanks to the vision and ideals of our Constituent Assembly secularism was allowed to flourish with (at least theoretically) all religions treated with respect and allowed to grow.
In the pathbreaking judgment of 1994 of SR Bommai vs Union of India, secularism was recognised as part of the basic structure of the constitution; Justice Jeevan Reddy held that the constitution does not recognise or permit mixing religion and state power, and the two must be kept apart. The judgement states:
“If the Constitution requires the State to be secular in thought and action, the same requirement attaches to political parties as well. The Constitution does not recognise, it does not permit, mixing religion and State power. Both must be kept apart. That is the constitutional injunction. None can say otherwise so long as this Constitution governs this country.
“Introducing religion into politics is to introduce an impermissible element into body politic and an imbalance in our constitutional system. If a political party espousing a particular religion comes to power, that religion tends to become, in practice, the official religion. All other religions come to acquire a secondary status, at any rate, a less favourable position. This would be plainly antithetical to Articles 14 to 16, 25 and the entire constitutional scheme adumbrated hereinabove. Under our Constitution, no party or Organisation can simultaneously be a political and a religious party."

With the PM actually being there at the ‘bhoomi pujan’ makes it a lamentable day indeed!
Fifth August 2020: Exactly a year ago, on August 5, 2019, in a move that is acknowledged by legal luminaries both in India and globally as blatantly unconstitutional, the Government of India abrogated Article 370 and Article 35A, thus revoking Jammu and Kashmir’s special semi -autonomous status guaranteed in the Indian Constitution. It demoted India’s only Muslim majority state to a Union Territory.
For a year now Kashmir has become one big prison and placed under a months-long lockdown, practically without any internet or communication facilities. Thousands including activists, lawyers and minors, were arrested; besides political opponents have been incarcerated, silenced and some even ‘bought up’.
The Government has destroyed what was once sacred to the state by making it now possible for all Indians to acquire rights to vote and buy land in J&K; it has initiated an exercise to redraw parliamentary and assembly constituencies that could tilt the balance of power to the Hindu-majority Jammu Division, and withdrawn an order that made it mandatory for Indian security forces to obtain a No Objection Certificate (NOC) before acquiring land in the region.
Media has been silenced; those who speak up and take a stand for Kashmir and her people are branded as ‘anti-national’ or ‘pro-Pakistan’. The losses to the J&K economy in the past year are conservatively estimated to be around Rs 40,000 crore. A sad anniversary: a lamentable day indeed!
From our towers we watched for a nation that could not save us. People stalked us at every step, so we could not walk in our streets
Fifth August 2020: Shehla Rashid, the firebrand young activist from Kashmiri, an alumnus of JNU has been one of those voices who has, despite all odds, been trying to keep Kashmir on the nation’s agenda. It is an uphill task indeed. In an interview to HuffPost India (August 4, 2020) when asked, “How do you feel one year after Article 370 was revoked?”, Rashid said:
“I straddle two very complex identities of Indian Muslim and a Kashmiri woman. In this new India, the space for me as a woman, as a Muslim, as a Kashmiri, and as a research student, is shrinking. The space to be different is shrinking. There is an attempt to paint everything in one colour and homogenise a very diverse country. One used to be afraid of being a Kashmiri in Delhi, now one is afraid of being a Kashmiri in Kashmir.
“It could be just psychological but that is what the government is doing. The biggest change is a feeling of insecurity. We have this feeling that Kashmir, our home, a distinct place where our culture could thrive, seems to be slipping away. That it is being snatched away from us. There is already a sense of nostalgia”.

There are other voices from civil society too, who no uncertain terms condemn the assault on the rights and freedom of the people of #KashmirCaged #StandWithKashmir #ReleasePoliticalPrisoners #Restore4G #EndOccupation .Making the reality there today: a lamentable day indeed!
Fifth August 2020: Nobody cares when India has the greatest spike in the Covid-19 cases and deaths on a single day worldwide. When the poor, the excluded and the vulnerable (particularly the daily wagers and the migrant workers) are on the receiving end of a system which has neither a heart nor a conscience! When human rights defenders, journalists, activists, intellectuals and all who take a stand for Truth and Justice and stand up to the anti-people policies of the Government – are throttled, incarcerated and even killed!
It is the eve of the 75th Anniversary of the nuclear holocaust: first in Hiroshima (August 6, 1945) and then in Nagasaki (August 9, 1945). The world at that time said ‘Never Again’ – a ‘No’ to every form of violence. India (which gave to the world the doctrine of ‘ahimsa’: non-violence) does not seem to have learnt. The ruling regime clearly espouses hate, divisiveness and violence: Kashmir today and the bhoomi pujan today are indicators of this! A lamentable day indeed!
There is a small book in the Holy Bible called the ‘Book of Lamentations’, the writer says:
“Moreover, our eyes failed, looking in vain for help; from our towers we watched for a nation that could not save us. People stalked us at every step, so we could not walk in our streets. Our end was near, our days were numbered, for our end had come.” (4: 17-18).
And further:
“You, Lord, reign forever; your throne endures from generation to generation. Why do you always forget us? Why do you forsake us so long? Restore us to yourself, Lord, that we may return; renew our days as of old” (5:19-21).
Words worth reflecting on, this fifth August 2020: a lamentable day indeed!
--- 
*Human rights and peace activist/writer

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