Our Judiciary has refused to hear on the trial of Ram Janma Bhumi on an urgent basis. Should someone be surprised? Only if one sees the issue as about a temple or Lord Ram’s birth place. If we see the real issue as whether the aspirations of a race, the identity of a people that needs to rise, perhaps one shouldn’t be.
The other day I saw an anchor on a national television ranting and saying the people want roti, food, homes. Who really needs a temple? How is it important? I wanted to tell her that what she is saying is what the White nationalists also told the Blacks and justified slavery. It was thought slaves need bread and a place to sleep, why should they be asking for more? This is what a Tibetan friend of mine told me the other day. If life was only about hunger, none of us would have run away from Tibet.
Do Indians need to understand that they are seen as similar to slaves by many and are seen as carrying its legacy? Whenever they try to raise their hope, their aspirations, someone will tell them it is not yet time for them to think beyond roti and their homes.
When can we start to think beyond bread and shelter and understand that it is an identity of our nation that we are fighting for, one that needs symbols?
There are trials that have liberated a people’s conscience from centuries of oppression, from memories that once chained them. Nurenberg trial did that for Jews. Truth and Reconciliation Commission did that for South Africans. The Scotts Borough trial did that in America and the Dreyfus trial did in France. All these trials forced people to look at their own identity as a race, their history and the attempts to annihilate it by others.
Does the trial over Ram Janma Bhumi symbolize a similar struggle for Indians? Is it a struggle that epitomizes the identity for a race, a nation in chains? Is it a struggle between the pluralism of Hinduism and the monotheism that has tried to destroy it for centuries? Is it not a trial that raises fundamental questions about memory, religious identity and violence that has been heaped on India, its land and its people? Does it need a closure and one that our Judges don’t seems to grasp? Is it a lack of courage that makes us not confront the core issue? When will they understand that it is not an ordinary trial but one around which a nation is trying to heal from its past?
Bruno Bettelheim once said that a society coming out of mass trauma heals in a similar way like an individual. Societies store the collective memory of their trauma caused by major events and never let it go by through its symbols. The Sikhs have it in the sufferings of their Gurus at the hands of the Mughals and it came up during their memory of the 1984 riots. The Buddhist have it through the destruction of their stupas.
Attempts to understand how a society heals comes from many a source and often lie outside the mainstream narratives. It came to me from a most unlikely source, a therapeutic center for young people convalescing after a long illness. They were afraid to move in the outside world as a result and preferred to stay inside the home. The reason I discovered was that the nearer they go to being well, the closer they got in touch with memories of the past, one that reminded them of failures and powerlessness. Called traumatic memory, it shapes their identity and refuses to go away when they try to embark on a new life.
Traumatic memory gets buried only to resurface at times of regeneration or hope for us. Called ‘soul wound’ in societies who faced repeated extermination, slavery or genocide, it is both a shaper of destiny and one that many societies including us are trying to leave behind.
Sujoy (name changed) used to top in his grade before he came for treatment. His parents had separated early. He had made a recovery and we talked to him about going back to the outside world. There was one session with him that changed me forever.
In that session Sujoy told me, “I am 32 years now and I had a breakdown at when I was 15 years old.”
“Thirty two is no age to give up,” I replied. “Many people begin their lives at that age.”
“No, you don’t understand. I have been ill for a period longer than I have been well.” He said slowly, “I have forgotten what it means to be well as it was so long ago. I don’t know how to create hopes and aspirations once again.” He had tears in his eyes as he spoke.
This example came to haunt me when I began to read the history of our people. I read how we as a society became slaves and stayed like that for centuries forgetting our glorious past. Like Sujoy, are we Indians trying to create a memory from our past that can inspire, be a living force in our lives once again that has a meaning. If we do not do it ourselves will others do it for us? Our rulers and colonial masters saw to it we didn’t and then the next seventy years didn’t do it either.
Can a Judgment give back the identity of a race to the people who lost it through persecution? The reading of history of justice shows it didn’t. Justice is something every race had to get through a movement where they brought out their aspirations in the open and made it flow through the blood of people.
Much as an Indian of today tries, most can only visualize Muslim emperors or British viceroys as their role models. The Hindu emperors who ruled with an ethos and compassion unknown to the invaders are not part of our consciousness. The invaders saw us as infidels and the British saw us as savages including Charles Dickens. Today in our history books, in the roads named after invaders, the landmarks that dot every corner of India, the former holds on our imagination telling us that our roots in our own land, our past comes secondary otherwise we will not be called secular.
Prithavi Raj Chauhan called the last Hindu king of India epitomized compassion and forgave his enemy after defeating him. His story, shouldn’t it be taught as a lesson of betrayal to every school child so that he knows whom to trust and whom not to? That it was wrong of us to forgive our enemies and it should never be repeated?
Will history record the Ram Mandir as the deepest symbol of resistance for us as a people? If it is defined as not the priority by the custodians of Justice, will they be judged harshly by history? What will our judges say if they were asked to sit on the Nurenberg trial or on Truth and Reconciliation Commission of a country? Will they walk away telling the people it shouldn’t be a priority for them. The recent one where Kashmiri pandits were told their issues are not priority is another example. Is justice becoming highly selective in India?
Today in India we need judges who understand justice as redemption, as beyond interpretation of rules in the textbooks and as a human condition, as inhumanity to a race who wait in patience for justice that was denied in the past. Otherwise it will resurface till it finds closure. Will they call it a not priority and shift it to a later date? Justice doesn’t end there. It begins there.
What is the true role of justice and why is our court telling a people it is not a priority? Can in another country the judges ever tell their own people that they should postpone their deepest symbols and aspiration for Justice and wait for eternity? Does it not show a lack of inner courage and fortitude on the part of some?
The Indian of today needs to change his heroes, his symbols, his institutions and one who defines his priorities. He needs to understand which are his symbols of faith and hope and will end his past humiliations around persecution. Will he then be able to see a mass movement as his only hope, his search for Justice having ended with the word ‘priority’?
The story of Ram Janma Bhoomi symbolizes the story of where story of India stands today. It is that of a race betrayed. It was kept alive by a mass memory that didn’t die. The desecrated temple left Indians with a wound that never filled up and perhaps never will. The space around the temple can be a healing space and has the capacity to heal a nation. If left unresolved it will create more wounds for a people.
The temple symbolizes the resilience, the plurality and the irony of Indians that once gave space for other religions asking nothing in return but are today asking for a space. A religion that never discriminated against others by calling them as infidels or heathens is ironically today fighting for its own sacred spaces taken over by them all over the land. The religion and the people that showed tolerance and fortitude are told they need to be secular so that the country stays united.
Today we need a paradigm of Justice in India that is rooted in historical understanding of race, religion and the bigotry that have torn apart our land. I hope it finds a place in the imagination of our people.
I often wondered what, if anything, will change if the temple is built at that spot? Will it make Indians more religious? Will it make them feel victors? The only thing that may change will be a people who will have a collective faith having thrown away one of the last symbols of its humiliation.
Will Indians ever find justice through their courts for issues that robbed them of their historical and religious identity, of the humiliation they faced? Generation of Justices may come and go but will fail if they don’t understand that Justice is understanding human suffering and confronting ideologies that hate and seek to annihilate. This is what the Nurenberg trial did to the conscience of the world. And for that we probably have to wait till those who are raised on borrowed paradigms of secularism are made to leave and a new generation becomes the conscience of our people and judiciary. That will mark a turning point in the history of our people and symbolize a rupture from a humiliating past.