By Gideon Mathson
It is irrational to expect a court to judge solely on the basis of reason in India. The idea that faith must play a lesser role in a judgment that deals implicitly with the issue of religion and myth is equally absurd.
There is little doubt that the fervor stirred up to demolish the Babri Masjid in 1992 was the result of the spurious use of history and reality. But, the acceptance of such mixing, evidences the wide scale acceptance of faith over reason in India. Religious faith and fervour exist in India, on quite a large scale. Why deny it?
That the word ‘secular’ was added in our nation’s constitution closely after it saw its peak of communal strife (the strife occurred just before its birth), is ironical and reeks of the enforcement of reason. Was the nation prepared to be secular or even a state in 1950?
But then these are hypothetical questions and admittedly the secular ideal is more than desirable. And yet, today, when faith is discussed in intellectual circles or even amongst ‘modern’ Indians, the idea of a court case based on faith seems redundant.
Of course the case has generated some very eccentric views, such as V.S Naipaul’s idea that the Babri Masjid demolition was some sort of ancient Hindu revenge against Mughal subjugation. There is little doubt that the violence engendered in this issue has been a result of the manipulation of history and reason on the part of Hindu nationalists, for more than a century now. But to condemn the citizen and to say that he is wrong and irrational to buy into an ideal of faith or to argue that it is monstrous for a court to judge an issue on the basis of faith rather than historical evidence is a prejudice in favour of reason, and a denial of the fact that faith is still an inalienable part of every discourse in this country.
F.A Hayek in his book ‘The Fatal Conceit’ asserts that there are three levels of moral belief. The first level is instinctive and spontaneous. This refers to our innate, moral urge. But over a period of time, as human groups grow larger, human society evolves with the assistance of a set of moral traditions. Hayek describes the process of evolution of the present ‘extended order’ of humanity as being based on such moral traditions. Faith and religion are an intrinsic part of these moral traditions. Such traditions have to compete with a third level, which is intellectual; the level of reason. It denies the prevalence or necessity of the moral tradition because the intellectual never designed that tradition in the first place. What the intellectual did construct was a new moral paradigm based on reason, assuming that it would satisfy a man’s instinctive needs better.
Yet, the faith that so much of humanity holds dear is an argument against the all-pervading influence of the more recent paradigm of reason. Moral traditions cannot be brushed aside by an onslaught of intellectual or ‘modern’, rationalist criticism. ‘Brushing aside’ however, is exactly what the Indian nation state tries to do.
While it does not deny the prevalence of faith or the individual’s right to practice faith, it does seem to argue for the higher moral acceptability of reason and, to that extent, of secularism. Moral traditions continue to be a part of human evolution and continue to decide who the individual views as the ‘other’ and how he defines his own identity. To argue that modernity has suddenly affected a bridge of the self-other gap and that Hindus and Muslims should be brothers in arms because we live in a ‘modern age’ is ridiculous.
If the state must exist it cannot assume reason, secularism or the ‘modern cosmopolitan ethic’ on the part of every Indian.
Violence however remains inexcusable. In fact the state’s pivotal and only role must be the protection of every individual and faith. The Indian state’s failure to do so in 1992 is only a further example of its inefficiency. The Allahabad high court’s neglect of the Babri Masjid demolition, moreover, is quite startling in itself, and in this sense Dr. Romila Thapar does raise a crucial issue when she argues in her Hindu op-ed, “When the deliberate destruction of historical monuments has not been condemned, what is to stop people from continuing to destroy others?”. She goes on however, to condemn the judgment entirely by saying “The verdict has annulled respect for history and seeks to replace history with religious faith. 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”.
“True reconciliation”, for whom? Historians who record one narrative of a nation’s history? In her words faith almost seems like something frivolous, not ‘serious’ enough for the courtroom.
On the contrary the court’s recognition of religious faith is crucial to ‘true reconciliation’ and stands as a landmark, and a rare representation of the fact that the Indian Nation State understands faith and comprehends the fact that an intellectual discourse and ‘urban educated reasoning’ are not the only acceptable reality.
Gideon is currently a doctoral candidate at Shiv Nadar University.
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