A Christian’s view of Ayodhya

by Fr. T. K. John

 

I am Christian by faith and a professor and priest by profession. I hold a doctorate in the Philosophy of the Upanishads. I lecture apart from on specifically Christian topics, on the Bhagavadgita, Introduction to Hinduism, Modern Hinduism and the Upanishads. In our institution we offer courses on Hinduism, Islam, Sikhism, Buddhism and Tribal religions. These have contributed to the growth and prevalence of a multicultural, multi-faith cultural ethos. I place these data before the honourable judges as the background and determining factors for the observations and recommendations I make before you.

1. As a citizen of this country, as a believer, as an educated Indian and hence proud of the heritage, I feel still ashamed of what happened to us on December 6 in Ayodhya. I am deeply hurt and my faith in the three institutions of our democracy, namely the executive, the legislature, the judiciary, lies shattered. As a member of a minority religion how can I hence forth rest assured, since the assurance of the Prime Minister of the country from the ramparts of the Red Fort on August 15 was not kept, since the assurances and promises of the Chief Minister of the State concerned was not honored, since the legislature and the judiciary with all their wisdom power and responsibility could not prevent the greatest disaster of the century, on a par with the violation of the Golden Temple.

2. As a Christian I found the position of the Hindutva leaders who stated again and again that Ayodhya is a matter of faith; history has no place in it, as highly damaging to the very cause of religion itself. For, according to the growing understanding in our tradition, Scripture has to be constantly interacting with the contemporary human consciousness, with mutually modifying influences as a result. Deny this and we go back to atavism and archaism, and civilized society rejects such religions.

I recommend to the different religions, especially to the leaders of the Hindutva ideology to initiate steps in this direction and save Hinduism from future peril.

3. The concept of one country, one religion, one faith often repeated by the leaders of Hindutva movement sounds to me as very dangerous, exclusive and intolerant, and destructive of our composite culture and multi-religious actuality. Today no religion can deny ignore or exclude another without becoming suicidal and self-destructive. As a believer I feel hurt by such stands and request the leaders to scrutinize their position.

4. Faith, religious experience, relate to God, is a discourse on God, a response to God. This has to be, especially in actual multi-faith, multi-religious context, invariably dialogical and open to other faiths, respectful of other faiths, ever listening to other faiths.

As a member of the Christian Community I can testify to a verification of this in our religion. (1) Our religious head in Rome, called the Pope, has a Council for dialogue with people of other faiths; (2) on one occasion the Pope apologised to all whom in the past the Catholic Church may have offended; (3) we decry and condemn the Crusades; (4) dialogue with other religions is a major development in Christianity; (5) we are becoming increasingly self-critical; (6) while reporting or discussing the havoc committed in communal violence we have also accused ourselves of being morally responsible for such perversities; (7) recently in Kerala when a dispute arose over an allegedly ancient cross in a place sacred to Hindus, and dangerous passions were stirred up, recourse was had to mutual exchange and consequently rigid stands were relaxed and mutually agreeable solutions arrived at.

It is our growing conviction that history may teach us but history cannot be remade: for example the well-known great church in Constantinople, by name Hagia Sophia, is now a mosque. There is neither desire nor plan to affect a restoration. Where can a society stop if such hurts pound? Vengeance, vindictiveness, and consequent violence, destruction of life, burning of homes, severing of heads, torching of men and women, burning of scriptures and sacred places, may it be known, can never contribute to the so-called pride of religion, to any restoration of honour and dignity that may have been damaged. The public good, order, justice and peace in the society are considerations that should ever outweigh expressions of religiosity.

For example, it was reported recently that a cross in Cochin, when found to obstruct traffic, was removed and installed in such away that smooth flow of traffic is possible. In such matters rigidity could well be replaced by flexibility, keeping the public good in mind.

5. Although I belong to one of the minority communities in this country, yet I felt hurt and was deeply distressed that very few religious leaders belonging to the majority community came forward with open expressions of regret. That was a major set back to real dharma. For it is dharma that was humiliated, degraded and invited condemnation from right minded people not only of India, but of the whole world. With the destruction of the mosque much damage was done to the ethical, to the moral sense of the people of India and its culture. I charge the leaders of Hindutva responsible for this damage to our Indian ethno-moral heritage.

6. The Christian community in India wholeheartedly accepted and subscribed to the Indian rendering of secularism. But of late uneasiness and concern is growing among the Christians due to the vacillation on the part of the government and its institutions that seem to yield to pressures. These are based on the ignoble undemocratic practice of cultivating vote banks for political survival and not necessarily for any adhesion to principles and values. A very dangerous game is being played both by the protagonists of Hindutva as well as by the government. True secularism would imply:

  1. no discrimination by state between persons belonging to different religions,

  2. separation between religion and politics: politics will not interfere with religion and religion will not interfere with politics.

Christian community in India feels discriminated against by the State on the issue of Reservation.

7. ‘Minority appeasement’ has been a regular complaint by Hindutva upholders. A major reason for its repeated orchestration has been certain rigidity and uncompromising attitude expressed by the Muslim community which aggravated only the Hindutva stand. Both are unhealthy attitudes, negative in approach, and dangerous in consequence.

I like to recall here the reaction of the Christian community in Kerala when the inheritance practice was regulated by court judgment. The community accepted it, without protest. Similarly deliberations and study are under way regarding marriage laws. These are signs of internal self-criticism, a very important disposition religions should have. No single religion, ideology, ethnic or cultural group can afford to assert, demand, and fight for enclave mentality. Give and take and mutual adjustment is part of any diasphora existence. Here I appeal to the Muslim community to take fresh initiatives in this regard. There should be effective dialogue between the demand for a common civil code and minority rights based on religious identity.

8. As a member of a minority religion I feel restless and deeply disturbed by the disintegration that is taking place of the social integration that had been knitting the different communities and groups together. The selective and unauthorized killing of Muslims by the police in riot-affected areas (I refer to the many fact-finding missions their reports, after Mallia and Algarh in Uttar Pradesh, Bombay in recent times, Govandi and Jalgaon, Moradabad, Varanasi etc., Seelampur in Delhi in December 1992) prove that the constitutional guarantees by the secular state, that is, the Union government and state governments, cannot be relied upon. The killings of the Sikhs in 1984 further confirms this apprehension. Where shall we go for help? To whom shall an aggrieved community call for help, when people from within a besieged or burning house call for police help, according to media reports and reports by the commissions referred to, the reply has been ‘are you a Muslim, if so why do you stay here, why don’t you go to Pakistan’?

The unavoidable conclusion is that the State itself is emerging as an agent of self-destruction and ruin of our democracy by inaction or mental reservation.

May I place before this Citizens’ Tribunal, in which I place trust and hope, the following concrete steps:

  1. The Union of India, and the State governments that are concerned, should take steps to:

    - trace and take action against the police personnel that have been found responsible for unauthorized shooting; and those who did not come to help when endangered persons called for urgent help;

    - editors that published provocative and inflammatory articles, news items, etc. should be tried and deterrent punishment given;

    - CBI inquiry ordered to trace those citizens or political leaders who actively organized burning, killing and looting.

  2. Political parties that stand for a fascist theocratic state should be barred from contesting elections and prevented from assuming power in the state or at the Centre.

  3. Since ignorance and misinformation of groups and communities other than one’s own contribute to communal tendencies, steps should be taken to be better informed of each other. An effective step for meeting this need is teaching of religions in the school. Personally I have found this very helpful for growing in respect for other faiths.

  4. Since state-religion is a phenomenon of the past, heads of state should not participate in religious functions or go for blessings from religious leaders.

  5. No self-respecting individual can hope for defense of one’s faith or ideology by antipathy, hostility and rejection of the same or another individual, group or community. Religion-political leaders should take steps to educate their fold in an open culture, in respectful dealings with people of different faiths.

  6. Disputed places of worship continue to aggravate existing discord and disharmony. I recommend that committees of religious leaders who are enlightened be constituted to deal with conflict issues, and work on the basis of true religiosity and not communalised or politicised hidden agenda.

  7. As a student of the Vedas I have always appreciated the primordial insight that paved the way for diversity of perception and pluralism in living, in the phrase, ‘ekam sad viprah bahudha vadanti.’ But the many utterances of religious leaders, even from the so called dharma sam-sad, show a departure from it, in concept and in practice. I suggest that those who pursue religious education and enlightenment include in their program of studies, other faiths and ideologies too.

  8. Fundamentalism feeds and nourishes communalism and exclusive concern for one’s faith, in an intolerant way. Fundamentalism is an atavistic reliance and interpretation of religious texts or beliefs or practices without interacting with the growing consciousness of a given phase of history. A technical world for it is hermeneutics. To every religion I strongly recommend incorporation of this method in their study, interpretation and practice of religious texts, beliefs or tradition.

In conclusion:

Satyamevajayate’ - we all are committed to it notionally, but deviate from it practically. We need a digging into the sources of this truth. We all agree on the need for demolition of structures of untruth and fraud and fanaticism. Let us commit ourselves to its promotion. A great ruler Dilli wrote centuries ago:

"Every religion is blessed by God. We must enjoy the blessings of the ever-green garden of universal tolerance. The Eternal King showers his favours on all men without distinction". (Akbar, to Shahi Abbas Safair of Iran Abul Fail)

Still earlier in our history, the great Emperor Asoka declared:

"All religious sects should live in harmony in all parts of my dominion" (Edict VII)

"People should learn and respect the fundamentals of one another’s dharmas. There should be growth of the essentials of Dharma among men of all sects" (Rock Edict XII)

India’s political leadership has disgraced this culture, and fallen low. India’s religious vision is in danger of being blocked and is encircled by darkness and short-term advantages. We have no alternatives but efforts like this Tribunal and the efforts that have gone into its constitution.


(Submission before the Citizen’s Tribunal on Ayodhya)