Sangam Sponsors Discussion on Babri MasjidBy Pradeep Sreekanthan
Over 200 students attended a panel discussion Friday on "India: One year after the demolition of the Babri Masjid." The event was sponsored by the Indian Students' Association and moderated by Professor of Political Science Myron Weiner.
Mukund Modi, the President of the Overseas Friends of the Bharatiya Janata Party, the largest opposition party in India, spoke for the Hindu nationalists. Amartya Sen, a renowned professor of philosophy and economics at Harvard University, and Sanjoy Hazarika, a reporter for the New York Times, presented the views of secularists.
Weiner traced a series of events culminating in the demolition of the mosque, even as Hindu nationalism was becoming an important political force in India.
On Dec. 6, 1992, a large crowd mobilized by Hindu nationalists demolished the Babri Mosque in the town of Ayodhya, setting off a wave of riots in the country. The mosque was built in 1528 by Babar, the founder of the Moghul empire, reportedly on the site of a temple marking the birthplace of Lord Rama, an important Hindu god.
Weiner asked why Hindu nationalism, or Hindutva, was sweeping the country, and replacing civic nationalism, or secularism. He suggested that many people "were drawn to the idea of Hindutva, not because of any religious beliefs, but because to so many Hindu nationalism seemed to be a solution to increasing national divisiveness."
Weiner said he saw the proponents of Hindutva, including the BJP, as "clearly nationalists, and not fundamentalists." The tide of Hindu nationalism, however, seems to have been stemmed with BJP setbacks in recent elections in three of four states that it controlled.
It is still unclear that people are seeking alternatives to Hindutva, Weiner said. The implications for other political parties are also unknown.
Hazarika perceived the temple demolition as "well-directed and planned operations." The destruction brought on an unnecessary front of hostilities to those that already existed in Indian society, and while political religious violence is not new, the recent election results show a revolt against such organized violence, he said.
According to Modi, Hindu nationalism is "a movement from below" involving one of the largest masses of people in history. Modi maintained that the BJP is a secular party, not anti-Muslim. He also said that it is committed to the ideals of pluralism and democracy in Indian society, and favors economic liberalization.
Although Sen disagreed with the BJP's identification with issues, he agreed with their questioning of unequal laws in a secular country. He views the proponents of Hindutva as Hindu sectarians, who are but a minority themselves. He called for the basic issues such as poverty and illiteracy to be addressed rather than to conduct religion and caste-based politics.
While the panelists disagreed in their perception of events, there seemed to be agreement about the "terrible reporting of India in the United States." The lack of information was criticized, as well as the observation that the media mainly featured news about disasters. Sen added that he relied on publications from Europe to present him better reports.
Uday Jhunjhunwala '95 said he was "highly impressed by Prof. Weiner's opening comments."
Responding to why this panel was put together, organizer Sankar Sunder G said, "Only in academic institutions can such contentious issues be addressed in a civilized manner where all sides of the issue are represented."
Rahul Garg '96 felt that this was an impressive effort by Sangam and would like to see more of these discussions.