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The Ayodhya Judgment: A Response

The Ayodhya Judgment: A Response Lata Mani Nivedita Menon interprets me as having


The Ayodhya Judgment: A Response

Lata Mani

of secular dismay, Hindutvadi hubris, criminality and compromise in a way counter-intuitive to conventional Left thinking, my through-line failed to convey itself to Menon. The various strands of my argument seem to have become confusingly entangled as below:

ivedita Menon interprets me as having “applauded” the Ayodhya verdict in my piece in EPW (Mani 2010), considering it a “vindication” of how the social world of our subcontinent is formed by its religio-sacred inheritances (Menon 2011). This reading simplifies my perspective and it is important to clarify my position.

Faith vs History

Critics of the judgment bemoaned that faith had trumped history in determining the outcome. The meanings of these terms were being taken for granted. I was not sure they could be especially when it came to faith. For some years I have been arguing that it is crucial not to construe faith simply as a “problem” since it is interwoven with social life in ways that also nurture and sustain (Mani 2009). I have proposed an empathic and interrogative orientation to religion that presumes its socio-historical character. My point is not that faith is i nnocent and inclusive; simply that it is d iverse, complex, contradictory and not only regressive.

It was being implied that only the majority faith was at play. But justice Khan was also inspired by his faith though his argument, as I pointed out, was equally grounded in history. Ironically, the concern to draw attention to majoritarianism threatened to elide the voices of the minority; as also voices within the majority contrary to the voluble few claiming to represent it. The faith vs history framework gave primacy to the injustice of the verdict in a way that rendered as insignificant, or as signs of resignation and defeat – such developments as the Rs 12 lakh d onation towards a Ram temple by a Shia youth group or efforts at an out of court settlement. This flattened their meaning and significance. Additionally, there was a sense across religious communities that the verdict had tried to halt the cycle of violence by proposing a compromise. This response,

Economic & Political Weekly

october 1, 2011

which evoked a logic other than the judicial, could not be read merely as evidence of Muslim paralysis and Hindu indifference. It was in this context that I sought to trouble the faith vs history binary.

A Rethinking

My essay made a case for rethinking the notion of belief at the core of secular concerns about religion and argued that fundamentalism could not brook faith as it is actually lived. I was interested in the p otential for a productive convergence b etween the struggle for social justice and the enabling and ennobling aspects of a religious practice and sensibility. Practitioners of different faiths transcode bet ween the sociocultural and the religio-philosophical in ways more complex than the binaries in our political rhetoric would imply. It seemed urgent to call attention to this since the faith vs history framing indicated that an opportunity to rethink was being deferred.

The judgment struck a chord with something broader in our sociocultural ethos. I wanted to think about that fact even while acknowledging the verdict’s de facto acceptance of past trespass and criminality by the Hindu groups and the unequal compromise proposed by it. I spoke of “affirmative possibilities” (not certainties) and was explicit that the Hindutvadis were actively seeking to undermine these. It is possible to concur with some but not all aspects of a judge’s interpretation. There is nothing in my essay to suggest, as Menon seems to, that I would support a view of Muslims as junior partners in our democracy or that I do not consider the religio-sacred inheritance of Muslims as worthy of recognition.

Entangled Confusion

I am unclear how my position could have been read as applause for the judgment. Perhaps in navigating a discursive minefield

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Mani further suggests that the judgment vindicates, “the grounds that already exist for forging a common struggle against authoritarian religion…The very thing that secularism is unable to notice: the openended, intimate, dialogic and, at heart, individual relationship with Allah or deity, a fact inimical to the fundamentalist project (2010: 11)”. On the contrary, it is precisely “authoritarian religion” and “the fundamentalist project” that have been vindicated by the judgment (31).

Here I was not commenting on the v erdict but on how secularism had, to its detriment, failed to grasp the dynamic of faith which if recognised provided grounds for a struggle against authoritarian religion uniting the secular with the non-secular, non-fundamentalist majority. Oddly, my statement is marshalled as v indication of the judgment.

By contrast with an earlier dismay ( Menon 2010) that faith had been given c redence in arriving at the judgment, M enon gives us an excellent account of how faith figures in the verdict’s reasoning: in a problematic, partisan, partial and inconsistent fashion. From my perspective, her argument supplements mine and is not, as her reading would suggest, contrary to it. To propose that secularism r econsider its construction of faith is not to preclude challenging religion or its d eployment by courts of law but to call into question the terms of our critique.

Lata Mani ( is a h istorian and cultural critic based in Bangalore.


Mani, Lata (2009): Sacred Secular: Contemplative Cultural Critique (New Delhi: Routledge).

– (2010): “Where Angels Fear to Tread: The A yodhya Verdict”, Economic & Political Weekly, 16 October, 11-13.

Menon, Nivedita (2010): “The Second Demolition” at

– (2011): “The Ayodhya Judgment: What Next?” Economic & Political Weekly, 30 July, 81-89.

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