The day the Babri Masjid was demolished in Ayodhya is fairly well etched in my memory. I was about 9, and had woken up to go to school, as usual. I went up to my mother in the kitchen to take my daily dose of milk and to leisurely drink it sitting content on my father’s lap in the hall as he perused the newspaper. But not this day. My mother told me not to go anywhere near my father. She said a masjid had been demolished in Ayodhya and that my father was upset about it and that he was in a rather foul mood. She added that I should be a good girl and do my chores quietly and not make her raise her voice cause that might irk him. I think the last bit was just a ploy to make me behave just this once.
My father was, in general, a mild man. And this state of affairs was quite a novelty in our house. He seldom got angry, though when he did, about once or twice a year, we would all shudder to his bellowing voice. Moreover, his temper hardly lasted a few minutes. But whatever it was that was demolished in Ayodhya left our family with a brooding, unhappy man.
Thus began my political education, quite literally at my father’s knee. That cold winter’s day in Chennai, far away from the sight of the demolition, formed a milestone in my personal life.
Tomorow, the Allahabad High Court decides on the 60 year old title suit in the Ram janma bhoomi – Babri Masjid case. But I am not going to dwell on either the verdict or the controversy. Instead, I am going to talk about a talk show host.
Barkha Dutt, that omniscient journalist of the NDTV, had a program this Sunday on Ayodhya. We The People aired Ayodhya Verdict: Time for Closure? Now, I am not a fan of this talk show or its host. In fact, quite the contrary. But then there is such a dearth of good English talk shows in India, I scout around for one and always seem to end up on this one, not least because Barkha is a skillful wielder of the English language. More importantly, she has some interesting people, some powerful people, some people who can make a difference and some who are just plain stupid on her show and that’s good enough entertainment.
She is politically biased, but then so is every other journalist and that is not an issue. But I think her journalism itself is skewed. So below is a list of my grouses against her from just the one programme on Ayodhya
- Towards the beginning of her programme on the Ayodhya Verdict, she asks meaningfully, “ Will there be an appeal in the Supreme Court when the verdict is out or will this become a political issue?” She asks as if one is exclusive of the other.
- “The basic question is will all parties accept whatever the high court says?” No, that isn’t, even remotely, the basic question. The basic question could be one of the following, “ What kind of verdict would mean closure or justice to either party?” or “What are the implications of a certain verdict to either party?”
- “Is it a bad thing to put an issue like this in the judicial slow cooker?”, “ I don’t Know if anyone is in a hurry to have this matter dealt with” – both rather presumptuous observations. Obviously, there are people to which this is a matter of great significance because there wouldn’t be a much awaited verdict nor a We The People on it, otherwise!
- “With such reasonableness around the table, is it fair to say we have moved on”, “Good sense cannot be counted on when it comes to matters of faith”- both implying a certain polarity between rationality and faith that is definitely up for debate. And more importantly, with respect to the particular kind of response she has categorized as rational or reasonable; does it really merit that tag?
- “Can a court decide what archaeologists, believers, non-believers, secularists etc have not been able to decide on…can three judges decide this?” Quite obviously, not! The Court is deciding a title deal and its verdict will be within the framework of the Constitution and law of the Indian State. Of course, there was a little uproar at this, but we don’t hear the specifics of peoples objections as their mics are deactivated and we hear only Barkha plaintively screech “No honestly, that’s the question”….seriously, plaintive screeching isn’t cute.
- ‘Paraphrasing’ the arguments at one point she says, “…we have spoken about it the way we talk about it now. What does that tell us? Does it tell us that institutional memory fades? Does that tell us that religious polarizations have a shelf life? Or does it tell us that in a sense different things are important to us now?” The three questions give a sense that she has explored the very breadth of possibilities, when actually they all mean the same thing. She is referring to the reasonableness or rationality when she speaks about the way we talk about it now. And she says, “At what point in the lifecycle of a controversy does it run out of its own life force?” Those first three questions were set up to lead to this. Because, all of them implicitly assumed that every controversy had a lifecycle
- ‘Paraphrasing’ the arguments at another point she says, “The constitution is above faith and religion should be kept out of politics. All these are idealized paradigms. We live in an India that’s messy, where religion overlaps with culture to the extent that it becomes non-distinct, those lines.” Ok! Again assumptions galore. So what exactly makes religion and faith messy? Whose fault is it if your rational and reasonable law isn’t in tune with your religion and faith? The problem with creating this polarisation is that it assumes everything to do with religion and faith is irrational and not compatible with democracy or the law. Of what use is that kind of democracy or law to a people whose religion forms a major part of their identity? Admittedly, these are rather philosophical issues that are beyond the scope of this debate, but it is possible to steer clear from these issues and still have a debate on what the verdict implies.
- And then we come back to “Can the court adjudicate in matters of faith? Because faith after all is not a rational thing”, Poor Soli says time and again, the court is adjudicating on a title suit; he is even forced to fall back on hindi when he says, “faith ki bath kahan sey aagayi” But to no avail, Barkha labours on.
Seriously, someone needs to deactivate her microphone!