Hindu youths clamour atop the 16th century Muslim Babri Mosque in this 06 December 1992 photo five hours before the structure was completely demolished by hundreds supporting Hindu fundamentalist activists. In 1947 India and Pakistan were ripped savagely apart. In 1997 there are a growing number of people who would like them stitched back together again. The trauma of partition persists and fears seemed to be underlined by the evocative image of Ayodhya, when the mosque was torn down amid claims that it had been built on the site of a former Hindu temple built where Lord Rama was born. / AFP PHOTO / DOUGLAS E. CURRAN
By Ajaz Ashraf
The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), its affiliates, and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), have constructed a narrative in which the Supreme Court of India is fast emerging as the new other. Over the last one month, there has rarely been a day without the Sangh Parivar’s luminaries fulminating against the Supreme Court for taking a position perceived to be hostile to Hindus.
The other is a term applied to social groups whose beliefs and practices are depicted to be against the interests of the nation. It then becomes a national imperative to reform the other. Democratic societies, however, rarely resort to othering institutions. This is because institutions have a degree of social diversity, and are organised on rational principles for the benefit of people. Their very structure makes it conceptually difficult to other them.
Bucking this trend is the Sangh Parivar, which appears insistent on adding the Supreme Court to the Sangh’s ever growing list of the other — religious minorities, Kashmiris, urban Naxals, and Ambedkarites. The design behind the othering of the Supreme Court is to frighten it into accepting the supremacy of Hindu faith and culture as defined by the Sangh and subscribe to Hindutva’s imagination of the nation.
Initially, the othering of the Supreme Court seemed little more than the BJP’s wariness in implementing judicial orders seemingly inimical to its electoral interests. For instance, in the winter of 2017-2018, the BJP governments of Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Haryana tried their best to circumvent the Supreme Court’s order rejecting the plea to ban Leela Bhansali’s film Padmaavat. The BJP feared the film’s release could upset its voters among Hindus, particularly Rajputs. Though its leaders frothed and fumed, they refrained from stridently criticising the Supreme Court.
Not any longer. Ever since the Supreme Court delivered its verdict allowing women of all ages to enter the Sabarimala temple, the BJP has adopted the strategy of othering the Supreme Court. It is portrayed as opposed to Hindus and inclined to ignore the tenets of their faith. In other words, even though not stated explicitly, the apex court can’t be allowed to disdainfully treat the sentiments of Hindus.
For instance, in his 27 October speech in Kannur, BJP president Amit Shah said, “I want to tell…those who pronounce orders in court that you should issue orders that can be implemented, not the ones that break the faith of people.” Shah then went on wonder how the right to equality can subsume the right to freedom of religion. In his Atal Bihari Vajpayee memorial lecture, Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley spoke of harmonising two fundamental rights.
These remarks are not mere rhetoric but constitute elements of the strategy for othering the Supreme Court. As is true in the case of othering of social groups, the Sangh seeks to compel the Supreme Court into submitting to the will of Hindus.
This is evident from RSS sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat’s customary Vijayadashmi speech on October. In it, he laid out the ideological foundation for the othering of the Supreme Court. Articulating his idea of social change, Bhagwat said, “The decisions taken without…patiently creating the mindset of the society, will neither be adopted in actual practice nor will they help in creating a new social order in tune with changing times and positions. The situation arising out of the recent verdict on Sabarimala temple shows the similar predicament.”
It set the tone for Bhagwat to cavil against the Supreme Court’s judgment on Sabarimala. He faulted it for not taking into consideration the “tradition that has been accepted by society and continuously followed for years”; for not taking into account the version of heads of religious denominations having crores of followers; for not acceding to the plea of women who willingly accept the Sabarimala temple’s proscription.
Though the precise number of people opposed to the Sabarimala judgment has yet to be determined, Bhagwat concluded that it is a vast multitude, constituting perhaps Kerala’s majority. For him, the proof of it is the vociferous protest against the judgment. It is another matter that both the Sangh and the Congress are seen to have engineered it. Yet the blame is the Supreme Court’s because its “legal verdict” has given rise to “unrest, turmoil and divisiveness in the society in place of peace, stability and equality.”
Bhagwat’s remark raises the question: If the Supreme Court’s verdicts are not to have a legal basis, what principles should it follow then? The answer: It must accept the supremacy of faith and what religious leaders deem as sacrosanct traditions. Of this, the RSS sarsanghchalak leaves no doubt: “The question such as why only the Hindu society experiences such repeated and brazen onslaughts on its symbols of faith, obviously rise in the public mind and lead to unrest. This situation is not conducive for the peace and healthiness of the society.”
Bhagwat chose to gloss over the Supreme Court’s 2017 judgment invalidating the instant triple talaq, as he did the Bombay High Court’s intervention allowing women to enter the Haji Ali dargah. Even before the instant triple talaq was struck down, several courts had ruled the practice un-Islamic. Yet Muslims did not take to streets in these instances.
Yet Bhagwat chose to harp on “repeated and brazen onslaughts on the symbols of Hindu faith.” His amnesia was deliberate — the process of othering requires showing the other to be either hostile or biased against the majority. Since the other here is the Supreme Court, it can’t be portrayed as anti-Hindu unless it is also shown as pro-Muslim.
The Supreme Court, according to Bhagwat, has become anti-Hindu because it believes in the supremacy of legal principles over the religious sentiments of Hindus. The process of othering demands that the other must accept the primacy of the majority’s sentiments. All other principles must be subordinated to what is presumed to be the popular will.
The othering of the Supreme Court bears a resemblance to that of Muslims. Since India’s culture, from Sangh’s perspective, is Hindu, Islam alienates Muslims from the majority. Unless Muslims are culturally assimilated into the Hindu society, they are doomed to be othered. So will the Supreme Court as long as it does not recognise the primacy of Hindu faith over legal principles.
It is only in the Supreme Court’s interests to pronounce judgments that are acceptable to Hindus. Otherwise people will react against it, as they do against Muslims ferrying cattle, as they did against Jawaharlal Nehru University students who allegedly shouted anti-India slogans.
The othering of the Supreme Court has yet another message for the judges: If Sabarimala can trigger unrest, imagine the consequences of delivering a judgement against the Hindus in the Ayodhya dispute. For instance, in his Vijayadashmi speech, Bhagwat said, “The place of (Ram) Janmabhoomi is yet to be allocated for the construction of the temple although all kinds of evidence have affirmed that there was a temple at that place.” It was indeed a case of prejudging the issue pending in the Supreme Court, of conveying to the Supreme Court the consequences of turning against the wishes of Hindus.
It is now to be seen how the Supreme Court responds to it being depicted as the other.