Historical atrocities coupled with the passage of time allow moral inequities to creep into the fabric of society where they become irrevocably embedded; so much so that these perverted norms prevail and come to represent the new normal of a degenerate society. Right becomes wrong and wrong becomes right. Ironically, even victims of these inequities placidly accept these inequalities as an act of fate or destiny. Such was the moral tragedy of modern India.
Indian history from the 7th century onwards till the 20th century had been one long, horrific story of repeated Islamic invasions, inhumane butchery of millions of innocent Hindus, senseless destruction of hundreds of Hindu temples, and economic devastation that reduced one of the richest and intellectually advanced countries in the world to unimaginable penury, timidity and ignorance. Islamic invaders who reached India’s borders in the 7th century AD gave a new meaning and a new dimension to the words destruction, loot, repression and human carnage.
American historian Will Durant in The Story of Civilization categorically states that the Islamic conquest of India is “probably the bloodiest story in history”. He adds: “It is a discouraging tale, for its evident moral is that civilization is a precarious thing, whose delicate complex of order and liberty, culture and peace may at any time be overthrown by barbarians invading from without….”
British colonialism that followed Islamic invasions added another layer of moral turpitude to the already debased society. The partition of India in 1947 relegated a large cohort of Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and Christians to the status of second class citizens.
Independence from the British in 1947 held forth a lot of promise for the Hindu: at last, almost one thousand years of subjugation was coming to an end. Little did he realize that he would continue to be at the receiving end as a result of a warped philosophy of Nehruvian secularism. This secularism that was promoted in independent India did not subscribe to the dictionary meaning of the term. It was a corruption that was built on a mountain of lies and deceit; an ideology that centered on the denial of the Hindu identity and Hindu victimhood. We were told that the Islamic invasion was a golden period and that destruction of temples, massacre or conversion of Hindus was a figment of our own imagination.
Muslim majority areas of India (like Kashmir) were allowed to continue their suppression of Hindus under the pretext of safeguarding minority rights; this culminated in the ethnic cleansing of Hindus from Kashmir. And modern India, which was the rightful successor of the ancient Bharatiya civilization, conveniently forgot its duty to those Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and Christians left behind in Pakistan.
So, despite the legacy of Buddha and Mahatma Gandhi modern India was a morally crippled polity. We remained captors of the past, prisoners of status quo, with no courage or gumption to confront these moral delinquencies. That paradigm had to change.
And it occurred in 2019, the sixth year of the Modi-led BJP government.
The first salvo in this battle for morality was fired on 5 August 2019 when the President of India issued the Constitution (Application to Jammu and Kashmir) Order, 2019 that abrogated Article 370 and decreed that forthwith all provisions of the Indian Constitution would be applicable to Jammu and Kashmir.
Article 370 that gave a special status to Kashmir was an embodiment of inconsistencies, contradictions and rank injustice whose very inception was mired in intrigue and controversy.
For one, it was a crafty ploy engineered by Sheikh Abdullah who envisioned himself becoming the supreme leader of a sovereign state in the future by exploiting this concession—made possible by a pliant Jawaharlal Nehru. Second, Dr Ambedkar, the architect of the Indian Constitution was bitterly opposed to it and remarked: “To give consent to this proposal, would be a treacherous thing against the interests of India and I, as the law minister of India, will never do it” (Balraj Madhok, Organiser, 14 November, 2004).
Eventually it was coopted into the Constitution as a temporary provision to be dispensed with at a later time.
Article 370, through its derivative Article35A, spawned a set of discriminatory local laws at odds with our Constitution. Other Indians were prevented from owning property in J&K violating the fundamental right to equality (Article 14) and Kashmiri women (not men) marrying a non-permanent resident were deprived of succession rights in contravention of Article 15 that prohibits discrimination of any sort. Additionally, a Pakistani citizen (Kashmiri living in POK) could buy property in J&K while a legitimate Indian citizen could not.
Last but not the least, Article 370 became the seed of a toxic separatism. Article 370 was anathema to our traditional moral values and an oxymoron in an otherwise noble Constitution. It had to go.
Ayodhya was another controversy vital to the moral reckoning of India.
During the Muslim invasion of India which spanned over a thousand years, hundreds, even thousands of Hindu temples were destroyed. No important Hindu temple was spared and there was not one Muslim ruler who did not indulge in this pastime. Most major holy sites like Somnath, Varanasi, Mathura, Madurai, Kalihasti, Puri and Pandarpur were desecrated.
But what continued to rankle the most was the Babri Masjid. In 1529, Mir Baqi, one of Babar’s generals, razed a pre-existing Ram temple (that marked the birthplace of Shri Ram) at Ayodhya and constructed a mosque over it.
The intention of this dastardly act was clear: It was a symbolic attempt to stamp Islamic dominance over Hinduism and to demoralise and crush the Hindu identity. Well into the 20th century, the Babri Masjid stood, mocking and provoking the Hindu.
The Ram Janmabhoomi movement that gathered momentum in the 1980s was not merely a land dispute. It symbolized something much more. It was a protest against the brutalization of a civilization—the temples destroyed and the millions of Hindus killed or forcibly converted. It was a determined counter to the nuanced attempt to subtly perpetuate into modernity, under the guise of secularism, a defunct Islamic hegemony by giving validity to a crass medieval act of symbolic domination, namely, the building of a mosque over a site believed to be the birthplace of Hinduism’s most revered deity, Shri Ram.
More importantly, the Ayodhya controversy came to represent the vulnerability of the Hindu: the pathetic inability of Hindus to build a temple to their most revered God in a land where they constituted 80% of the population under a supposedly secular regime.
Thankfully, the Supreme Court put an end to this issue on 9 November 2019 and resolved the dispute in favour of the Hindus. The verdict was a historical balm, a moral restitution and the deliverance of justice to a people wronged.
The last decision in this trio of moral restitutions came on 11 December 2019, when Parliament of India passed the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 (CAA), which amended the Citizenship Act, 1955 by making persecuted Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Jains, Parsis and Buddhists from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh eligible for Indian citizenship via an accelerated pathway.
To fully comprehend the significance of this bill, we need to revert to the horrendous vivisection of India in 1947 that saw the emergence of two nations: A secular India in keeping with pluralistic traditions of this ancient land, and a fanatic Islamic Pakistan that negated everything that India’s ancient civilization stood for. With this division in the subcontinent, the status of its inhabitants changed abruptly and drastically. Muslims living in India were given equal status on par with the Hindu majority. Muslims on the other side of the border in Pakistan were given pride of place.
The only disadvantaged people were the Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians left behind in the new Islamic Pakistan; they were literally reduced to second class citizens for no fault of theirs. Families who had lived for centuries in the same place were disenfranchised by a single stroke of a pen. The modern Indian nation as the successor State of an ancient civilization had a bounden duty towards this subset of the population (over five million Hindus, Sikhs and Christians and Buddhists) who had been callously abandoned to the vagaries of an oppressive religious State. It was an inexcusable moral lapse and a stark dereliction of duty that cried out for rectification.
The CAA corrected that historical moral lapse. For Indian Muslims, these decisions must serve as a nodal point to effect a change in mindset; they must acknowledge (not accept responsibility) the misdeeds of Islamic rulers of yore and modify their thought process to approximate the broader pluralistic and secular tenets of this ancient land.
It must be noted that these decisions, however momentous they may appear, are just the first steps in ensuring a just moral order. The task is far from complete. The repeal of Article 370 will have no meaning until the last of the Kashmiri Hindus is resettled in Kashmir with dignity and security. The notification to finalize the execution of the CAA is yet to be issued 3 years later. That must be done promptly.
To drag its feet on these issues is to undo the hard work done so far and a betrayal of the Indian ethos.
In conclusion, 2019—the year when Article 370 was abrogated, the CAA introduced and the SC gave its final verdict on Ayodhya—will go down in history and be remembered for ages as the year that restored the sagging morality of a great nation and salvaged the soul of an ancient civilization. The distorted and faulty moral compass of a noble people was finally reset to its original settings: right was once again right and wrong was wrong.