Why Congresses Hate Hinduism

Hindus and Muslims are fighting over a holy place - and India's identity

In Ayodhya, a quarter of a century ago radical Hindus destroyed a mosque that was located at the alleged birthplace of the deity Ram. For some years now, India's secular identity has been increasingly challenged. This gives the incident new topicality.

Peace is always irritating in India. Motor vehicles are not permitted in the Sai Nagar area of ​​Ayodhya Old City. No honking and no rattling break through the sedateness of the hot summer afternoon. In a doorway, a man is dozing on a charpoy, the traditional bed with a woven mattress. A cow hugs the wall of a temple in search of shade. They are often scenes that have been experienced, but without the usual background noise, a small Indian town seems almost unreal.

The driving ban is of course not a measure to calm traffic, but part of an elaborate safety concept. The alleys around the alleged birthplace of the Hindu deity Ram are among the best guarded places in India. The small temple can be reached through corridors made of metal grids and barbed wire. You are body searched five times.

A country for everyone or just for the majority

Up until a quarter of a century ago there was a mosque from the 16th century on the site of the Ram Temple, which is temporarily housed in a small tent made of plastic sheets. Babur, the founder of the Mughal Empire, who came from Central Asia, is said to have ordered the construction of a Muslim church at this point when he was conquering northern India in 1528. Before that, a temple is said to have stood there.

In 1992, after years of agitation by Hindu nationalist circles, the Babur Mosque was stormed by a mob and destroyed. In the riots that followed, around 2,000 people were killed across India. Ayodhya is still a bone of contention between the religious communities and a symbol of the dispute over the country's identity. This has been more true than ever since Prime Minister Narendra Modi's national religious party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), came to power in 2014.

«India is the land of the Hindus. All other religious communities later came to us from elsewhere », explains Ranjana Agnihotri in Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh, and thus justifies the incidents of 1992 to a certain extent Plot to build a large temple. The emphasis on India's Hindu identity is a core element of the Hindutva ideology, which has many supporters among BJP voters. External cultural influences are viewed as alien and ultimately inferior. In particular, the thousand-year epoch of Muslim empires on the subcontinent is regarded as foreign rule, the traces of which must be shaken off. For example, the Taj Mahal is not mentioned in a government catalog on tourist attractions in Uttar Pradesh. India's most famous building is a Muslim tomb.

India has always been shaped by the interaction of different cultures and ethnic groups. In its history, the subcontinent has not only been plagued by countless conquerors, many of whom were actually Muslims, but this incredibly diverse cultural area also succeeded every time in making the newcomers part of itself. The Taj Mahal and the other masterpieces of Indo-Islamic architecture impressively show the enrichment that emerged from this integration effort.

But even if all supposedly foreign influences were eradicated, the search for the one true Indian identity would be a doomed undertaking. India's strongest characteristic is its heterogeneity, between and within religious communities. Hinduism in particular, which has no holy book, no clergy and no uniform doctrine, but rather tens of thousands of embodiments of the divine and as many castes and sub-castes, is incredibly diverse. There is hardly a tradition that does not find its contradiction in another custom. Unity in and through diversity, as the Bengali poet and first Asian Nobel Prize winner Rabindranath Tagore put it, is what has always made India what it is.

The equality of all communities

The political consequence of this diversity is the secularism of South Asia, which under the first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru became the most important state idea of ​​independent India. The focus is not on banishing the religious into the private sphere, but on equal rights for all communities through the state. The Hindu festival of colors, Holi, is a public holiday, as is the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, the birthday of the first guru of the Sikh religion or Christmas. About 80 percent of the 1.3 billion Indians are Hindus. But there are also 190 million Muslims (more than in almost every other state on earth), 30 million Christians, 20 million Sikhs as well as Jains, Jews, Zoroastrians and other smaller religious communities.

"I think the majority of Indians are still secular," says Zafaryab Jilani, the secretary of the Sunnis Council of Uttar Pradesh and the legal opponent of the lawyer Agnihotri in the Ayodhya case. "Still" because in recent years the foundations of this secularism have been scratched in the eyes of many by statements such as those made by the head of government of the state of Haryana that anyone who wants to eat beef has to move to Pakistan. For Muslims or other non-Hindus, India can only be a home if they adapt their way of life to that of the majority. Little remains of the promise of equality.

The Catholic Archbishop of Delhi, Anil Couto, recently issued a circular letter with concern that India's secular constitution was in danger. It stands to reason that the minorities feel most threatened by this development, even if neither the Roman Catholic Church nor the often ultra-conservative Sunnis in India are natural advocates of a secular-liberal state system. But there is also growing unease among liberal Hindus. Shashi Tharoor, a veteran of the Congress Party, which is in the tradition of Indian secularism and one of the country's best-known intellectuals, recently described in a book what defines his personal Hinduism: the diversity and openness of this world of faith, which finds the divine in the most varied of places - also at sites of other religions. Religious cannot be left to those forces alone who abuse it to justify chauvinistic politics.

Weakened institutions

Concern about the secular state is intensified in the ideologization of public discourse, which can be seen in many places, and which sometimes has stupendously anti-intellectual features. The head of government of the small state of Tripura declared that passages of the epic epic Mahabharata, which lasted several thousand years, pointed to the existence of satellite communication at the time; this is just the latest in a series of hair-raising histories by leading BJP leaders.

It is emphasized again and again that the Hindu civilization is hundreds of thousands of years old; the supposedly scientific research into this long history is even being promoted politically. The lawyer Agnihotri justifies the Hindus' claim to Ayodhya with the fact that Ram was demonstrably born here 900,000 years ago, while the Muslim history of the place goes back just five centuries.

"We have to have confidence in the institutions of the Indian constitutional state," explains the Muslim lawyer Jilani. In particular, the Supreme Court, with which the Ayodhya case now lies, traditionally enjoys the highest reputation in India and is considered to be one of the independent pillars of Indian democracy; another is the election commission. However, the fact that both institutions have recently been successfully exerted by the executive branch has raised the alarm bells in many places. It is the simultaneous weakening of secular principles and rule-of-law institutions that causes some to wonder whether India is at the beginning of a development that has been observed in Turkey for a decade and a half. Or is a second "Hindu Pakistan" emerging in the subcontinent?

Condemned to coexist

However, these challenges are not new to India, nor can they be reduced to the current ruling party. The dispute between the religious communities on the subcontinent goes back centuries. The worst riots occurred during the partition of India and Pakistan, when the modern secular state was born. The institutions of Indian democracy were also undermined under the long-standing state government of Congress, especially during the state of emergency in the 1970s when Nehru's daughter and successor, Indira Gandhi, tried to secure their power. Nevertheless, in the eyes of many, the achievements of the world's largest democracy seem particularly threatened at the moment - just at the moment when the country is preparing to play an increasingly important role in world affairs.

Indian secularism is under pressure. But there are balancing forces, not least India's enormous diversity. Many South Indian Hindus, for example, cannot identify with Hindu nationalism, which is predominantly North Indian, because it goes hand in hand with cultural practices that they perceive as alien. In addition, the symbiosis of the religious communities is still a reality in many places in the country, not least in Ayodhya itself.

Iqbal Ansari is the son of the oldest Muslim main plaintiff and has appeared in court for the Muslim side since his death. He lives under police protection in a Hindu district of Ayodhya, but the armed officials in front of his house are not very busy. «We get along very well here. Soon my neighbor will come to me to break the fast. He is a Hindu. " Iqbal's father, Hashim, also went to drink tea with the opposing party's plaintiffs after the court hearings.

The Supreme Court has not yet issued a final judgment. The next lower instance decided in 2010 to divide the controversial plot of land between the religious communities so that both a mosque and a temple could be built. This judgment does not win a legal beauty award, but it does underline the necessity of living together. And there is no way around this in India.

From Delhi to Istanbul

With this article, Volker Pabst says goodbye to our readers as South Asia correspondent. Over the past four years, he has reported from Delhi on the political, economic and social developments in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Nepal. The huge area of ​​application with its extremely complex facets required a pronounced versatility and agility on the part of the correspondent. Volker Pabst has always succeeded in making this versatility tangible for our readers. In August he will start his new job in Istanbul as rapporteur on Turkey and Southeast Europe. (pre)