South Asia Citizens Web - Dispatch
28 Feb 2000
[ India under the Hindu Right]
#1. Lucknow university to allow RSS to operate on Campus
#2. A convent faces demolition for refusing entry to UP governor's
#3. Ayodhya: Half the work on Ram temple is expected to be over by year
#4. History - made to order
#1. Lucknow university to allow RSS branches (shakhas) to operate on
Campus. from 1st of March 2000 onwards. The current vice chancellor has
alos issued statement defending the decision by RSS. This has shocked
large numbers of citizens of Lucknow.
(source: Harsh Kapoor in Lucknow)
February 28, 2000
A convent faces demolition for refusing entry to UP governor Suraj
Bhan's grandchild, reviving the Hindu vs Christian debate
by Priya Sahgal in Ambala
It's more than a simple case of being denied admission. Rather, it
could be seen as an instance of an affronted big-wig exercising his
privilege of wrath. Last year, when UP Governor Suraj Bhan's
four-year-old grand-daughter applied to the Convent of Jesus and Mary
in Ambala, she was told she was under-age. This year, when Aparajita
Dhir applied again, she was refused admission on grounds that she'd
overshot the age limit by 27 days. That was when the administration
stepped in. School authorities say the district commissioner called
Sister Tara, the principal, and asked her to admit the child. "She
replied that rules didn't permit this," says Dinesh Gupta, the school's
lawyer. The furious DC, states a petition filed by Gupta in the
sessions court, threatened to "take action against the school
Two days later, on February 4, Haryana Roadways stopped plying special
buses for the school. "The service was restored a day later, but only
after parents complained to the DC," says Gupta. Then, on February 8,
local municipal officials visited the convent. The petition says they
"threatened the principal, asking that the child be admitted or the
building would be demolished and heavy taxes imposed on the school." In
fact, executive officer S.K. Goel handed over a notice to the principal
asking her to supply proof of `ownership' and the building sanctions.
Another notice from the building inspector followed-a bill for Rs
1,05,000 as house tax for `98-99 and `99-2000. At a level, it's a case
of harried parents. But the irony too is striking: a saffron family
seeks entry to a Christian school.
The school has filed a case against the Municipal Council and has
managed to procure a stay order against the demolition-on charge of an
unauthorised construction-until March 14. The petition links the
harassment by the civic authorities to the denial of admission to
Bhan's grand-daughter. "There is no link at all," says B.C. Dhir, the
child's father and Suraj Bhan's son-in-law. "I didn't ask the DC to
call the school." According to Dhir, it's part of a larger plan to
defame his father-in-law. "When I met the principal, she asked me only
two questions: How're you related to Suraj Bhan? and Wasn't he the
deputy speaker in `96?" Bhan's family claims it's a case of the
infamous Hindu versus Christian angle at work. "If you remember, at
that time the Congress had moved a bill asking that scheduled caste
(SC) Hindus who'd converted to Christianity also be provided the same
reservations as Hindu SCs," explains Bhan's son, Arun Kumar. "My father
mobilised MPs and it was because of him that the Congress could not
pass the bill," he added.
But, says a school teacher, "If Sister Tara knew the child was Bhan's
grand-daughter she'd have given her admission regardless of the
age-limit," she says. According to the teacher, the admission form only
had the girl's father's name. "Dhir's an upper-caste. Had the principal
known the child's grandfather himself belonged to a backward caste,
she'd have taken the child as the school essentially looks after the
minorities," she claims. But Dhir says when he pleaded with the
principal to make an exception for Aparajita as she was a Governor's
grand-daughter, he was told rules could only be relaxed for Christians.
Ram Niwas, the DC, denies making any phone call to the principal and
says the school buses were withheld due to the heavy rains. As for the
demolition threat and the huge house tax, Niwas claims it's all
routine, "As many as 20 educational institutions have been served
notice during the last year for non-payment of the house tax." But Dhir
says he's lost interest, "I'll send my daughter to another school.
Anyway, she'll never be eligible for admission here." His frustration
seems to be similar to that faced by harried parents all over the
country. But Aparajita's family thinks it's more than just a case of
routine harassment by school authorities. "We've lost out as we're
related to Suraj Bhan," says Dhir.
"It wasn't us but the school which dragged in his name," says Shalini
Dhir, Bhan's daughter. "My father didn't even know we had applied to
this school," she adds. But the irony of the situation is lost on no
one. A family with members in the same Sangh parivar that specialises
in vandalising Christian institutions now wants to avail the advantages
of a similar set-up. "I wanted to send my daughter there as it has a
good reputation and it's an all-girls school," says Dhir, sounding like
an average middle-class father. But he's much more than that. Whether
this is a case of a VIP flexing political muscle or an instance of a
minority institution hitting back at a member of the saffron
brigade-the situation has fast developed into something slightly more
complex than just a question of school admissions.
Mar 5, 2000
Ayodhya: Half the work on Ram Mandir is expected to be over by year end
By Debashish Mukerji/Karsevapuram
Inexorably, relentlessly, the work goes on. Angry noises are
made elsewhere in Parliament, in the media; angry noises subside. They
barely reach the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) karyalaya (workshop) at
Karsevapuram in Ayodhya. And even if they do, they make not a whit of
difference. A giant stone cutter has been whirring, chisel and hammer
been striking sandstone continually for nearly ten years. Less than
kilometres away stands the heavily guarded "makeshift temple" of Ram
upon the most controversy-ridden piece of land in the country. It is
spot where the chiselled stones are finally headed. The workshop is
with huge blocks of pink sandstone, plinth slabs and
pillars. These are the pieces the VHP and its sister organisation, the
Janmabhoomi Nyas, will use to build the much-talked-of "glorious
Lord Rama" on the spot where the Babri Masjid stood until December 6,
and which the makeshift temple now occupies. "Top people from the
administration, including several district magistrates, have visited
confirmed Anubhai Sompura, the supervisor. "But never have we been
Added Champak Rai, key VHP functionary in charge of temple
"The intermittent furore raised in Parliament are really quite
If the opposition parties are so concerned about the work going on
did they not try to stop us when they were in power? We continued our
through all the years of the Narasimha Rao regime, as well as through
United Front rule which followed."
Contentious construction: Portions of pillars stacked at the VHP's
at Karsevapuram (above left); the dwarpalika that will be part of the
at the gateway
Certainly they did. Those who assumed that with the BJP putting aside
three 'contentious issues', including the construction of the Ram
the Ayodhya chapter had been brought to a close, could not have been
mistaken. The BJP may have sent Rama into permanent banwas (as a
Organiser article commented) but not the VHP.
Right from September 1990, when the workshop started, the building
the proposed Ram temple have been prepared in deadly earnestness.
there may have been lulls and spurts in the activity. "We began with
workers all brought here from Sirohi in Rajasthan, which has a
intricate stone masonry," recalled Anubhai Sompura. "Later we got 60
from Mirzapur. But after the December 6 demolition, and the
that followed, more than half of them got scared and ran away."
With the VHP briefly banned, the workshop stood idle, but not for
mid-1993 fresh workers were recruited, from Sirohi, Mirzapur and
Saurashtra and the task restarted, though the number of workers since
has been restricted to 60.
In February 1996, to speed up the pace, part of the work was
to three stone chiselling units in Pindwara, Sirohi district of
Sompura Marble Works, Bharat Shilp Kala Kendra and Mahadev Shilp Kala
Kendra. And all that slow, steady yet unrelenting decade-long
finally showing considerable progress. "The Ram mandir will be a
structure, and nearly half the work, almost the entire ground floor,
be over before the year end," maintained Anubhai.
A miniature model of the proposed Ram temple stands enclosed in a
near the entrance to the workshop. Champak Rai helpfully pointed out
different sections. "At one extreme corner is the Singh Dwar, the
he said. "Next to it is the Nritya Mandap which will remain completely
without doors or walls, supported only by pillars. The walls start
third section, the Rang Mandap." Most of the walls, or mandover, are
built at Pindwara. The walls in turn will have doors, with frames of
marble: these frames are being manufactured at yet another Rajasthan
workshop in Makrana. Deft designs: A craftsman at work on a pillar
The fourth section is a short passage, or Koli, leading into the heart
the temple, the Garb Griha, where, on the ground floor, the idol of
Lalla will be installed. Above the Garb Griha will rise the towering
spire to a height of 128 feet. Surrounding the entire structure, for
circumambulation, will be the 10 feet wide parikrama, the entire area
268.5 feet long, and 140 feet wide. "It will be a massive structure, a
temple of the kind modern India has hardly seen," averred Champak Rai.
craftsmen work to detailed drawings and plans sent periodically by
Chandrakant Sompura, noted Ahmedabad-based architect specialising in
Nagri style of temple architecture.
Understandably, the VHP is not too forthcoming about the costs
really don't know how much has been spent," maintained Champak Rai.
estimated that the temple would cost around Rs 30 crore, and we still
Rs 11 crore left in our account. The rest must have been spent." The
are paid between Rs 80 and Rs 175 daily, while the contracts given out
being paid for at regular commercial rates.
"We want to speed up the work from April. We'll have 200 workers on
once their accommodation needs are met." Champak Rai, in charge of
"Money has never been a problem," said Anubhai Sompura. Indeed, with
workshop having grown extremely crowded with the growing number of
and pillars, the VHP has purchased 22 acres near by, to which its
will be extended. More living quarters for workers are also being
the new site. "We want to speed up the work from April," said Rai.
have 200 workers on the job once their accommodation needs are met."
But it is not enough to merely prepare the building blocks. The
all-important site, too, has to be prepared for construction. Not
surprisingly, the architectural and structural engineering aspects
been closely looked into. "First we shall fill up the pits and
in the area with stones and level the land with bulldozers," said
Rai. "Then we shall build a 'raft foundation'Ña six-foot-thick
layer over the entire area. Along the boundary of this concrete slab
erect a ten foot high wall, and enclose the space it surrounds with
and earth. On top of this, 16 feet above road level, will start the
"The day they start anything at the disputed site, the country will
into 50 pieces," warned Mohammed Hashim, chief of the Babri Masjid
Reconstruction Committee in Ayodhya
Yet can the VHP ever hope to gain possession of the disputed spot?
the Central government has acquired the entire area, the last Supreme
judgment ruled that the state could only act as a custodian, to hand
area over to its rightful owner once the title suit pending in the
bench of the Allahabad High Court is disposed of. It cannot use the
it likes or allot it to any party. But a judicial decision on the
suit, already pending for 50 years, is unlikely to be ever reached.
Champak Rai: "There are over 300 witnesses to be examined, of whom
have been questioned so far."
Until the court reaches a decision, or some other 'solution' is found,
near impregnable security at the disputed site, with its maze-like
barricading, its watchtowers and searchlights and policemen, will
Devotees are not even allowed to carry pens or matches with them as
come single file for their darshan, with policemen watching their
step. And even if, as on December 6,1992, with the covert backing of
governmentÑwhich rules both in Lucknow and in DelhiÑthe VHP is able to
court orders and storm the premises, the social and political fall out
bound to be catastrophic.
"The day they start anything at the disputed site, the country will
into 50 pieces," warned Mohammed Hashim, the most widely known of
4,500 Muslim residents. Though not involved with the title suit,
among the petitioners in most of the other cases the Muslims have
the dispute, starting with the one challenging the opening of the
February 1986. He is also the chief of the Babri Masjid Reconstruction
Committee in Ayodhya, which hopes to rebuild the demolished mosque at
same spot where it stood. "It is no use going to court against the
being done at the karyalaya," he said. "I have gone to court on so
occasionsÑhas even one suit been decided? But if the VHP does
that spot again, the country will pay dearly for it."
But Champak Rai remained unperturbed. "Having started we are going to
on," he said. "We are not the sort of people who give up. When we
be decided by the Dharam Sansad." Are the VHP and the Nyas prepared to
the court orders in force? Rai quoted Ramachandra Paramhans, mahant of
Digambar Akhada in Ayodhya, and one of the most vocal of the sants
in the temple agitation. "Paramhansji said he would obey court orders
if they were in consonance with dharma. My view is the same," he said.
every verdict of the court sacrosanct? It was a court which called
Singh a terrorist and sentenced him to death. Should we abide by the
verdict and stop honouring Bhagat Singh?"
The tantalising question then arises: will the country soon see a
the great Ayodhya drama, the first part having ended on December
every major movement, there are lulls and peaks," VHP leader Ashok
has said. "The freedom movement was not one continuous spell of
There was the non-cooperation movement of 1921, the Dandi march of
Quit India movement of 1942: each phase separated by nearly ten years
very little activity. So will it be with the Ayodhya movement."
More than seven years have gone by: when will the next phase begin?
is rife with stories of how the VHP intends to build a mass movement
on the issue of temple construction, just as it had done on the matter
demolition. However much it may embarrass the ruling BJP, VHP sources
the Central government is unlikely to take repressive measures against
member of its own RSS parivar. The state government's attitude, as
Minister Ram Prakash Gupta has blurted out, is likely to be much more
The first step for the VHP, sources aver, will be to set up the ground
of the temple, initially not at the disputed site, but upon the land
recently purchased by the VHP. "We want to test out whether the temple
structurally all right," maintained the VHP source. But the real
is claimed, is to use the standing, half-built temple to rouse popular
feeling in favour of temple construction. "We know there is not as
popular enthusiasm for temple construction, as there was for the Babri
Masjid's demolition," said the source. "We hope the interim structure
mobilise the masses again, after which we will make our assault on the
27 Feb. 2000
History - made to order
The more the BJP and its thinktanks try to put an academic veneer on
the controversy, the more they end up confirming that the issue is
actually about settling scores with their ideological adversaries.
HASAN SUROOR on the ICHR row.
SHORN OF sophistry and obfuscation, there is really only one way of
looking at the row over the ``Towards Freedom'' volumes which the
Indian Council for Historical Research (ICHR) has recalled from the
press for ``review''- and that is as the BJP's bid to scuttle what
it perceives as a left-wing project, and to replace it with its own
version of the independence movement.
The rest - the ``adverse'' reaction to an earlier volume, the charge
that manuscripts were sent to the Oxford University Press
``bypassing'' the review committee, etc. - is no more than a
pretext; and as the debate unfolds even Government spokesmen are not
pretending that there is anything altruistic about it. Mr. Arun
Shourie, defending the ICHR's action in a TV debate, has admitted
that if the Congress(I) and left historians could call the shots
when they were in a position to do so, it is perfectly legitimate
for the present dispensation to give them ``a dose of their own
The ICHR, however, has been less candid and has come up with some
extremely facetious arguments, including selectively quoting a
review of the late Prof. Partha Sarathi Gupta's volume by Prof.
Sabyasachi Bhattacharya to justify the recall of Professors Sumit
Sarkar and K. N. Panikkar's works. Prof. Bhattacharya has charged
the ICHR with ``misusing'' the review and said that an individual
book reviewer's assessment cannot become the basis for suspending
publication of the work two of the country's leading historians.
``The reviewer's freedom and the author's freedom to express opinion
are at stake if the professional judgments are used for purposes of
politicking in the realm of academic research,'' Prof. Bhattacharya
said in a stinging rejoinder to the ICHR's persistent use of his
review to back its own actions.
Similarly, Prof. S. Gopal, general editor of the ``Towards Freedom''
project, has rebutted the charge that the Sarkar- Panikkar volumes
were sent to the OUP without the Council's authorisation. In a
strongly-worded statement, he has reminded the ICHR that no less a
person than its own chairman had ``forwarded'' these to the OUP.
He has also questioned the ICHR's authority to withdraw the volumes
``unilaterally'' and subject them to another review without
consulting him as the general editor or the volume editors,
Professors Sarkar and Panikkar. This, he has said, is a
``violation'' of the terms under which the project was conceived and
executed. The ICHR has not responded to Prof. Gopal's point and has
instead gone on a fishing expedition. It has blamed the then ICHR
chairman, Prof. S. Settar, for scuttling a three-member review
committee which the Council had set up in 1998 and to which the
``aborted'' volumes should have been referred, according to the
ICHR's present chairman, Mr. B. R. Grover. He has raised doubts
about Prof. Settar's motives, saying:``Strangely, a meeting of this
committee was never convened by the then chairman, Prof. S.
Settar.'' He has also accused Prof. Settar of being economical with
the truth while recording the minutes of the meeting at which the
committee was set up, and suggested an oblique nexus between Prof
Settar and Prof Gopal on ensuring that these volumes did not go to
the review committee.
All this is a red herring; the real motive behind the so-called
review is to purge the ``Towards Freedom'' project of ideas which do
not conform to the tendencies represented by the BJP; and to recast
it to fit in with its own perceptions of the independence movement.
There is talk of marxists' ``hegemony'' of the history
``establishment,'' and the ``need'' to break it. The BJP and its
supporters say that they want to ``rectify'' what the ``left''
historians have done. As everyone knows, ``rectification'' in the
context of history means only one thing: rewriting or doctoring it.
What makes it ominous is that this is the view not of just some
fringe elements in the Sangh Parivar, whom the BJP is known in the
past to have quickly disowned when they became an embarrassment, but
of some very responsible persons in the Government. It is a sign of
the times that what was once regarded as a hush-hush occupation
(even Stalin did not openly declare that he was rewriting history)
has now become a respectable Government policy with school textbooks
being ``rewritten'' to give them a certain slant; names of towns and
streets being changed in the name of national ``sentiment''; and
Indian culture itself being redefined in such a way as to deny it
its composite and pluralistic character.
The BJP's line, of course, is that it was all started by the
Congress and the left who came together in a ``self-serving''
arrangement that saw key academic bodies being packed with left-
wing academics. And the works they produced were written from their
perspective, ignoring altogether the ``other'' (the non- Congress,
non-left; in other words, right wing) viewpoint. ``Whether it was
the ICHR or the NCERT they were all packed with marxists,'' fumed a
BJP Union Minister.
In the past week, passages have been pulled out of an earlier
``Freedom'' volume to ``show'' a pro-left bias, and senior BJP
leaders have made for quite an amusing sight lamenting the
``downsizing'' of Gandhi by left historians. ``For a party which
comes from a lineage that has had no love lost for Gandhi, crying
foul over him is nothing but shedding crocodile tears,'' says Prof.
Sumit Sarkar. He also denies that there is any attempt either in the
volume which he has edited or in Partha Sarathi Gupta's volume,
which the ICHR has been flaunting, to denigrate Gandhi or
The problem, according to him, is that the documents do not indicate
that the Sangh Parivar played any role in the anti- colonial
struggle. It did not participate in the 1942 Quit India movement or
any other significant phase of the freedom struggle, but since this
does not fit in with the ``nationalistic'' image which the Parivar
has sought to appropriate and project, it is nervous. And hence the
desperation to suppress the volumes.
Meanwhile, the more the BJP and its intellectual thinktanks try to
put an academic veneer on the controversy, the more they end up
confirming that the issue is actually about settling scores with
their ideological adversaries. In a sense, it is a replay of the
Ayodhya mindset which led to the demolition of a ``disputed
structure'' to ``set right'' a ``historical wrong.'' This time
around, the axe is falling on academic works to ``rectify'' what the
Parivar sees as ``distortions.'' A primitive sense of vindictiveness
- extracting an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth - lies at
the heart of this mindset.
Repeatedly over the past week, the apologists for the ICHR and the
BJP have declared that with the change of Government at the Centre,
the ``marxists' monopoly'' of academic institutions is over, and
that they had better adjust themselves to the change. This is an
admission that academic institutions, until now ``monopolised'' by
``marxists,'' would now be ``monopolised'' by the Parivar activists,
and confirms that the changes in the ICHR, the Indian Council for
Social Science Research, the National Council for Educational
Research and Training and the Institute of Advanced Studies were
indeed motivated by extra-academic considerations.
At another level, this winner-takes-all approach to academic issues
has dangerous implications, and raises the spectre of a never-ending
cycle of ideological blood-letting. Every time there is a change of
Government, it would set about pushing its own ideas about history,
culture and nationalism. To some extent it has already been
happening in States which the BJP has ruled (Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat,
Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Maharashtra), but a broad national
consensus on India's basic pluralism (a recognition that non-Hindu
traditions also contributed to the country's social, cultural and
political life and more importantly a rejection of extreme
ideological positions, particularly those rooted in denominational
prejudices) ensured that there was no major disruption.
The BJP is trying to break that consensus and impose, through
academic research and school textbooks, an ``exclusivist'' agenda on
the country. The portrayal of Muslims and Christians in some of the
``revised'' school textbooks in BJP-ruled States and the stress on
aggressive Hindu nationalism militate against the liberal ideas
which have informed the country's academia until now.
The entire case against these volumes is built on the logic that
since the two professors are ``leftists'' their work must
necessarily be ``biased''. It is of a piece with the logic that
anyone who does not wear ``saffron'' is somehow a lesser patriot,
and therefore a lesser Indian, if not a downright traitor. It is the
beginning of `Talibanisation'' by other means.
To dismiss the goings-on at the ICHR as just another polemical row
between the left and the right would be to fall into a trap.