The Liberhan Commission Report – Are we Debating the Right Issues?

Contrary to popular beliefs, Report of the Liberhan Commission of Inquiry is not an indictment of senior BJP leaders; it is an indictment of the entire Indian society – guilty of harboring and perpetuating criminal intents, owing to carefully preserved religious and caste divisions.

Even a cursory reading of the text positions before us the essences:

“During enquiry, it has been rightly been impressed and patently has come on record that casteism and communalism exists in almost all organizations and institutions. Its infiltration in the community starts amongst the very young persons. The video record and photographs as well as the evidence which have come on record with respect to incident of December 6th 1992 shows that almost eighty percent of the personnel involved were between the age of the adolescence and early 30s. The problem is that it is deeply ingrained in radical thinking. A sustained effort is needed in order to tackle casteism; communalism or regionalism head on.” (8.14)

If there is one necessary lesson that must be drawn from the report, it is that, a mammoth collection of evidences points to one direction – a need for social rehabilitation. The report states, “Urgent action is needed if it is not to become epidemic a radical disease threatening the very survival of the Indian society. Communal, caste disadvantage and nasty associates of discrimination has not yet been eliminated. They poison the mind and attitude. They will as long as they remain, continue to be potent reason for unrest and cause throwing our nation weakness as temptation for foreign invaders.” (8.17)

Instead of these salient critical observations drawn from several years of commission inquiries, we as a nation are more keen on debating which leaders made to the list and why. As though, our sense of being secular Indian is dependent solely on the guidance, or the lack of it, on part of the handfuls of untrustworthy politicians. As though, we are confident that by bringing the “communal politicians” to book, we would have eradicated the roots of dangerous communalism afflicting the contemporary India. Such unprecedented mass interest generated in a judicial report can only suggest that this report was meant to solve the prevailing religious discords, and now must be examined for its merits.


Dangerously redundant:

Some would argue that we were always aware of the aforementioned lessons, and that, it would be more useful to discuss the specifics that point to the guilty. Even from that perspective, the discussions on the specific findings of the Liberhan Commission are as redundant as the report itself. By now, people know that this Commission has indicted leaders -Vajpayee, Pramod Mahajan, Lalji Tandon and Govindacharya – who have not even been summoned. That, it is too soft on the then Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao. And that, the report took too long (17 years and 48 extensions), spent too much (Rs 7 crore), and produced too little that was hitherto unknown.

Even as those be the cases, now that the administrative trivia are well exposed, we should still reflect on why a Liberhan Commission was considered a necessity at any juncture. More importantly, why it needed to be conducted in such a secretive manner? Are the indicted ones the real villains? Are we really ashamed of our lingering indifference, or merely angry that our dirty politicians are not punished enough? Are our secular stances victims to political propitiousness or are they ideologically whittled?


The Holy Cows:

The apparently sensational “leaking” of the report is a crude joke on the collective intelligence of our country. If a judicial commission is established with taxpayers’ money, its first obligation is to the people. One way of explaining the big fuss created by a section of the corporate media over the leakage is to understand their greed for “breaking news” credits. Hence, two news organizations could not contain absolutely immature excitement in claiming to be ahead of the race in their advanced knowledge of a report which was anyway about to go public.

The critical question is how can the report be perceived any differently if it is first placed in the legislature as opposed to amidst the citizens who help create the legislature. The hue and cry over the leaks of publicly funded reports are aimed solely to maintain the holy cow image of the judiciary (the only other category would be the unaudited military). In an elite fashion resembling limited medical college seats, the legal authorities protect their documents with utmost secrecy, giving thereby a sense of sacredness. In reality, akin to profiteering healthcare sector, judiciary is as amenable to corruption, partisanship and outrightly useless revelations. Liberhan’s report is equally vulnerable to being influenced by individual consciousness and unique environmental factors. In no sense of the term, it can claim to be objective, let alone irrefutable. Whether or not such a report first “leak” to the media or be tabled inside the Parliament is a moot point. But by bringing it up to stir a debate, in a macabre fashion, all the four pillars of our dwindling democracy – that must sink or swim together – are just deciding to alienate the people from their social rights to fundamental knowledge. As a matter of fact, the present shock and disbelief would not have existed had there been a popular continuous engagement with the report while it was in progress.

However, the Holy Cow institutions function in most secretive manner, as though the very moment they declare a judgment, the solutions would be reached. It is this very elitist mode of looking down upon the larger population which forms the core of social unrest. The civil and military executive, legislature, judiciary and the press – all function to the exclusion of an understanding that majority of people have a stake in their modes of operations. This leads to rife speculations before a so-called judgment day, instead of a conscious engagement with democratic political process. Social malfunctions such as failure of secularism in India are perceived in quantifiable measures, to be resolved with unraveling of judicial reports – undesirable distractions, impossibly valued.


Religious Rights in a Secular Republic:

Secular fabric of independent India was not attacked for the first time in 1992. Caste-related violences and Dalit oppressions were most frequent forms of Hindu religious unrest ever since India attained freedom. Bloodshed after partition was followed by Jabalpur Hindu-Muslim riots in 1961. In 1969, Ahmedabad witnessed deaths of over a thousand Hindus and Muslims in communal riots. In Delhi, thousands of Sikhs were murdered in 1984 led by Hindu rioters. Hindu terrorism has time and again displayed its ugly head throughout, without letting the issue get internationalized. In the veil of declared secular status, our schools conduct daily prayers, youths take to lathi in the open to aspire to be sainiks, and we cower down before religious godmen and goons alike. To assume that Hindu “way of life” is somehow inherently peaceful and tolerant, only disturbed by few right-wing extremists, would be to refuse responsibilities of our national indifferences, and inactions towards deep-seated prejudices majority of Indians harbor towards various oppressed minorities. By reducing our communalist character to Babri Masjid demolition and its aftermath, there is a parallel attempt at absolving the collective guilt as well promoting a certain myth of cultural-national purity that must accompany the anti-secular Hinduised akhand bharat.

Babri Masjid demolition was a political act, but it was driven by an ideology that has been glorified by majority of Indians – across religions. Decrying the acts of Hindu fanatics is not sufficient deterrent. We need to probe deeper into the religious, pious, sanctified ladders of nobility that Indian society as a whole practices. Publicly held religious ceremonies and exhibitionisms are amply promoted by leaders of various beliefs. Such zealous adherence to sacred faith systems must inevitably lead to competitive clashes. Attempts at conversions, sectarian promotions, moralist presumptions in the name of religion are a continuing saga in most parts of the world. Mingling of politics with religion is a mere extension of a practice that publicly proves superiority of a concept that, if at all must exist, needs to be deeply intrapersonal. Not only are the present systems of religious preachings – coming from mandir, madrassa and missionaries – filled with lessons of incompatibilities, comparative hatred and seeds of suspicions, they are also inherently regressive in historical interpretations. As a result, instead of treating Babri Masjid as a remnant of an unenviable royal legacy that can at best be preserved as a national monument, divisive religious tendencies are claiming to demand a share in it for their worshipping rights.

Juridical clarity must prevail while interpreting the Constitution. The citizens must enjoy personal freedom to practice religious beliefs, or to reject them, but the State cannot be both secular, and religious at the same time. Protection of heritage monuments are a national duty, not a religious group obligation. Indian state being constitutionally bound to be secular, should declare ancient places of worship as heritage monuments. Moreover, Indian government and each citizen needs to be mindful of our Directive Principles while dealing with ancient monuments.  As Article 49 declares, “Protection of monuments and places and objects of national importance.– It shall be the obligation of the State to protect every monument or place or object of artistic or historic interest, to be of national importance, from spoliation, disfigurement, destruction, removal, disposal or export, as the case may be.”

Indian State continues to fail in its constitutional obligations. No one was looking forward to Liberhan to declare the state of communal unrest. We experience it on a daily basis. Following Masjid demolition, there have been countless instances of both Hindu and Islamic terrorism, of Christian attacks and retaliations, and massacres of Dalits. To assume any significant change to occur following Liberhan findings is to locate the historical developments through the ruling class eyes.

Currently, the legislators are debating on a certain bill to contain communal violences. Whereas, this sounds apt, it does not address the root causes of religious intolerance in a diverse society. On the other hand, such bills and commission reports are employed by the ruling classes to strengthen the status quo of national identity, to restore lost faith in law and order and to reassure the subjects that they must patiently submit their fates to power structure combines. Justice is to be awaited in the corridors of the courts and the parliament, not in massive peoples’ movement aimed at refusing religious practices in the public or objecting to religious instructions at the schools, or decrying the casteist indoctrinations at homes. Attitudinal changes are not brought about through wishful legislations, but via fundamental social shifts – not brought about by seasoned beneficiaries of the prejudiced system, but by the very people opposed to them.


Indictments: Are Vajpayees and Advanis the real villains?

Debates over whether or not the former Prime Minister was rightfully mentioned in the report are mere distractions. Liberhan has already clarified that he has never indicted Vajpayee in his report. Irrespective of what actions are taken, it will be prudent for the Indian youth to reflect upon the history and occurrence of communalism, and not resort to simplified narratives of legal justice. For each religious revival movement, there is an accompanying attempt at reclaiming legacies, which are bound to be disputed by opposing factions. Considering the unquestioned sacredness with which religions are adhered to, such contestations are compelled to produce fanatics as witnessed during Babri Masjid demolition.

Judicial reports may indict a few opportunistic politicians for the state of communalism. But more than the shock it provides in our knowing of our beloved leaders implicated thus, it is an appropriate time to reflect upon our own compliance in materializing such prospects of mutual hatred which in turn, nurtures communal politicians.

Following the demolition, India elected the very same perpetrators of religious strife who are being despised now based merely upon a judicial report. Shall we not immediately reinstate those communal politicians to power soon after they are exonerated of all crimes? If people deserve the kind of government they elect, it is also true that politicians are merely byproducts of their times. Our times are so hollow that we look at ancient monuments for reclaiming glories, to superstitious texts for invoking beliefs, to legislative indictments of our representatives in order to absolve ourselves of collective responsibilities.

Saswat Pattanayak is a New York-based journalist, photographer, atheist, third-wave feminist, LGBT ally, black power comrade and academic non-elite who refuses to give up his association with Kindle. A true comrade.

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