Is toppling of a Confederate statue in the US different from demolishing Babri Masjid?

A rally against racism in the US state of North Carolina. Protesters gather in Durham county, around a statue commemorating Confederate soldiers (those who fought for slavery during the American civil war) placed in front of the Courthouse.

The chants go up:

We are the revolution! We are the revolution!

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Amid these rising chants, a ladder is put up and a protester climbs up to the pedestal where the statue stands and puts a noose around its neck.

Then more and more people gather and pull on the rope, and keep pulling till the statue tumbles to the ground and breaks.

People stomp on the fallen statue, kick it and spit on it repeatedly. Much cheering and applause from the protesters amid cries of :

No Trump! No KKK! No Fascist USA

This event and the reaction to it, especially from the Global Left is extremely interesting. There does not appear to be any real call for condemning the act and the mood seems to be distinctly celebratory. For example, The Atlantic explains (and rightly so):

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Fair enough, really. Right outside the courthouse in Durham, there used to be a statue celebrating the people who fought for slavery! How were black people supposed to feel when they walked past that statue into the courthouse? Could they really expect justice?

From a democracy thousands of miles away, we see questions that can be raised about our own. Let me ask this boldly:

Is the destruction of a Confederate statue in the United States different from the demolition of Babri Masjid in Ayodhya?

How do we make a distinction between people who were cheering the pulling down of the statue in North Carolina from those who chanted “Ek dhakka aur do”?

How is a Hindu supposed to feel while visiting Ram Janmabhoomi only to see a mosque at the spot?

Hindus have faced systematic persecution for their religion under centuries of Islamic rule in India. Would the feelings of a Hindu upon seeing a mosque at Ram Janmabhoomi be that different from a black person upon seeing a statue of a Confederate soldier with a gun outside an American courthouse?

Nobody in the United States would ask African Americans to embrace the history of slavery, the Confederacy and monuments celebrating it.

It would be even more far fetched to ask African Americans to embrace symbols of the Confederacy as a mark of America’s racial diversity! Isn’t it interesting then Indian Hindus are asked to embrace the Babri Masjid as a symbol of our composite culture?

History can be painful. And even though we today can do nothing to change it, destruction of a single symbol that comes to acquire sudden significance can often prove cathartic to a people.

There are literally hundreds of Confederate monuments across the United States; but this one in Durham, North Carolina suddenly became important.

During the 1789 revolution, the French stormed the Bastille and razed it to the ground, because the infamous prison was a dreaded symbol of tyranny. Incidentally, a mere seven people were actually in that prison, but what mattered was the symbol that the Bastille had become. The Fourteenth of July, the day of the storming of the Bastille, is today France’s most important national holiday. In 2009, Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh was the guest of honor at the official Bastille Day parade in Paris.

Is it possible that one monument can acquire similar significance for Hindus in that they see it as a symbol of their humiliation?

Sadly, in our country, even the most benign of attempts to soothe the pain of Hindus … such as renaming Aurangazeb Road … have been met with howls of disagreement and accusations of “communalism”. These howls have come not just from garden variety liberals, but also from historians in academic positions in India and abroad.

In desperate attempts to draw a distinction between subjugation of Hindus in India and say black Americans in the United States (see here for example), these historians have been clutching at straws. These straws generally consist of pointing out factoids like Hindu kings being allies of the Mughal emperor, presence of Hindus in courts of Muslim rulers and the like.

However, it is easy to see that similar excuses can be made for almost any system of oppression. History is never a pet of any one ideologue. Because history is something that happened in real life, it always has curious subplots built into it. For example, there were actually Jews who collaborated with the Nazis. This curious subplot cannot be used as a counterpoint to the much larger event of Nazis systematically mass murdering the Jews.

In fact the August of 1947 marks not only the time of British withdrawal from India. Strictly speaking, we should be celebrating not just independence from the British, but also from over 500 different sovereign rulers who controlled large parts of India! Again, we don’t let these subplots interfere with the main narrative.

It should be fairly similar (and elementary) with Muslim rulers and their Hindu subjects. The larger narrative of persecution of Hindus, of being made to pay Jaziya taxes, of destruction and desecration of temples, and even massacres on occasion cannot be held hostage to anecdotes of some individual Hindus making deals with Muslim rulers.

Slavery and the Confederacy in the United States ended a long time ago. The protesters who came to the Confederate statue in North Carolina with chants of “No Trump” were also trying to interpret the current political environment through the lens of past injustices.

The Hindu sense of grievance is a justified and real thing. It is for us as a nation to do the right thing and acknowledge it. Instead of bullying Hindus for talking about it and trying to shame them into silence.

Abhishek Banerjee is a math lover who may or not be an Assistant Professor at IISc Bangalore.

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