In a tell-all interview, noted author and historian Meenakshi Jain exclusively spoke to OpIndia Editor Ajeet Bharti about the intricacies of Ram Temple issue in Ayodhya that has been interminably continuing since last several decades. Dr Jain, Associate Professor of History at Gargi College, University of Delhi and a member of the Indian Council of Historical Research, ICHR, wrote two books on the Ayodhya dispute, Rama and Ayodhya (2013) and The Battle for Rama: Case of the Temple at Ayodhya (2017). She pointed out the obvious support of history and archaeology for the Ram temple at the Janmabhoomi site, as well as the role of leftist historians like DN Jha, Romila Thapar in this case, historical, government documents tampering after the British considered the site birthplace of Lord Ram.
Here is the transcript of some of the questions answered by author and historian Meenakshi Jain:-
Before we start, could you please tell the viewers, what is this whole issue of Ram Janmabhoomi which is going on forever? Is it about a temple, or the land or about the existence of Bhagwan Ram?
A: I will give a brief history of the controversy. It started in around 1528 after Mughal emperor Babur demolished a temple at the site. Since then we have consistent accounts of what is happening at the site beginning with 1604. In 1604 we had an English man William Finch who writes that people are coming to the banks of Saryu river and taking holy dips. The Brahmins at the Ram Castle who record the names of pilgrims who come there. This is account is significant because it makes no mention of namaz and the presence of Muslims at the site. This is the first account of the place and William Finch had no idea this will become such a huge controversy 3 centuries later.
The second account we have is of a Jesuit father and English merchant Joseph Tiefenthaler who stayed in India for 40 years. He stayed in Awadh for about 7-8 years. Joseph’s account is extremely important as he states that there is a ‘Vedi’ in that complex. Vedi is a cradle for a newborn baby. Joseph further stated in his travelogue that on Ram Navami thousands of pilgrims come there and do ‘parikrama’ at that place.
From 1604 until 1989 when the left historians jumped into the controversy, every evidence point that the Babri Masjid was built on the destruction of a temple. The first Muslim account we have is that of Muttavalli(Superintendent) of the Babri Masjid who filed a case in the Faizabad district court soon after the great revolt of 1857 and he said that in that revolt 25 Nihank Sikhs have entered in Babri Masjid and have erected a symbol of Bhagwan and with charcoal they have written ‘Ram Ram’ on the walls. However, the significant part is that in his appeal, he mentions Babri Masjid as ‘Masjid-e-Janmsthan’. No other mosque in India is named as Janmsthan. That name itself is a giveaway.
How do you see the historicity of Bhagwan Ram? How do you see the ‘myth’ in what is, perhaps, wrongly understood as ‘mythology’ when we talk about Hindu scriptures and texts? Is it history? Is it fiction?
Regarding the question on the historicity of Lord Ram is very simple. All courts in the colonial period and independent India, they have been unanimous, there has been no disagreement at any time by any court. They have said that it is not for the judiciary or judicial system to subject the faith of the people to judicial or scientific scrutiny. The court only has to take note of the fact that millions believe it. That is why the Allahabad court did not ask for the proof that Ram was born at that particular spot.
Moving ahead, please tell us about some sane voices on the Left-leaning historians and academics? How do you perceive their arguments in the context of Janmbhoomi and Ram himself?
Till 1989, all literary evidence that we have, all accounts, all texts, everyone was unanimous that Babri Masjid was built on the site of a temple. Now in 1989 when the left first jumped into the controversy and produced a monograph about the matter. The left historians have been consistent in questioning the authenticity of the belief that it was Ram’s birthplace, that a temple was destroyed there before the construction of Babri Masjid. In fact, there is an archaeologist KK Mohammed who in his autobiography writes that when this controversy came to the fore, there was a strong section of Muslims who believed that this site should be handed over to the Hindus since it doesn’t mean much to us but it is so important for them. He records that it was the left historians who jumped in and assured Muslims that they have a very strong case, don’t surrender, we will provide you with the evidence.
To talk about sane voices among left historians, there might be on other aspects but all the left-historians who got involved in this issue, they were unanimous in their belief that the Babri Masjid was built on vacant land. They refuse to believe that it was built on the ruins of a temple.
Must clarify that all those left historians who got involved in this controversy were unanimous on this. I do not know opinion of other scholars who were not involved in this controversy.
The chief arguments of Muslim side in the court, besides adverse possession and potential communal violence, are: a) in Ayodhya, how do we know he was born on the disputed site, b) the archaeological evidence of a pre-Babri Hindu structure, like Sanskrit inscriptions and Hindu iconography below the Masjid, could have been put there by the Hindu labours working under Muslims. Do ANY one of these holds any water from the academic perspective of History?
As far as the question of whether Ram was born under the central dome, I have already answered the question that the Supreme Court and other courts have said that since the people believe it so we are not subjecting that to scientific or judicial scrutiny.
When all the evidence was presented before the Allahabad high court, judicial accounts, foreign accounts, revenue accounts, they refused to convince the left historians that Babri Masjid was built on vacant land. The Allahabad high court felt that the only way to resolve the issue was to order excavations at the site. So it ordered the Archaeological Survey of India to carry out excavations at that site.
Maybe the left historians were so tensed that maybe something can come up in the excavations. The court laid down very strict guidelines for the ASI to follow. It said that the excavation every day will be conducted only in the presence of the representatives from both sides and recorded in a register which will be signed by both the representatives so that afterwards nobody can question the findings.
However, the left historians tried to place many hurdles on ASI’s path fearing something would be discovered in their findings. The ASI did the excavations and its report is the absolute clinching evidence that the Babri Masjid was not built on vacant land. In fact, the report revealed something that none of us imagined. It said that ‘continuous occupation of the site from the second millennium BC’. That site was never used for habitational or residential purposes. It was always a sacred site and a series of sacred structures were found in the excavations including a circular shrine where a pranal from where water comes out when you offer, that was intact. Then, Ram Chabutra going back so many levels. A temple of 10 century that was shortlived. The ASI report is quiet on why this temple was shortlived, but we can conjecture that it was probably destroyed in an earlier wave of attacks on the temples.
The ASI finally showed that the 12th-century temple was destroyed and Babri Masjid was built on that. In fact, Babri Masjid does not have its own foundation. It was built on the walls of the pre-existing temples. There is not even a layer of air between the walls of the temple and the Babri Masjid.
Two more interesting arguments were put before the Supreme Court- a) archaeology is not an ‘exact’ science, and hence ASI’s report can, at best, be considered an opinion of the writers of it (even if it is based on any number of archaeological evidence), and b) because the summary of the report was not signed, the veracity of at least the summary (and probably the entire report as well) was questionable. How do you see these arguments faring, as a person with a profession in history?
These arguments are ridiculous. The ASI specifies the name of the people assigned to carry out the excavations and the excavation report bears the name of those who carried it out. The Supreme Court has now asked when the hearings are now at the ultimate stage, why is the authenticity of the ASI report being questioned now, why wasn’t it questioned when the report was presented in 2003 and it formed an important part of the Allahabad High court verdict. In my opinion, the SC has rightly dismissed the attempt to question the veracity of the ASI report at this late stage.
Coming to the Left narrative of stating ‘Rama wasn’t an ancient Hindu god, and his worship is a very new phenomenon- just a couple of centuries old. Whereas you have traced the origins of Rama Leela to the early Islamic period. Can you please elaborate on that?
I have a photograph of a 1st century AD coin in which Ram could be seen holding a bow and an arrow and that is much before the controversy broke out. Apart from this coin, in my book, I have also traced scenes of Ramayana began to be presented in an art form such as on terracotta or on temple sculptures. The first terracotta piece we have is of Ravan lifting Sita and carrying her away and Sita is shown throwing her ornaments. This is terracotta from the second century BC. Why would anyone create this unless people instantly associate it with Ramayana, which means Ramayana was well known at that time.
There are temples which have got full scenes of Ramayana on their walls. In the 12th century, 3 big temples built in honour of Ram. All 3 temples had inscriptions saying that they were built in this year, by whom and in honour of whom. Two of them are in Madhya Pradesh, the inscription is still there. The third one was in Ayodhya where the inscription fell from the wall when the Babri Masjid was demolished in 1992.
You also talk about tampering with the revenue records of the British, which originally didn’t acknowledge the Masjid, and listed the Hindu महंत-s as the under-proprietors… So what exactly is the tampering? Names added to the margins, or at the footnotes, or anything else?
This tampering was discovered by historian BR Grova. In 1858, the Brits started examining and the first revenue settlement was done by the English in the Ayodhya area in 1861. That revenue settlement does not show Babri Masjid. It mentions Janmsthan and says that it is government land and Mahants are under proprietors. From 1861, none of the proponents of Babri Masjid challenged British contention until after India became independent when the controversy broke out. Late BR Grova found out that in the British revenue records, wherever ‘Janmsthan’ was mentioned, somebody had put an asterisk mark and appended ‘and Babri Masjid’. The forgery was detectable as the writing of 1861 is very different from that of 1947-1948, ink colour is different and even the thickness is varying. The best part of this is that there were 2 sets of the documents and the second set of records did not have any forgery.
Can you please tell our viewers about the role of Independent India’s government in what transpired after 23/12/1949 placing of Vigrahas at the Janmabhoomi?
I don’t know if the government had any role in that but I do know that when the news of idols being placed inside central dome reached Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, his first reaction was it will affect our relationship with Pakistan and that letter of his is there. He was afraid this will affect our relationship with Pakistan and the Kashmir issue.
You also talk about Mr Kunal Kishor, and the leftist mixup of the two inscriptions Vishnu Hari Inscription, and ‘Treta ka Thakur’ inscription?
When Babri Masjid was demolished in 1992, from the walls of the Masjid, an inscription fell down. That inscription was a big inscription 5 feet by 2. The inscription gave the details of who constructed it and it was a clinching proof but then left historians, the principle role played by Professor Irfan Habib. Habib wrote an article that the inscription did not fall from the walls but it was planted there. When thousands of people are there, how can such a big inscription be placed there when there are media from across the world there?
Secondly, if it was brought, where was it brought from. Habib initially responded that it was from a private collection. So when asked who is the owner of the private collection, he modified his views saying that the inscription was stolen from Lucknow museum. Kishore Kunal was a very senior official in the PMO monitoring Ayodhya. He had the official access to visit Lucknow museum. He published a photograph of the inscription which was so badly fragmented that it was impossible to make out what it was written on it, whereas, the inscription found at Ayodhya gives the details of the temple, name of the ruler and the year in which it was done.
The inscription in the Lucknow museum was of Treta ka Thakur temple which was found by a colonial archaeologist in the British era. Treta ka Thakur was a temple that was destroyed on Aurangzeb’s orders. That inscription bears no resemblance to the one found in Ayodhya.
What were the talking points of left historians’ campaign against ASI? Recently, a report (‘Historians’ Report To The Indian Nation) from them was dismissed as ‘opinion’ by the court as it came to notice?
That report was dismissed by the court a long time ago because it was prejudice, it had no credibility. The Supreme Court was very curt in dismissing the report. The archaeologists had hardly gone to Ayodhya and one of them had conceded that they had to prepare the report in a haste.
In addition, the Supreme Court also asked why in 1858 the British constructed a wall between the Masjid and the compound so the Hindus do not have access to the Masjid. The SC asked the very revealing question is that why is the Ram Chabutra built right next to the wall and why is it that the Ram Chabutra is built at a place where you get a direct darshan of the central dome. The opposing parties have no answers to these questions. When they are confronted with facts, they just avoid commenting on it.
Can you tell us something about the “big four” of Left Historians? Who they are, from where do they derive power and authority, etc.? Do you have any idea why did these four abstain from making a court appearance themselves, even when their students gave such erroneous testimonies?
This was a part of a strategy. Irfan Habib, Romila Thapar, RS Sharma and DN Jha would prepare the ‘historians’ report to the nation’, all the documents they would prepare and they carried out a proper campaign outside the court. It was a calculated decision on their part they would not go to the courts. They sent their students who were also professors but none of them was a specialist in Medieval India. Many of their students in court had to admit that they had never studied the Ayodhya phenomenon, they had not read Babur Nama, they had not visited Ayodhya and they were totally unaware of the various dimensions of the controversy. They had formed their opinion based on ‘historians’ report to the nation’ and the newspaper articles.
When the Supreme Court confronted them with facts, the left historians who until now claimed that Babur Masjid was built on vacant land modified their view and said there was an Eidgah beneath it. All the Persian, Arabic, Sanskrit literature from the 18th and 19th century maintained that Babri Masjid was built on the ruins of Ram Temple. Not a single documents points in the other direction. However, the left historians have taken a line of thought and they refuse to be convinced no matter what evidence is presented to them.
Besides these questions, Dr Meenakshi Jain answered a host of other questions spanning from the Supreme Court and Allahabad Court’s hearing in the Ram Janmbhoomi case, her personal opinion about the Muslim claim on the land and the perverted attempts by left historians such as Romila Thapar, Irfan Habib, DN Jha and RS Sharma in perpetually modifying their views vis-a-vis to existence of Ram Temple beneath the Babri debris when confronted with historical facts and documents. You can watch the entire interview here:-