Parliamentary Debate on Places of Worship Act – Part I (Sadhvi Uma Bharati)

 Parliamentary Debate on Places of Worship Act – Part I (Sadhvi Uma Bharati)

The Places of Worship Act, 1991 – prohibits conversion of any place of worship and provides for the maintenance of its religious character as it existed on 15th August 1947. As per this act, if a mosque stood at a place as on 15th August 1947, then that mosque shall remain so irrespective of its historical background (with Ram Janmabhoomi being the only exception). Furthermore, the act deems any attempts to transmute the character of a place of worship as a punishable offence. 

The introduction of this legislation in the parliament resulted in a scintillating debate. Many MPs opposing the act presented various examples to point out the injustice meted out to the adherents of native religions through this legislation. In this series of articles, we will be presenting the speeches made by members opposing the legislation to understand the Indigenous view.

Sadhvi Uma Bharati:

Sadhvi Uma Bharati was a Member of Parliament representing Khajuraho at the time of this historic debate. She rose to national prominence in the 1980s as a result of her stature as one of the major faces of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement. Many reputed personalities have credited her extraordinary oratory skills as a major factor behind the momentum created in favour of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement. The speech made by her in the Parliament opposing the Places of Worship Act is as follows: 

Mr. Deputy Speaker, Sir, I rise to oppose the Bill introduced by the Government. After going through the Bill, I have been pleased by one point mentioned in the Bill, which has been provided in sub-clause (2) of Section 4 which states:- “If, on the commencement of this Act, any unit, appeal or other proceedings with respect to the conversion of the religious character of any place of worship, existing on the 15th day of August, 1947 is pending before any court, tribunal or authority, the same shall abate and no unit, appeal or other proceedings with respect to any such matter shall lie on or after such commencement in any court, tribunal or other authority.” It clearly confirms one thing, which we all have been saying all along in our speeches that the Ram-Janam-Bhoomi dispute is not an issue to be sorted out in courts as it is a matter of our faith. Crores of devotees of Lord Rama on this earth and of this country have been supporting this view. The huge gathering of the people in our meetings also proved the same fact.

All this demonstrates that all of us are unanimous on one point that this issue cannot be settled in courts. I am very glad that though the Congress Government might not agree with us on various issues, yet it appears that it agrees with us in this respect and it has accepted our view in this regard that issues of faith cannot be decided in courts. I would be thankful to the Government that Ayodhya has been excluded from the purview of this Bill. All this shows that the Government does not want confrontation in this regard and we also do not want the confrontation although we are not afraid of any confrontation. We want that it would be better if the dispute is settled through mutual dialogue. Ulemas and saints should sit together and resolve it peacefully through mutual talks. I would like to make one more submission. It may seem irrelevant at this juncture to refer to it, but I would like to submit that it has been said repeatedly that by referring to this dispute on the stages, we have brought politics into the religion. Mr. Deputy Speaker, Sir, I would like to prove today that it is the politics which has interfered in the religion. It should not be taken as interference of religion in politics and whatever proof I put forward to prove this dictum shall be adequate enough.

Mr. Deputy Speaker, Sir, On Feb. 1, 1986, the court issued the orders to open the locks on the gate of Ram-Janam-Bhoomi and in its verdict the court pronounced that the doors of Ram-Janam-Bhoomi were not locked by order of any court, tribunal or authority. It has not been clear as to who ordered it. As a result, the lock on the shrine was opened on 1st February 1986 and devotees of Lord Rama all over India lighted their houses and celebrated the occasion in various ways to express their happiness, but no communal riots took place in any part of the country during the period from Feb. 1 to Feb. 14, 1986. Not a single communal riot took place between 1st February and 14th February 1986. On 14 February 1986, Babri Masjid Action Committee was constituted and they gave a call to oppose the unlocking of Ram Mandir. After this, it became difficult to check orgy of violence and bloodshed unleashed by the communal riots since 14 February 1986.

Mr. Dy. Speaker, Sir, violence was not a sequel to unlocking the Ram Mandir, but it was the result of a call given by BAMC on 14th February. Even earlier, at the time of Shah Bano case, some Muslim leaders, whose security deposit was forfeited in the election, tried to derive political mileage to gain a foothold in politics, by fanning fanaticism somehow among Muslims. They never thought for the welfare of the country, but for votes, pushed the country towards bloodshed with the hope of getting into State Assemblies and Parliament by spreading communalism. Unity was sought to be fostered among Muslim brethern by fanning fanaticism among Muslim community, after the constitution of Babri Masjid Action Committee to oppose the opening of Ram Mandir, which was already sore over the Shah Bano case.

Mr. Dy. Speaker, Sir, on 12th August 1987, another call for march to Ayodhya was given by these leaders to offer Namaz at the site of Ram Mandir, which was dubbed as a Mosque in dilapidated state. I would like to know from the senior Muslim leaders whom I respect a lot as fatherly figures like Shri Sait sitting in the House, whether a call for offering of Namaz can be called as a ‘march’. Is Pilgrimage to Mecca-Madina by Muslim brethern of India called a march as has been done in the case of 12th August call by members of BMAC. When is the ‘March’ call given? Only when army moves to track down the enemy, it is called ‘march’. In the call given to offer Namaz at Ayodhya can be called ‘march’? I have never come across dubbing of pilgrimage by Muslims to Mecca-Madina as ‘March’. This means that the call for ‘march’ was to instigate Muslims. I am quite perturbed at all this and feel extremely sorry at this state of affairs.

I heard in childhood that pigeons fear the presence of a cat. Pigeons are so innocent that they believe mere closing of eyes will prove to be an effective shield against cats. But this is not correct. Maintenance of status quo as in 1947 in respect of religious place, is like closing eyes similar to that of pigeons against the advancement of cats. This maintenance of status-quo of 1947 will mean preservation of tension for the coming generations.

I would like to quote an instance. Twenty days ago I went to Varanasi to visit Gyan Vapi, to which I have never been. At that time it was raining very heavily in Varanasi. I went to the place totally drenched, where the temple of Vishwanath was demolished by Aurangzeb to build a Mosque. Guides showed me the remnants of the temple where the Mosque was built by Aurangzeb. My submission is that I am not well educated; therefore I am not conversant with the rules and procedures of the House. So, I do not know whether it will be proper to raise the issue or not, as per the rules and conventions of the House. Even when completely drenched I saw the mosque built on the remnants of the temple, some sort of current of anger ran through my body. I felt disgraced at the fate of my ancestors, who I think were challenging my womanhood and asking me, whether the intention of Aurangzeb was merely to build a mosque, then why were remnants of the temple left. Was not the intention of Aurangzeb behind leaving remnants of the temple at the site of the mosque, to keep reminding Hindus of their historical fate and to remind coming generations of Muslims of their past glory and power?

This is clearly a reflection first on evil designs of Aurangzeb and then of the Britishers. I would like to know from the movers of the Bill-the Congress (I) Government, why do they want to preserve and protect the wrong done by Aurangzeb and Britishers. Why are they keeping the bone of contention alive? As I felt ashamed and perturbed … (Interruptions)… I think coming generations will keep on going to Varanasi. As long as the banks of Varanasi are considered sacred and holy, people will continue to go there and see the site of the old temple. I think it was the evil design of Aurangzeb and Britishers to keep the issue alive for coming generations.

With a view to keep the issue alive, efforts are again being made to maintain status-quo of 1947. If the intentions are not bad, then this is not the correct way of finding out the solution of the dispute. The best way of finding a solution to disputes in respect of all the disputed religious places, whether it be temples or mosques, is to restore the old traditional glory of all the religious places. A time frame must be set up to restore the original glory of all the religious places since the days of Alwan-Qasim.

So a date should be fixed. During the reign of Babar, religious places of worship were damaged. If the intention is clear, then the status-quo of the places of worship should be maintained and the Bill should be introduced. Otherwise, there will be efforts to thwart the passage of the Bill.

Madam, I think the consequences will not be good. This shows that we are not in favour of peace. The best solution is to maintain the status quo of all the disputed places of worship. I hope this Bill has not been brought to disturb history. Can we tamper with the calendar to change historical facts? History says Rama was born there because that place is Ayodhya… (Interruptions)

SHRI P.M. SAYEED (Lakshadweep): Is that your opinion or your party’s opinion?

KUMARI UMA BHARTI: This is our unanimous view. We do not have a different viewpoint. Can we alter historical facts through manipulation of dates? Are we scared to face history? Today it is this issue, tomorrow there could be a dispute about the date on which India got independence or even Mahatma Gandhi’s role in the freedom struggle. I am sure all hon. Members present in the House are concerned about the impact of this dispute on future generations because both Hindus and Muslims have to live harmoniously in this country. We must ensure that this dispute does not have any adverse effect on future relationships between Hindus and Muslims. This can be done if the status-quo of the religious shrines is maintained. There is a provision in the Bill that all the pending cases before the court will be treated as dismissed. But can we dismiss our sentiments so lightly? There is a temple of the Goddess at Pavagarh near Baroda which is visited by thousands of devotees every Sunday. There is a tomb in the temple premises and devotees visiting that place are bound to see it. So the Government will have to specify in writing that the temple was constructed before 1947 and hence cannot be altered even if the presence of the tomb hurts anyone’s sentiments. Devotees cannot escape the sight of the tomb. This Bill will suppress their sentiments. If you want tensions between Hindus and Muslims to continue then it is alright. If you are sincere about the well-being of the future generations then you must show the courage to bring a Bill which restores the religious shrines to their original status.

People say that if it is done then it will aggravate the dispute and further complicate the search for a solution. Even this Bill will generate controversy. So you should bring a Bill as suggested by me and observe the public reactions. By maintaining the Status-quo of 1947 it seems that you are following a policy of appeasement. Owners of bullock carts in villages create a wound on the back of the ox and when they want their bullock-carts to move faster they strike at the wound. Similarly, these disputes are wounds and marks of slavery on our ‘Bharat Mata’. So long as ‘Gyan Vapi’ continues in its present condition at Banaras and a grave remains in a temple at Pavagarh, it will remindus of the atrocities perpetrated by Aurangzeb including his efforts to convert Hindus to Islam and this would be very painful.

Sir, I am aware of the feelings of all hon. Members present in the House. All of them feel that this Bill will not provide a permanent solution to the problem. But as in the Mahabharata, Bhisma- Pitamah, Dronacharya, Dhritrashtra and even the Pandavas knew that Draupadi’s ‘Chirharan’ was wrong but certain reasons made them keep quiet. The move to restore the status of religious shrines as in 1947 showed that efforts are being made to denigrate the country’s position. All these mute spectators are behaving like Bhishma Pitamah, Dronacharya, Dhritrashtra and the Pandavas did in Mahabharata when Duryodhana proceeded to disrobe Draupadi. I want all hon. Members come out in the open and oppose this Bill.

Sir, the State of the nation can be gauged from the law and order, political and socio-economic situation in the country. The B.J.P. come out very late with its support of the ‘Ram Janmabhoomi’.

Before that the Babri Masjid Action Committee had already announced an Ayodhya March and there were many politicians associated with it.

Therefore, it is my humble request to all hon. Members to ensure that our future generations may live in harmony. Ask forgiveness from the Lord for all wrongs done in the past and make all our efforts to avoid bloodshed in future. So I request the hon. Members present here to oppose this Bill if they really love their children.”

Sandhya Krishnan

Sandhya Krishnan is a Chennai based finance professional who is extremely passionate about history and literature.

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