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The Cyber Presence of Babri Masjid: History, Politics and Difference in Online Indian Islam

Although the demolition of Babri Masjid predates the invention of the worldwide web and the growth of internet usage in India, in online Indian Muslim discourse "Babri Masjid" serves as a focal point for articulating Indian Muslim identity. The cyber presence of Babri Masjid mediates competing historical narratives about Indian Islam, the political discourse of secular and constitutional citizenship, and questions of minority rights and religious difference. This paper describes some of the modes in which Indian Muslims use the internet to negotiate and express identity claims.

SPECIAL ARTICLEEconomic & Political Weekly january 19, 200847The Cyber Presence of Babri Masjid: History, Politics and Difference in Online Indian IslamRohit ChopraAlthough the demolition of Babri Masjid predates the invention of the worldwide web and the growth of internet usage in India, in online Indian Muslim discourse “Babri Masjid” serves as a focal point for articulating Indian Muslim identity. The cyber presence of Babri Masjid mediates competing historical narratives about Indian Islam, the political discourse of secular and constitutional citizenship,and questions of minority rights and religious difference. This paper describes some of the modes in which Indian Muslims use the internet to negotiate and express identity claims.In the post-9/11 world, global interest in the Muslim presence in cyberspace is significantly centred on how terrorist Islamic groups utilise the internet with alarming effectiveness to achieve their goals. In 2001, the Indian government banned the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), for “anti-national” activities and links with terrorist organisations [Tripathi 2001]. One of the charges against SIMI was that it had used the internet to circulate images of a burning Quran, which had sparked inter-community tensions and riots in India (ibid). More recently, the Washington Post web site covered the phenomenon of “e-Qaida” in a special feature detailing “how jihadists use the internet and technology to spread their message”.1 Groups dedicated to ideologies of terror, whether Al Qaida, white supremacist outfits,or, Hindu nationalist organisations are adept at using media tech-nologies for communicational as well as operational objectives. Such uses of the internet certainly deserve study. But in the ab-sence of wider media coverage about the many ways in which Muslims use the internet, the image of global Islam as primarily constituted by the jihadist networks reinforces the impression that Muslims, more than others, are drawn to the internet as a means for propagating violent ideologies. To state the obvious, however, just as Al Qaida and SIMI do not represent Muslims at large, their actions on the internet cannot be taken as representative of online Islam. As Bunt (2005) ob-serves, “there is a broad spectrum of Islamic hypertextual ap-proaches and understandings to be found in cyberspace, created by Muslims seeking to present dimensions of their religious, spiri-tual and/or political lives online” (p 69). Other scholarly writings also bear testimony to the diverse ways in which Muslims ex-press, contest and expand their understanding of Muslim autho-rity, identity and commitment in cyberspace [Anderson 2005; Blank 2001, pp 178, 179; Bunt 2000; Mandaville 2001, pp 152-77]. These works point to the difficulty in reaching any easy generali-sations about an “Islamic” orientation toward the internet.In this paper, I describe some of the modes in which Indian Muslims use the internet to negotiate and express identity claims. I focus on the online archives of the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992, an event that arguably more than any other has impacted the lives of Indian Muslims in the last 15 years. Al-though the destruction of the monument predates the invention of the worldwide web and the growth of internet usage in India, in online Indian Muslim discourse “Babri Masjid” serves as a focal point for articulating Indian Muslim identity. The cyber presence of Babri Masjid mediates competing historical narratives about Indian Islam, the political discourse of secular I wish to express my thanks to David Lelyveld for allowing me to cite his paper, ‘From Mughal Manuscript to Victorian Printed Book: Print, Litera-cy and Islam in Nineteenth Century India’, presented at the Lockermiller Seminar, Department of History, Emory University on September 25, 2006. I am also grateful to Talal Asad for allowing me to cite his observa-tions and arguments at the round table conference, ‘The Future of Shari’a: Secularism from an Islamic Perspective’, Centre for the Study of Law and Religion, Emory University, Atlanta, January 27-28, 2007. Thanks are also owed to Angelika Bammer at Emory University, Atlanta; some of the ideas presented in this article were developed based on conversations with her over the last few years. I remain responsible, of course, for any shortcomings of the piece.Rohit Chopra ( is at Babson College, United States.
SPECIAL ARTICLEjanuary 19, 2008 Economic & Political Weekly48and constitutional citizenship and questions of minority rights and religious difference. 1 Indian Muslim Community and the Babri MasjidIslam has been an Indian religion since the 8th century, with conquest, commerce and trade, and processes of conversion. As of 2006, Indian Muslims numbered nearly 140.4 million, com-prising 12.23 per cent of India’s population of nearly 1.148 billion [ARDA 2006].2 Muslims are under-represented in the higher levels of the government, bureaucracy and the corporate sector. They also suffer from higher rates of illiteracy and poverty than most other Indian groups [GoI 2006, p 237]. The resurgence of Hindu nationalism and the Babri Masjid controversy have been crucial forces in shaping Muslim identity politics, inter-faith relations, and the state-community negotiations during the last two decades.3 With its roots in the anti-colonial nationalist movement, con-temporary Hindu nationalism or Hindutva is associated with a group of organisations, including the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Bajrang Dal (BD). According to the Hindutva doctrine, Hindus are the authentic inhabitants of the Indian na-tion who share a race, culture and territorial origin. Marginalised after independence, Hindu nationalism has resurfaced as a powerful movement since the 1980s. The movement stigmatises Indian Muslims and Christians as unpatriotic. The Hindu nation-alists argue that such minorities should publicly accept that Hinduism is the historical-cultural ground of their identity. The movement has been responsible for anti-minority violence since the 1990s. The Babri Masjid issue, in particular, has been a rally-ing cry through which it has mobilised support among Hindu communities worldwide.The Babri Masjid has a long history as a disputed site, with both Hindus and Muslims laying claim to it. Some Hindus assert that the mosque was built in 1528 by demolishing a temple which marked the birthplace of the Hindu god Ram. Religious violence over the structure dates as far back as the mid-19th century. In the last two decades, the Babri Masjid issue has been central to the agenda of the Hindu right which demands that the mosque should be demolished and a temple built in its place. In 1984, the VHP started a campaign to “liberate” the mosque. On December6, 1992, a Hindu nationalist mob tore down the monument. The Hindu nationalist organisations and mobs were also responsible for targeting Muslims in bloody riots in 1992 and 1993 that followed the demolition.2 Theoretical FrameworkThe theoretical framework employed in this paper is consonant with an “entrenched-with-autonomy” model. The model proposes that uses and understandings of the internet are mediated through the specificities of the multiple and overlapping contexts – local, national, or, global communities; personal, familial, or, professional networks; class, race, gender, ethnicity, and so on – that users inhabit, but the internet cannot be reductively viewed as merely coextensive with the patterns of its usage. Exemplify-ing this view is Miller and Slater’s (2000) ethnographic analysis of the impact of the internet on Trinidadian society. They argue that the social uses, meanings and understandings of the internet cannot be separated from the concrete realities of the lives of users, whose online activities are in keeping with their goals and interests in different spheres of social life. Broadly within the same model, Howard (2004) proposes an “embedded media perspective” as a frame for assessing internet use for a range of social practices and objectives. The paradigm of media embeddedness, through which the dynamics of society online can be grasped, broadly emphasises a dialectic approach: “how new communication tools are embedded in our lives and how our lives might be embedded in new media” (p 2). Howard argues that thanks to the possibilities of interactivity and agency available in new media technologies, these are socially embed-ded to a far greater degree than traditional communication mechanisms (p 21). Users of new media are at once producers and consumers of content; moreover, by designing their own software and hardware, users can also double up as the creators of the apparatus of communication (pp 21-22). New media stand as a bridge between the existing and new forms of social practi-ces, in that they allow existing social practices to be iterated in new modes. My analysis draws on this framework wherein the internet is conceptualised as an object whose agency is profoundly impli-cated in the agency of its users, but at the same time one that possesses a material specificity of its own. Additionally, I concur with Castells’ (2001) argument that while the “internet has been appropriated by social practice, in all its diversity”, at the same time, “this appropriation does have specific effects on social prac-tice itself” (p 118). I suggest that internet usage is influenced by a historically shaped cultural logic of technological practice and use, even as it impacts and recalibrates this logic. Indian Muslim Web ResourcesThe Babri Masjid issue is well represented in the universe of online discourse.4 Identifying Indian Muslim voices in this uni-verse, however, poses several challenges, stemming both from the nature of online discourse and the problematic of relying on “authentic” indicators of the Indian Muslim identity. For the pur-pose of the paper, the universe of online Indian Muslim discourse was conceptualised in terms of constituent units of “Indian Muslim web resources” that could range from a single homepage to a multipurpose portal. Only those resources where at least some of the producers, contributors, authors, or, compilers of content about the Babri Masjid either self-identified as Indian Muslims or were clearly identifiable as such from the context were considered viable web resources for analysis. The worldwide web was scanned through a search for the term “Babri Masjid” on Google, to identify relevant Indian Muslim web resources.5 The source of each of the top 100 results was individu-ally assessed: (a) to see if it qualified as representative of an Indian Muslim voice, and (b) to confirm that it included content about the Babri Masjid. Importantly, it was not just a particular file that showed up in the search results, that was treated as a web resource. A relevant section of the larger source or the entire source was considered the web resource. For example, the main or index page of the
SPECIAL ARTICLEEconomic & Political Weekly january 19, 200849Babri Masjid Archive from the Muslims online web site showed up in the search, but the entire content of the archive, that is, the entire Babri Masjid Archive section on the Muslims online web site was identified as the web resource. Similarly, though a par-ticular file, representing one article, from the Milli Gazette news-paper showed up in the search, the entire newspaper was con-sidered the web resource. Appendix I lists the web resources selected, including the name, the uniform resource locator (URL) for the main page of the web resource, the URL of the particular file that showed up in the Google search, and an indicator of the Indian Muslim provenance of the source.Any form or type of material publicly available on the worldwide web – a newspaper, a blog or a personal web page, or a web site ofa political organisation – was considered a potential web resource as long as it was clearly associated with an Indian Muslim provenance and addressed some aspect (historical, po-litical, legal, cultural, and so on) of the Babri Masjid issue. Thus, diasporic Indian Muslim community and organisation web sites, such as the Indian Muslim Council-US, were included as legiti-mate web resources. Similarly, web resources with a global Muslim orientation, where it was clear that some of the producers of the content were Indians, were counted as valid web resources. The web resources that showed up more than once in the search results were only counted once. For two resources, it appeared highly plausible that the producers of some of the content were Indian Muslims, yet in the absence of an unequivocal proof to this effect, these were not selected. Web resources that appeared to have some technical problems, for example, where pages did not download properly, were excluded from consideration. Selection CriteriaThe criteria for selection exclude those Indian Muslims who do not specifically draw attention to the fact of being Muslim or Indian online, for example, civil society organisations where members do not identify themselves as anything other than Indian or web sites that address global Muslim communities without emphasising any national affiliation. But it is a more reli-able option than the alternative strategy of trying to guess Indian Muslim identity from a name or the nature of an argument. There also remains the possibility that some non-Muslims may be identifying themselves as Muslims online. However, such possi-bilities of misrepresentation exist in other modes of collecting data as well, for example, with face-to-face informants. Subject to the considerations above, the following nine web resources were identified for analysis: (1) Babri Masjid Archive (, (2) Indian Muslim Council-USA (, (3) Jamaat-e-Islami Hind (, (4) The Milli Gazette6 (, (5) A Proposal for Ram Mandir-Babri Masjid Tussle (, (6) The Awaz Net-works – an authentic Islamic resource and information centre (, (7) UrduNet – world’s first urdu portal (, (8) Progressive Dawoodi Bohras ( and (9) Indian Muslim Federation (UK) ( sample has been constructed on the basis of Google’s cri-teria of content, usability and popularity of online sources. It may thus be taken as reflecting those Indian Muslim views about the Babri Masjid that get significant traction in cyberspace. But it should not be seen as exhaustively representing Indian Muslim discourse about the Babri Masjid. Rather, the sample may be thought of as a fragment of the online discourse (as well as a fragment of all discourse) on the historical event named Babri Masjid. I draw here on Pandey’s statement about the value of the “fragment” as history. As Pandey argues, the fragment – a weaver’s diary, a collection of poems by an unknown poet (and to these we might add all those literatures of India that Macaulay condemned, creation myths and women’s songs, family ge-neaologies and local traditions of history) – is of central importance in challenging the state’s construction of history, in thinking other his-tories and marking those contested spaces in which some unities are constituted and others destroyed (2006, p 42).The online statements about the Babri Masjid, included in the sample, are not backed by the authority of the state nor are they uniformly supported by academic authority. Any assessment of these utterances must also grapple with the vexed question of who speaks here in the name of Indian Muslims and Indian Islam online. But they may offer a glimpse into the complexities of arti-culating historical memories and help shed light on the role of the internet in enabling such articulations. The fragment of on-line discourse may also be understood as a discursive object or text located in economies of culture and technology that are at once economies of power. 3 Contextualising Internet Usage by IndiansThe objective in this section is to identify key moments in the histories of technology and media usage in India, which may in-fluence patterns of internet use in the present context. An impor-tant event is the introduction of western science and technology in India under British colonial rule in the 18th century. After 1835, Indians could benefit from an education in western science and technology in the medium of English. The perceived scientific and technological superiority of the west shaped the Indian anti-colonial imagination in important ways [Prakash 1999, pp 8-9, 46-48; Chatterjee 1993, p 6]. It kindled an anxiety among a subju-gated people to demonstrate their universalism not only by mas-tering “western” science but also by asserting the supremacy of indigenous forms of knowledge to western forms. The benefits of western technology were potentially available to a wider cross-section of Indians beyond the urban class and caste elites. But the English-educated and privileged caste segments of Indian society were at a distinct advantage over other social groups in exploit-ing the professional opportunities afforded by the policies of the colonial administration [Frankel 1988, p 226].Scholars have analysed the outpouring of printed material in English and Indian languages in the 19th century and the emer-gence of a vibrant Indian press as markers of an Indian modernity that emerges in the context of the colonial encounter [Bayly 1996, pp 238-239; Robinson 1996, pp 63, 64-72). Lelyveld (2006), how-ever, questions the narratives of the adoption of printing in India as symptomatic of a belated Indian or Muslim awakening into
SPECIAL ARTICLEjanuary 19, 2008 Economic & Political Weekly50modernity.7 Ghosh also points to the limitations of viewing deve-lopments in print culture as the outcome of an elite-driven modernising project (2003, p 24). The patterns of technological and media access and use in post-colonial India reflect significant changes, but also continui-ties with the colonial period. The policies of the independent Indian state emphasised industrial development, heavy state in-vestment in technological education and research and an egali-tarian distribution of the benefits of material progress. But the dominant groups that have benefited from the educational and professional opportunities in technology in independent India are primarily middle and upper class, upper caste, English-speaking urban elites [Chopra 2003]. Indian Internet ScenarioFollowing the liberalisation of the Indian economy in 1991, infor-mation technology(IT) and the internet have been granted a central role in plans of national economic development [Chopra2006: 190-91]. Yet, as of December 2005, India had only 5.56million internet subscribers.8 The number of internet users in India as of 2006 is 40 million, still a fraction of its population of more than one billion.9 Although the number of internet users and subscribers in India will increase steadily, access to the inter-net continues to be marked by the digital divide [Keniston 2004]. With English being the language in which most operating systems, software and web sites are accessible [Keniston ibid: 15], English-speaking educated elites are the most likely segment to benefit from increased access. Given the migration of large sections of the Muslim middle class to Pakistan during the Parti-tion, it is reasonable to assume that the professional, educated, English-speaking demographic, which forms a key component of the universe of Indian internet users, is proportionately smaller among Indian Muslims than among Indian Hindus. Indian Muslims in cyberspace thus are a minority among Indian techno-cratic elites in cyberspace and, at the same time, are an elite group among a marginalised Indian community.For our purposes, the following points may be highlighted. First, from the colonial period onward, access to technological and scientific education has largely been the privilege of educated, English-speaking, socio-economic elites in the Indian sub-continent. Second, technological ability and use have been linked to projects of cultural autonomy, representing the means and space for establishing a counter-narrative to statist authority and knowledge. Third, technological knowledge and ability have stood for a universal form of knowledge, allowing the presenta-tion of technologically authorised or scientifically marked claims as both culturally-specific (Hindu or Islamic/Muslim) and uni-versally valid truths. And, fourth, uses of media and technology by Indians resist being reduced to a singular manifestation of the colonial/post-colonial modern or elite-led projects.Indeed, the statist legitimation of information technology and the fact of uneven access do not exhaust the uses and potentiali-ties of the Indian internet. The internet also inherits a legacy of technology functioning as a means for Indian communities to contest statist and competing group narratives of identity and history. Through an engagement with the event of the Babri Masjid online, Indian Muslims articulate such counter-narratives of contemporary Muslim identity. 4 The Babri Masjid Online: History, Politics and DifferenceMy reading of online Indian Muslim discourse about the Babri Masjid centres on identifying the important thematic elements and modes of argument within and across web resources. I examine two key aspects of the discourse of the Babri Masjid in the sample. These are: (a) the problematic historicity of Ram and Ayodhya, which establishes that a temple could not have existed at the site of the Babri Masjid; and (b) the ambivalent relationship of ac-counts of the Babri Masjid dispute to both colonial and secular narratives of Indian history. I argue that the online Indian Muslim discourse exemplifies a distinct form of reasoning – to which the internet is central – about subjecthood, identity and difference. Not all the web resources analysed address the Babri Masjid issue to the same extent; several, in fact, appear to have sparse content on the topic. The resources vary in their emphasis on different themes. Accordingly, I address some at length, while making briefer refer-ences to others. One other important clarification is in place.For web resources where much of the content is reproduced from “offline” sources, such as a paper presented at a conference or an article published in a magazine, the question arises as to what extent the substantive arguments in such articles or papers can reasonably be treated as a function of the online status of the discourse. Yet, the very reproduction of such materials online as well as their links to other materials, suggest that their signifi-cance does not rest entirely on their original “offline” context of production. Given that the materials are re-“produced”, circulated, and consumed in cyberspace, the online contexts of circulation and reception also shape the meanings and lives of the argu-ments contained in them. The reading here seeks to mediate both perspectives. All material on the resources is conceptualised as embodying online Indian Muslim discourse, without treating some material as comparatively less authentic. At the same time, an attention is drawn to varied forms of content, with reference to the capacity of the world wide web to incorporate different kinds of materials in the fashioning of online discourse. As shortly discussed, the heterogeneity of dis-course is itself part of the meaning of the Babri Masjid online. (a) The Problematic Historicity of Ram and Ayodhya: Several articles grouped under the category of “Before Destruction” on the Babri Masjid Archive main page emphasise the problematic histori-cityof Ram and Ayodhya.A presentation in 1991 by the secretary of All India Muslim Personal Law Board, reproduced on the site, explicitlydeals with this issue [Quraishi 1991]. The author argues that it cannot conclusively be established as matter of historical fact that present-day Ayodhya was indeed the birthplaceofLordRam. He also argues that while there was a temple commemorating the birthplace of Ram in the city established by the king Vikramaditya, it was not at the site of the Babri Masjid. An article by Prakasam (1992), reproduced on the site, directly addressesthehistoricityof Ayodhya. Quoting a range of sources and authorities from pre-colonial, colonial, and postcolonial contexts, including esteemed contemporary Indian historians, Prakasam rulesout the possibility
SPECIAL ARTICLEEconomic & Political Weekly january 19, 200851of the Babri Masjid being constructed on the ruins of a temple. He asserts that the notion of Ayodhya as Ram’s birthplace cannot be traced before the 18th century and, similarly, that the story of the destruction of a temple is an invention of the 19th century.The writings of Vora (1990) and the Bharatiya Janwadi Aghadi (1990) also present arguments in the same vein. On the Indian Muslim Council-USA (IMC-USA) web site, an article by Noorani (2004) speaks to the shaky historical ground on which the Hindu claimants to the temple predicate their arguments. A timeline of the Babri Masjid crisis on the site10 begins with the following date and corresponding description: 5,000 to 8,00,000BCAccording to Hindu belief, Ram, an Aryan prince and main character of the epic poem Ramayana, is born. No ancient accounts associate Ram’s birth to modern Ayodhya in India. The astonishing time range attributed to possible dates for the birth of Ram is instructive. Hindu belief in the birth of Ram does not preclude the historicity of the event nor does it prove it. But the wide variation in accounts of Ram’s birth – which we are to presume from the proposed range of 5,000 to 8,00,000BC – it-self problematises the possibility of Ram being born in modern-day Ayodhya. That fact, as the timeline tells us, is further con-firmed through the absence of any mention of Ram’s birth in Ayo-dhya in “ancient” accounts. In equally categorical terms, the timeline points out that there is no evidence that Babar, the founder of Mughal rule in India in 1526, ever visited Ayodhya. Medieval accounts of the mosque, built in 1528 by Babar’s governor, do not mention the destruction of a temple nor make any reference to Ram (IMC-USA, June 28, 2007). An interview with the distinguished Indian historian, Irfan Habib, reproduced on the site, ‘A Proposal for Ram Mandir-Babri Masjid Tussle’, records his response to the Hindu right’s insistence that it possesses evidence about the existence of a temple. Habib states: “There’s no acceptable proof that the Babri Masjid had been built at the site of a Hindu temple. None of the 14 inscribed Persian verses of the time of the original construction (1528-29) even remotely mention this” [Quraishi 2003, np]. Habib points out that the notion of the existence of a temple does not appear till 250 years after the construction of the mosque.I want to make two points here about the emphasis on the prob-lematic historicity of Ram and Ayodhya on these web resources. First, this general mode of argument is consistent with the pro-positions of Indian secular and left historiography, indeed even reflective of it, since the web resources draw upon and reproduce work from well known scholars associated with this tradition of history writing.11 Secondly, the mode of argument seeks to counter the claims of the Hindu case for the temple through scientific evi-dence and rational argument, that is, through, strategies of secu-lar historical reasoning. It is instructive to note here that the tradi-tions of secular and left Indian historiography have generally, if not absolutely, converged with the official statist narrative of Indian history for much of India’s post-independence period.The emphasis on scientific proof cannot only be viewed as a function of the online presence of the arguments. For, as noted earlier, much of the material on the web resources is reproduced from “offline” contexts. And it is hardly surprising that scientific evidence and reasoning should play a critical role in the legal proceedings pertaining to the Babri Masjid, which include in their ambit archaeological excavations and processes of histori-cally dating objects associated with the disputed site. But the internet is not incidental to the discourse; it is not merely a pas-sive space for reproducing views articulated elsewhere. As the following arguments will show, the Indian Muslim discourse on-line also deviates from the tenets of secular and left historio-graphy in the mode in which it makes use of the colonial archive. And the internet in important ways enables this combination of affirmation and deviation from the frameworks of colonial and secular historiography, respectively.(b) Excavating the Babri Masjid Dispute:Direct references to the colonial archive are found in articles contained on one web resource, the Babri Masjid Archive. Other resources do not directly mention the colonial archive. However, the vision of history that they propose either questions or dovetails with the logic of construction of Muslim Indian identity in the colonial archive and can therefore be contrasted with it. The colonial narrative of Indian history held that ancient India was an advanced Hindu civilisation that had fallen prey to barbaric Islamic invaders, who forcibly established the Muslim rule, destroyed Hindu places of worship, and converted non-Muslims to Islam through the sword. The British, in contrast, were des-cribed as the liberators who had come to save Hindu India from the devastation wrought by Muslim rule. The civilising mission was thus structured as a task of reviving Indian (Hindu) glories even as it sought to bring Indians into modernity, at once a rescue mission and a project of enlightenment.The online Indian Muslim discourse unequivocally rejects sev-eral foundational assumptions of colonialist historiography, thus challenging the colonial archive of knowledge about the Babri Masjid. The colonial administrators and historians are critiqued for producing and legitimising the story of temple destruction and the birth of Ram at the site of the Babri Masjid. The discipli-nary terrain of Indian history, with its roots in the colonial period, is also identified with, and linked to, a project and agenda of colonial governance. Quraishi (1991) argues that the British “invented history to divide Hindus and Muslims. They succeeded in creating a divide between the two communities at Ayodhya which resulted in the Hindu clash over Babri Masjid in 1855” (np). The confrontation over the mosque thus cleared the path for the British occupation of India (ibid). Faruqi (1998) questions the narrative of Muslim rule in India presented by the British historian Henry Elliot, with its many images of Muslim tyranny. “Sir Henry, and scores of other empire scholars”, Faruqi notes, “went on to produce a syn-thetic Hindu versus Muslim history of India, and their lies be-came history” (np). The goal of this history was to legitimise the British policy of “divide and rule” (ibid).An account of the Babri Majid dispute, authored by the organi-sation, Bharatiya Janwadi Aghadi (1990), also indicts the British for creating the controversy, noting the complicity of Hindu priests as well as landowners in the imbroglio. We are told that the Hindu and Muslim leaders who had reached the earlier agreement about
SPECIAL ARTICLEjanuary 19, 2008 Economic & Political Weekly52worship of the site were hung from a tree by the British. When Indians started worshipping this tree, given its significance as a symbol of valour and resistance, a colonial administator, the resident of Awadh, had it felled in 1860. In the article, several colonial figures are also criticised for cementing facts of dubious provenance into the official historical record.The translator ofBabarNama into English, Lady Annette Beveridge, the officiating commissioner of Faizabad, P Carnegie, and other Brit-ishers were responsible for mischievously inserting into the govern-ment gazette and other records the legend that a temple was destroyed and a masjid built – without any evidence whatsoever, without any research whatsoever! (ibid).On the Awaz Networks web site,12 an article by Faizee (nd) rules out the possibility of there having been a temple on the site of the Babri Masjid on historical and theological grounds. Although Faizee does not explicitly refer to the colonialist construction of Indian history, his invocation of Islamic history rejects the notion that Muslim rulers forcibly imposed their will upon the reluctant subjects of another faith. Stating that “there is a long history of the Muslim rulers ruling over not only India but most part of the world for years”, Faizee asserts that “[n]o one can prove a single incidence when any Muslim rulers had used any force for converting places of worships belonging to the other faiths into a Mosque” (ibid). Faizee argues that a mosque can only be builtonlandthatis legally purchased and cites the example of the mosque built by theProphetatMedina.TheIMC-USA web site containsmaterialsthat seek to dispel myths about the oppressive natureofMuslimruleinIndia and to give Muslims due credit for theircontributionstoIndian civilisation [Chetty 2004]. Also see Indian Muslim Council-USA.13 Influence of Secular HistoriographyThe influence of secular and left (as well as left-nationalist) Indian historiography is also clear in these sources. In left-nationalist and many variants of secular and left historiography, the unity and givenness of India are beyond question. The British skill of pitting Indian against Indian, combined with the economic and military might of the former, are offered as some reasons why the colonisers could progressively extend their domain over large parts of the Indian subcontinent. Secular and left historiography emphasise the coexistence of different religious, linguistic, and caste groups as the historically grounded reality of Indian social life. The examples from the Indian Muslim web resources pro-vided above are consistent with these emphases. They strongly assert amity among Hindus and Muslims and draw an attention to the ruthlessness of the British. The very production of European history about the Babri Masjid is described as a proof of the cunning of colonial reason. But my focus here is not on evaluating the merit of specific arguments in the web resources. Rather, what is of interest is that some of the articles also endorse a central proposition of the colonial narrative and reject one of the fundamental arguments of secular and left historiography. Central to the colonial con-struction of Indian history is the notion that Hindus and Muslims
SPECIAL ARTICLEEconomic & Political Weekly january 19, 200853are essentially separate and opposed religious communities. In contrast, secular and left historiography stress syncretic and overlapping customs and identities among Indian Hindus and Muslims. Of the discourses of the Indian Muslim identity on the web resources, one narrative of Indian Islam reflects a profound ambivalence toward the colonial narrative and an equally ambivalent relationship to the claims of secular and left Indian historiography. While Hindu and Muslim coexistence and amity are stressed, the syncretic and shared nature of Hindu and Muslim identity are not similarly affirmed. Hindus and Muslims may not beeternallyopposedgroups but they are none-theless accepted as separate peoples. The separateness of Hindus and Muslims is established by drawing attention to the essential differences between Islam and Hinduism or the uniqueness of Islam. This is most apparent on the material in the Babri Masjid Archive, but is echoed on the web site of the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind(JIH) as well. Range of PerspectivesThe Babri Masjid Archive contains a range of materials on Hinduism, gathered in a section that clearly stress the difference between Hinduism and Islam.14 The materials are excerpted from a text, Hinduism and Islam: A Comparative Study,whose author is not named. All the excerpts exclusively deal with aspects of Hinduism without addressing Islam. The excerpts describe: the “basic ele-ments” of Hinduism, including its unsystematicity, polytheism, and emphasis on “sex-worship”; the proof of cow-slaughter in Hin-du texts and simultaneously the reverence for the cow in Hindu-ism; the caste system and realities of caste-based discrimination in Hinduism; Gandhi’s insincerity towards marginalised untouchable communities; and sati or widow burning. Islam here is the Other of Hinduism. It is everything that Hinduism is not: rational, sys-tematic, logical, egalitarian and just. There is no overlap possible between Hinduism and Islam and, by implication, between the followers of Hinduism and Islam. The image of Hinduism on these sections of the Babri Masjid Archive also replicates a colonialist discourse about the backward, superstitious, and irrational nature of Hinduism.The materials on Hinduism do not address the Babri Masjid issue barring a passing reference.15 But these materials coexist with other kinds of arguments on the archive that emphasise secularism and Hindu-Muslim coexistence even as they are criti-cal of Hindu fundamentalists for their role in the demolition [Quraishi 1991; Vora 1990]. These two sets of materials or modes of arguments appear incompatible in terms of the relationship that each posits between Islam and Hinduism. In one mode of argument, it is the British who are to blame for the creation of the problem. Hindu nationalists and fundamentalists, distin-guished from ordinary Hindus and Indians in general, are also blamed for the problem. In the second mode of argument, it would appear that the irrationality of Hinduism itself may be to blame for the destruction of the mosque, even though no direct connection is imputed between the two.Another kind of mediation of Islam and secularism is found on the JIH web site. The ambivalence toward secularism is reflec-tive of the ideology16 of the organisation from its inception in 1941. The JIH defines itself as an organisation committed to propagating the cause of religion, specifically Islam, within the limits and conventions of a constitutional, democratic and secular order. Cau-tious not to violate Indian laws, JIH, however, refuses to endorse the principle of secularism on grounds of its non-religious charac-ter. The organisation is committed to proselytisation or dawah work to educate non-Muslims about Islam (ibid).The site includes a set of five press releases about the Babri Masjid, the latest release being in December 2000.17 An additional reference to the Babri Masjid is found in the “Resolutions passed by the All India Meet of Members of Jamaat-e-Islami Hind on October 28, 2002”.18 It is this resolution that is of interest here. On the topic of the “present situation of the country”, the resolu-tion expresses concern at the grave situation in India regarding law and order, women’s rights, and economic injustice. It states, “highly provocative and irresponsible statements on Babri Masjid, Madarsahs and occurrence of recent Gujarat carnage highlight the communal trends” (ibid), and rebukes the Indian government for failing to uphold human rights. Under the heading of “inter-national scenario”, the resolution draws attention to the post 9/11 situation, “in which violation of human rights has become the norm especially violation of freedom of expression” (ibid). It criti-cises the US for acting unilaterally by sidelining theUN and inter-national forums, laments the targeting of Islam and Muslims, and draws attention to the attacks on Afghanistan and the impending invasion of Iraq (ibid).A full treatment of the ideology of the JIH and its relationship to secularism and rights is beyond the scope of this paper. But I want to make two points about the October 28, 2002 resolu-tions by the JIH. The first is that a conservative Muslim organi-sation ideologically opposed to secularism and seeking to establish an Islamic society and state should censure the Indian government on human rights grounds, and, relatedly, should link that failure of the Indian state to the political abuse of the Babri Masjid issue. The second is that the JIH invokes the language of rights and international law in describing the dynamics of global politics and the predicament of Muslims in the post0-9/11 context.Legitimation of InconsistencyThe internet is not responsible for the existence of arguments based on opposed (secular and religious) foundations on the JIH site. The contradictions I have pointed out can perhaps be identified in the project of the Jamaat-e-Islami from its inception. Neither is the internet the source of the conflicting explanations about the Hinduism-Islam relationship on the BabriMasjid Archive. But the internet may credentialise such seemingly contradictory discourses, where Indian Muslim iden-tity (a) is both subject to and beyond secular discourses, (b) is constructed through an inconsistent use of secular and colonial-ist narratives of Indian history, and (c) is subject to and shaped by national as well as global forces. On the internet, varied forms of argument and orders of discourse can coexist without any neces-sary imperative for resolution or synthesis. The legitimation of inconsistency may itself be seen as a particular kind of reasoning. This “technocultural reason”, in turn, may imply a particular
SPECIAL ARTICLEjanuary 19, 2008 Economic & Political Weekly54conception of the Indian Muslim subject in cyberspace. I now briefly examine these issues in concluding the paper.5 ConclusionsMy argument is that the internet enables an epistemological flat-tening out of orders of discourse, genres and modes of argument, whereby the truth claims and forms of reason represented by each are granted a functional equivalence. Thus, scholarly works, journal articles, observations by lay persons, entries on discussion lists and forums, descriptive contents on organisation web sites, mission statements, and so on are granted parity of authority and credibil-ity in cyberspace. Different political conceptions of self, society and state – reflecting liberal and conservative doctrines, secular and religious modes of argument and varied philosophical visions– exist simultaneously, in a range of permutations and combina-tions, in the same representational and discursive space online. A brief look at the focus and scope of each of the Indian Muslim web resources is helpful in identifying the diverse modalities of linking cultural, religious and political identity in the fragment on the Babri Masjid. The Babri Masjid Archive is a collection of materials that cumulatively reflect ambivalent positions on the colonial and secular narratives of Indian history. TheJIH is a con-servative organisation that seeks to establish an Islamic society and state, operating within the constraints of a liberal democratic order. Both the diasporic organisations, the Indian Muslim Federation (UK) and the Indian Muslim Council-USA, were founded in response to the inter-religious violence against Muslims in India, the former in 1969 (Indian Muslim Federation (UK))19 and the latter in 2002.20 A Proposal for Ram Mandir-Babri Masjid Tussle is a plan offered by an individual, Yusuf Saeed, to return the Babri Masjid to Hindus. It is written from the perspective of secular lib-eral Indians and seeks feedback and support from “all liberal and secular minded people in India” [Saeed 2003, np]. Progressive Dawoodi Bohras is the web presence of a reformist group chal-lenging the hegemony of the orthodox religious leadership of, and orthodox practices among, the Dawood Bohra Muslim community (Progressive Dawoodi Bohras).21The Awaz Networks site seeks to represent marginalised and oppressed voices that are caught between imperialist forces, suchas theUS, on the one hand, and local extremisms on the other (the Awaz Networks). Invoking the legacy of famed leader, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, the site also advocates “reconciliation between India and Pakistan”, suggesting that the Muslims of the subcontinent sharea common homeland (ibid). The Milli Gazette is an Indian Muslim newspaper in English that appears to be a forum for a spectrum of political positions (TheMilli Gazette, 2000-present). And UrduNet seeks to use IT and the internet to reach Urdu-speak-ing communities across the globe.22The varied frameworks and narratives of Indian Muslim identity at work on these sites neither indicate an imminent synthesis into one master narrative of Muslim identity online nor should they be seen as reflecting a fractured or inauthentic Indian Muslim sub-jectivity. Rather, their effect is to suggest an idea of Indian Muslim identity in cyberspace as a set of political choices and affiliations and the Indian Muslim subject as the possible exercise of any com-bination of these affiliations. Traces of this subject are revealed at the juncture of the discourses, contradictory and complementary, that swirl around the Babri Masjid in cyberspace. The Indian Muslim identity and subjecthood thus possess an elasticity online. Some possible constructions of “Indian Muslimness” that emerge from this set of choices may be described as follows. First, the category of culture as the possible ground of Indian Muslim identity appears absent as a factor in defining the Indian Muslim identity on some of the resources. This conception of identity reflects a mode of argument by communities where the category of “culture” is marked as the repository of what is inessential to (authentic) reli-gion and religious identity.23 In a second model, Indian Muslimness is constructed, paradoxically, through the simultaneous invocation of doctrines of rights, constitutionalism, and rights, on the one hand, and an emphasis of the conceptual, political,and moral priority of Islam over these discourses, on the other hand. Third, the diasporic Indian Muslim identity is defined in terms of an urgent political project that takes as its founding moment a religious violence against the Muslim minority of India. And fourth, Indian Muslim identity is conceived in strict consistency with secular, liberal doctrine.CyberhistoriographyThediscourse of Indian Islam about the Babri Masjid also exem-plifies the practice of cyberhistoriography: a mode of articulating identity claims through the production of revisionist histories in cy-berspace, in vocabularies that are at once nationally and globally resonant [Chopra 2006]. Cyberhistoriography here stands for a critique of secular historical reasoning even as it articulates an idea of the Indian Muslim identity that is based in part on that very form of secular historical reasoning. The historically shaped authority of technology in the Indian context is what allows the combination of secular historical reasoning, and other, opposi-tional, discourses of history and identity to be marked at once as scientifically credentialised and culturally legitimate. The veracity of specific propositions in such revisionist narratives might be questionable. But the modality of cyberhistoriography reflects asophisticated utilisation, by communities, of the internet as a simultaneous historical archive and a living political record for the production of a history that challengesdominantnarratives, official and unofficial, about the identity of the group in question.Indian Muslim discourse about the Babri Masjid traverses various histories of Islam and India as well as the discourses of modernity and the postcolonial state in cyberspace. This discourse cannot be seen purely as a function of cyberspace, independent of the spectrum of social, cultural, economic and po-litical practices in which Indian Muslim uses of the internet are embedded. Nor can the discourse be explained as an adaptation of an essentialist Islamic or Indian Muslim consciousness to a new media and technology. The fragment of the Babri Masjid online tells us that the internet is deeply intertwined with the practice and expression of Indian Muslim politics, community and difference, not merely as a passive space of reproduction but as an active space of production. As the internet helps articulate and refashion Indian Muslim memories of Babri Masjid and expand conceptions of Indian Muslim subjecthood, Indian Muslims, in turn, shift and changethe meaning of the internet through the many meanings they attach to its use.
SPECIAL ARTICLEEconomic & Political Weekly january 19, 200855Appendix: List of Indian Muslim Web ResourcesNo Name of Web Resource URL of Web Resource URL of Search Result Rank Indicator of Indian Muslim Provenance1 Babri Masjid Archive 5 Web resource contains article by Mohammad Abdul Rahim Quraishi, Secretary, All India Muslim Personal Law Board. See Indian Muslim Council-USA 18 Indian American Muslim organisation3 Jamaat-e-IslamiHind 33 Indian Muslim organisation 4 The Milli Gazette 60 Newspaper for Indian Muslims 0109200273.htm5 A Proposal for Ram Mandir- 65 Main web resource page states that it represents Babri Masjid Tussle “the point of view of the Indian Muslims.” See The Awaz Networks – An 70 ‘About us’ section states that it is a resource Authentic Islamic Resource dedicated for India-Pakistan peace, for the benefit and Information centre of for Indian Muslims. See UrduNet – World’s 78 ‘About Us’ section mentions that “portal is First Urdu Portal promoted by IT professionals based in US and India.” See Urdu is spoken by many Muslims (though not only Muslims) in India.8 Progressive Dawoodi 80 ‘about us’ section indicates Indian presence of the Bohras messages/3542.html community.See IndianMuslim 84 Indian Muslim organisation in the UK Federation(UK) %20of%20the%20Report%20of%20Srikrishna% 20Commission%20Report%20Appointed%20for% 20inquiry%20into%20the%20anti.htm Notes1 ‘e-Qaida: A Special Report on How Jihadists Use the Internet and Technology to Spread their Message’, retrieved June 11, 2007 from 2 According to the Association of Religion Data Archives (ARDA) India profile, the exact figure for India’s pop-ulation in 2006 is 1,147,995,898. The Muslim popula-tion at 12.23 per cent works out to about 140,399,898 or nearly 140.4 million. The Association of Religion Data Archives (ARDA) (2006) India. Retrieved June 16, 2007 from 3 A good compilation of materials on different as-pects of the Babri Masjid controversy is provided in Noorani (2003, vols 1 and 2). For an overview of the history of the structure, see BBC News (2005, July 5, np). BBC News (2005, July 5), UK version.Timeline: Ayodhya Crisis. Retrieved Au-gust 15, 2005 from 4 A Google search for “Babri Masjid” brings up about 157,000 results, Babri Masjid (2007). Retrieved June 25, 2007 from 5 Google was selected as the most effective search tool for sampling online Indian Muslim discourse. Google has developed a proprietary technology known as PageRank that assesses over a hundred factors from eight billion URLs on the worldwide web, towards objectively measuring the importance of web pages which are displayed by rank based on the search term employed. Google does not provide details about its technology and all the factors that determine a page ranking, for reasons of intellectual rights and market competitiveness. However, the criteria used by the search technology in assessing a resource and ranking it in search results include the relevance of content as well as the extent to which a page is linked to other sites. The criteria used in Google’sranking system evaluate web page and web site relevance in terms of content, usability, and popularity. The results displayed through Google searches include web sites that are fre-quently visited and are adequately representative of the search category with regard to specific con-tent. For details on Google’s searchtechnology,see Google ‘Our Search: GoogleTechnology’,retrieved June 25, 2007 from ‘Our Search: Google Technol-ogy – Benefits of a Google Search, retreived on June 25, 2007 from ‘Google Information for Webmasters’, retreived on June 25, 2007 from ‘Google Corporate Information, Technology Over-view’, retreived on June 25, 2007 from (2007a; 2007b; 2007c; and 2007d). It should also be ac-knowledged that scholars have raised some im-portant questions about Google’s ranking system, such as possible factors that may compromise its efficiency [Pan et al 2007] and the phenomenon of “googlearchy”, that is, the extent to which a few powerful sites monopolise the flow of information on the world wide web [Hindman, Tsioutsiouliklis and Johnson 2003]. 6 ‘OurTeam’,The Milli Gazette, retrieved June 28,2007 from 7 Such arguments write the history of print as the universal history of modernity, conflate the colo-nial with the modern, and deploy the history of Europe as a measure against which to plot the his-tory of India [Lelyveld 2006, pp 3-4, 8]. 8 ‘Number of Internet Subscribers in India’ (As on March 13, 1999 to June 30, 2005), retrieved June 26, 2007 from ‘India: Internet Usage Stats and Telecommunica-tions Market Report’, retrieved June 19, 2007 from‘Timeline-Babri Masjid Crisis’, Indian Muslim Council-USA, retrieved June 28, 2007 from Noorani (2004) is a good example, Noorani (2003, vols 1 and 2) presents the work of other scholars, mostly associated with secular and left historiography in India. The volumes also include perspectives from Hindu nationalist historiogra-phy. For an assessment of the relationship between the politics of secularism and the politics of histo-ry writing, see Pandey (2006), pp 16-44. Pandey argues that the insistence of Indian “secular, lib-eral, and left-wing historians” on “a unified, standardised, and (by extension) undifferentiated Indian history” paved the way for the Hindu right’s mode of using history in the same manner for their political objectives (2006, p 91).12 The Awaz Networks (nd), The Awaz Networks – An Authentic Islamic Resource and Information centre. The Awaz Networks. Retrieved June 28, 2007from ‘History of Muslim Rule in India’, Indian Mus-lim Council-USA, retrieved June 28, 2007 from Babri Masjid Archive (nd), Hinduism, Babri Mas-jid Archive, retrieved June 28, 2007 from Though another article on the Archive locates the blame for the Babri Masjid dispute on upper caste Hindus and Hinduism [Palani Baba 1990].16 ‘About Jamaat’, Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, retrieved June 29, 2007 from 17 ‘Babri Masjid’, Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, retrieved June 29, 2007 from Press Release (present situation), Jamaat-e-Is-lami Hind, retrieved June 29, 2007 from ‘About IMF’, Indian Muslim Federation (UK), re-trieved June 28, 2007 from ‘Who We Are’, Indian Muslim Council-USA, re-trieved June 28, 2007 from About Us, Progressive Dawoodi Bohras, retrieved June 28, 2007 from About Us, UrduNet, retrieved June 28, 2007 from I owe this point to Talal Asad.
SPECIAL ARTICLEjanuary 19, 2008 Economic & Political Weekly56SAMEEKSHA TRUST BOOKS1857Essays from Economic and Political WeeklyA compilation of essays that were first published in the EPW in a special issue in May 2007. Held together with an introduction by Sekhar Bandyopadhyay, the essays – that range in theme and subject from historiography and military engagements, to the dalit viranganas idealised in traditional songs and the “unconventional protagonists” in mutiny novels – converge on one common goal: to enrich the existing national debates on the 1857 Uprising.The volume has 18 essays by well known historians who include Biswamoy Pati, Dipesh Chakrabarty, Peter Robb and Michael Fisher.The articles are grouped under five sections:‘Then and Now’,‘Sepoys and Soldiers’,‘The Margins’,‘Fictional Representations’ and ‘The Arts and 1857’.Pp viii + 364 2008 Rs 295Available fromOrient Longman LtdMumbai Chennai New Delhi Kolkata Bangalore Bhubaneshwar Ernakulam Guwahati Jaipur LucknowPatna Chandigarh Hyderabad Contact: info@orientlongman.comReferencesAnderson, Jon W (2005): ‘Wiring Up: The Internet Dif-ference for Muslim Networks’ in Miriam Coooke and Bruce B Lawrence (eds),Muslim Networks from Hajj to Hip Hop (pp 252-63), University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill.Bayly, C A (1996): Empire and Information: Intelligence Gathering and Social Communication in India, 1780-1870, Cambridge University Press, New York.Bharatiya Janwadi Aghadi (1990): Sri Rama’sName but Babar’s Game! 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