What Mangalore can teach Ayodhya

So, there we have it. The Ayodhya verdict is due this month end and there’s no stopping it this time, now that the Supreme Court has intervened and cleared the path for judgment day on September 30, 2010. Simplistically speaking Ayodhya Ram Janmabhoomi has been a conflict between two of the largest communities in India over a historical piece of land that holds cultural and religious significance to both communities.

From what I have heard and read in the media, Babri Masjid was built over a Hindu temple sometime in the 1500’s/1600’s when the Mughal invasions were at their peak. As the name suggests, the mosque was built by the Mughal ruler Babur. Sometime, towards the end of the nineteenth century, you had this court case filed by the Hindus who wanted to reclaim the land and their temple. But this case was ruled in favour of the Muslims by a British judge who said that too much time had passed and in the event of no clear historical documentation this case could not proceed further. That was it until the middle of the twentieth century, when following independence you had a bunch of politicos deciding the fate of this land based on the religio-political significance it held for their party.

The facts in the previous paragraph bring into perspective an event in Mangalore, that in my simplistic view of the Babri demolition would serve as a fine example of how such a case would be allowed to complete its natural progression in a cultural era of suspicion.

The Idgah Mosque on the Light House Hill Road is a landmark in Mangalore and one of the oldest mosques (if not the oldest) in this region. This mosque exists right next to the St. Aloysius College and Educational Institutions that are home to the historical St. Aloysius Chapel and some of the oldest Catholic artefacts in this region. You must be wondering where this is heading.

Now, sometime during the reign of Tipu Sultan, i.e. around the 18th century, when Mangalore was under Tipu’s control, a whole lot of atrocities were perpetuated against the Catholics and Christian community at large in this region. Reason – Tipu believed that the Indian Christian community was siding with the British against him. This unfounded fear led to thousands of Christians being marched up to Srirangapatna – the capital of Tipu’s kingdom and forced to labour their days there. Similar to the Holocaust, where slave camps were the final resting places of whole families, a generation of Catholics suffered in these camps and many perished while others bore the brunt till they could escape or wait for the liberation by the neighbouring armies or the British as soon as Tipu was vanquished.

Now it was during this period that the Milagres Church that rested at the foot of the Light House Hill, came to be known as a sort of seat of the Catholic Church in Mangalore. Being in the center of the city, this Mangalorean parish catered to most of the Christians in the region. However, the advent of Tipu brought about a rash of cultural destruction that included the demolition of the Milagres Church in Hampankatta.

To add insult to injury, the Idgah Mosque was built with the very same bricks taken from the demolished Milagres Church. Following the defeat of Tipu and his armies after years of battle, Mangalore reverted back to British rule under the purview of Madras Presidency. Milagres Church was rebuilt at the bottom of the hill and this is where it stands to this day. The Idgah Mosque was allowed to remain on the top of the Light House Hill, built with the holy bricks of the Milagres Church.

Gradually, as time flew by, the mosque and church formed their own identity and even though the mosque was a reminder of the atrocities perpetrated by Tipu on the Mangalorean Catholics, the fairly large community of Catholics did not persist with the case but went on to build a successful economy for the region.

Centuries have passed since these events and even though the Catholic community commemorates the persecution of our forefathers, there is no attempt at creating animosity between Muslims and Christians in the region. It is understood that historical circumstances where the rule of democratic law was not what it is today, were responsible for those events and in the present scenario with an Indian Constitution (that in my eyes reflects the purest form of justice if implemented in the right spirit), we have successfully integrated values that respect history while avoiding the use of it to score a religio-cultural point.

My interpretation of the Ayodhya conflict may be simplistic to use this Mangalorean example of how an historical conflict can be resolved naturally. But I feel there are enough similarities that reflect the maturity of the people of this region. Mangalore has had its share of communal tension and as I write this, there are security forces deployed ahead of the Allahabad High Court verdict on September 30. But, the cultural values and the educated mindset of the people are strong enough to withstand the worst. Mangalore may not be a shining example of tolerance at the moment, but there was a time before the politicians rode the religious bandwagon, when educated, erudite, honest politicians ruled the root and used a mature worldly understanding to resolve issues.

A sign of the bonhomie and strength of the relationship between the Muslim and Christian communities of Mangalore , centuries after the demolition of the Milagres Church by the Mohammedan Tipu Sultan, is the annual Eid/Ramzan celebrations. The parking space near the mosque is not enough for the worshippers, so St. Aloysius College has offered its campus parking space for free during the festival period. It is not an uncommon site to see Muslim brethren walking through the Catholic campus carrying their prayer mats and going for Namaz at the Idgah mosque next door. We do not absolve what happened in the past, but we are ready to forgive (it’s hard, I know) and move forward.

That was another time, and in Bob Dylan‘s words – ‘the times they are a changin’.

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