Where do you run to? The Third Place is an enormous stretch of Saffron, spreading as far as the eye can see and ears can hear — it is blinding, it is deafening. All Third Places are now a death trap, they shut you out, so you ask for an in, and when you are reluctantly let inside, they suffocate you. First Place is your home, fragile. Second Place is your work, unsafe. The only Third Place now is the silence of a grave.
A Saffron Flag is being put on top of a church in a city in Madhya Pradesh, India. A Hindutva Indian diasporic mob in Times Square, New York, is booming with the echoes of Jai Shree Ram (All Hail Ram), a chant also famously used in India by mobs committing lynching of minorities in India. Oceans apart, united by fundamentalist cause. India, reproduced in the Western orientalist and mind alike, as the land of festivals, is ready for this year’s biggest celebration—the celebration of the official beginning of an end—the end to the myth of a “tolerant,” “secular” and “democratic” India, a 75-year-long myth.
A hoard of private jets, in a number previously unknown to Ayodhya, has arrived today in the city in Uttar Pradesh—Bollywood celebrities, top-league cricketers, billionaires, leading scientists are all in the city on invitation by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to celebrate the inauguration of Ram Mandir (Ram Temple). The spectacle is so grand. When Modi says,
“Today our Lord Ram has come. After centuries of waiting, our Ram has arrived. Our Ram idol will not stay in a tent anymore. Our Ram idol will stay in a divine temple now…”
One is almost forced to forget that outside of this celebration there are over 18 million “street” children in India living in tents, highest in the entire world.
The inauguration of Ram Temple is a result of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement that has led the advocating of the building of a temple, on the exact site where a mosque—Babri Masjid, stood 30 years ago, claiming that the mosque has been built on top of a previously existing temple. On 6 December 1992, a Hindutva mob demolished the Babri Masjid, with a makeshift shrine swiftly built on the debris of the mosque. The incident triggered countrywide religious riots that killed around 2,000 people, mostly Muslims.
The Supreme Court of India, the highest legal institution of the country, clearly proclaimed that as per the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), there is no evidence of a temple under the mosque that had previously existed for 500 years, and yet silently overlooked the illegal demolition of Babri Masjid and now the ‘legitimate’ inauguration of the temple.
The temple stands not only on the grave of Babri, on the graves of the 2,000 people killed, on the grave of the Indian judicial system, but on the grave of the conscience of the nation’s dominant-caste Hindu population and on the grave of the hopes of the Muslim population striving to be accepted as equal citizens in the country since its inception in 1947.
The grave is the only Third Place
In sociology, ‘Third Places‘ are spaces that separate us from the two usual social environments of ‘home’ and ‘work.’ Third Places are usually places of public gatherings; they help counter the increased privatization of life. A bar is a Third Place, a public park is a Third Place, a community center is a Third Place.
A mosque is a Third Place, a place to talk to your God, a place to exchange revolutionary ideas, a place you reluctantly visit, a place of refuge, a place of belonging, a place to cry in a country where tears mean nothing, where blood means nothing. A mosque was a Third Place.
Ram Temple is a Third Place. A remembrance of disputed land, a reminder of the might of majoritarian rule, a tribute to the power of propaganda, a barricade, a mob. A temple will be a Third Place.
Ram temple is not an exception to the Hindutva reality of India, it is a cold, hard look in the mirror. It is another successful attempt at minimizing The Muslim public life in India, which has long been an object of extreme fetishization and simultaneous ghettoization. In the public sphere, The Muslim is a dangerous, barbaric, dirty, threat, which should be expelled, but s/he is also a dehumanized object of demeaning desire, that should be tamed.
Since, The Muslim is constructed as such an anomaly, the management of its presence is taken away from Muslims, and outsourced to the state and to its Islamophobic population. Everybody but The Muslim decides what happens to it, its pain, its joy, its life and its death. The Muslim is not a living, breathing, community, but It is a problem. In Third Places, where a population is supposed to thrive and connect and grow, the Muslim is lynched, killed, maimed, erased.
Before, they demolished Muslim houses and Hindutva riddled workspaces, the desecration of Muslim life in the country began in the Third Place, and now the only acceptable Third Place is the grave.
Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has demolished many Muslim graves in the past few years.