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Ram Janmbhumi - Babri Masjid Dispute -1
|by Dr. Jaipal Singh|
Saturday, the 9th November 2019 will certainly be remembered as a historical event in India owing to the Supreme Court judgment on the “Title Suit” of Ram Janmbhumi* – Babri Masjid dispute (also referred as Ayodhya dispute) pending in various courts for the last seventy years. The judgment is unique too for two reasons: First, according to the judges, a subject which was purely a matter of faith and religious belief was decided on only facts and evidences; secondly, the bench comprised of five judges has delivered the verdict unanimously, a rare feat seldom observed in higher judiciary dealing with the contentious issues. Simultaneously, a narrative was built and floated by a section of media and intellectuals that feuding parties, more particularly the minority community, have accepted the verdict with broad-mindedness and magnanimity; and, of course, initially it indeed appeared so. The verdict has an added significance in the backdrop that umpteen attempts of government, civil society, mediators and courts remained futile to arrive at an out of court settlement in the past.
Most Hindus have an ingrained and unshakeable faith in Maryada Purushottam Ram, who besides being an icon of ethics and virtues is also considered an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, whose saga has inspired the psyche and conduct of millions in India and elsewhere culturally and spiritually for thousands of years. Most of them believe the disputed site as Lord Ram’s birth place; hence the utterly contentious and acrimonious dispute was agitating the mind of devout Hindus for centuries and was under bitter contested litigation for the last seven decades in various courts. The dispute was also one of the main reasons of deteriorating relations and communal conflicts between the two major communities in India i.e. Hindus with the majority community tag and Muslims with the minority tag despite representing nearly two hundred million population in the country. The Supreme Court indeed deserves full credit and laurel for showing grit and resolve to decide the issue through a long and continuous hearing of over fourty days in an unanimous verdict.
As anticipated, the much hyped euphoria of Supreme Court judgment dismantling of imagined wall between the two communities to usher in peace and unity has already started evaporating with sharp reaction and unreconciliatory remarks of a section of clergy, politicians, jurists and intellectuals. Some blogs and utterances of the self-styled intellectuals and liberals of this country have also appeared raising question marks on the jurisprudence of Supreme Court judges concerned. Deriving fashionable analogy with the significant historical event of the breaking of Berlin wall on 9 November 1989, which ideologically and physically separated East and West Germany following the World War II, some self-styled bloggers have even opined that the Ayodhya verdict has further fortified (ideological) wall between two communities instead of breaking it. As the dispute was long and complex, it would be unfair to limit it in a gag; hence the author proposes to discuss in detail the chronology of events, Supreme Court judgment, global reaction, efficacy of archeological and other evidences, analysis and conclusion thereto in three parts viz. verdict, evidence and analysis, to do justice with the entire saga.
While delivering the judgment, the unanimous opinion of the five Supreme Court judges was that Hindus produced better evidences than that of Muslims both in terms of number, variety and quality to prove that they had uninterruptedly worshipped inside the disputed structure with an unflinching belief that the inner sanctum was indeed the birth-place of Maryada Purushottam Lord Ram. In fact, while remaining anonymous apparently as agreed among the judges on bench, one of the judges wrote a separate 116 pages judgment annexed as Addendum to the main judgment recording the illustrated account of recorded and oral evidences from Hindu texts (Puranas and Epics), foreign travellers, government gazetteers and octogenarian/nonagenarian witnesses suggesting the site always recognized as “Janmsthan” (birth place) despite an existing mosque and also that Hindus had an uninterrupted access and right to worship the deity.
To illustrate the aforesaid averment: Officiating Commissioner and Settlement Officer of Ayodhya and Faizabad P. Carnegi wrote in his historical Sketch published in 1870 that Ayodhya is to Hindus what Macca (Mecca) is to the Mohamedans (Muslims) and Jerusalem to the Jews. The gazetteers of 1854, 1881, 1892, 1905, the Archeological Survey Report of 1891 etc. buttress the theory and claim of the mosque having been constructed after demolishing a Hindu shrine as also intermittent Hindu efforts to regain the spot back. In gazetteers published in British India, even the government officials referred the Mosque as “Janam Sthan Mosque”. A land revenue officer of Faizabad, Millet wrote in his report of 1880 that Hindus and Muslims had worshipped alike inside the structure. The writer-traveller Edward B Eastwick recorded in 1888 in his “Handbook of the Bengal Presidency” that before 1858, namaz and puja were both performed inside the shrine.
As for the faith and belief of Hindus regarding birth of Lord Ram at Ayodhya, it was not disputed even by the Muslim side at any stage; hence according to judges, the consideration of the Supreme Court bench was confined to only a limited submission as to whether the disputed site was the place of birth of Lord Ram or not. The pleaders of Muslim side had dismissed travelogues as hearsay arguing travellers as story tellers and gazetteers prepared under East India Company as unreliable having been documents of non-governmental authorities. Notwithstanding their contestation, the accounts of travelogues and gazetteers admissible under Section 57 of the Evidence Act and the verifiable citations of Hindu texts like Skanda Purana and Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya visit of Guru Nanak Devji in 1510-11 CE to have darshan of Janmbhumi of Lord Ram made strong claim of the Hindu parties over the disputed site.
The litigation before the Supreme Court essentially comprised of five principal suits. Of this, Suit 1 was instituted by a Hindu devotee, Gopal Singh Visharad on 16 January 1950 before the Civil Judge, Faizabad seeking right to enter the inner courtyard of the disputed site for worship. Another suit (Suit 2) was filed by Paramhans Ramchandra Das on 5 December 1950 in the same court seeking somewhat similar relief; however, this suit was later withdrawn in September 1990. Nirmohi Akhara instituted yet another suit (Suit 3) on 17 December 1959 before the Civil Judge at Faizabad claiming their absolute right (Shebait) of managing the affairs of the Janmasthan. Then on 18 December 1961, the Sunni Central Waqf Board (SCWB) along with nine Muslim residents of Ayodhya filed a suit (Suit 4) at Faizabad civil court seeking a declaration of the entire disputed site of the Babri Masjid as a public mosque and its possession upon removal of the idols. The last suit (Suit 5) was brought before the same court on behalf of the deity (Bhagwan Shri Ram Lalla Virajman) and the birth-place (Asthan Shri Ram Janam Bhumi, Ayodhya) on 1 July 1989 by a next friend for the declaration of title to the disputed premises and to restrain the defendants from interfering with or raising any objection to the construction of a temple.
While delivering the judgment, the judges made the following crucial and relevant observation:
“…Essentially, the setting up of Ramchabutra within a hundred feet or thereabouts of the inner dome must be seen in the historical context as an expression or assertion of the Hindu right to worship at the birth-place of Lord Ram. Even after the construction of the dividing wall by the British, the Hindus continued to assert their right to pray below the central dome…pilgrims used to pay obeisance and make offerings to what they believed to be the ‘Garbh Grih’ located inside the three domed structure while standing at the iron railing which divided the inner and outer courtyards. There is no evidence to the contrary by the Muslims to indicate that their possession of the disputed structure of the mosque was exclusive and that the offering of namaz was exclusionary of the Hindus.”
On 6 January 1964, the trial of Suits 1, 3 and 4 was consolidated and Suit 4 was made the leading case; Suit 5 was tried along with the leading case. The court has held the suit instituted by Nirmohi Akhara as barred by limitation and dismissed accordingly, the suit of the SCWB and other plaintiffs to be within limitation reversing the earlier High Court judgment to that extent and the suit of Shri Ram(lalla) Virajman as within the limitation. Accordingly, the following final reliefs and directions have been granted by the apex court five-judges bench vide their judgment dated 9 November 2019, exercising the powers vested in the Supreme Court under the Article 142 of Constitution:
Endorsing the maintainability of the suit (Suit 5) of Shri Ramlalla Virajman, the entire disputed land is decreed in its favour for the construction of Ram temple with following directions:
(i) The Central Government shall set up a trust with the Board of Trustees or any other appropriate body within a period of three months from the date of judgment along with necessary enabling provisions defining its power, management and construction of the temple, and related incidental and supplemental matters;
(ii) Possession of the inner and outer courtyards (disputed land) shall be handed over to the Board of Trustees of the Trust or to the body so constituted and an appropriate representation would be given to the Nirmohi Akhara in the aforesaid Trust or body. The Central Government will be at liberty to make suitable provisions in respect of the rest of the acquired land by handing it over to the Trust or Body for management and development;
(iii) Simultaneously, a suitable plot of land admeasuring 5 acres shall be handed over to the SCWB. This land shall be allotted either by the Central Government out of the land acquired under the Ayodhya Act 1993 or the State Government at a suitable prominent place in Ayodhya and the two governments shall act in consultation with each other to effectuate this allotment in the period stipulated.
(iv) The SCWB would be at liberty to take all necessary steps for the construction of a mosque on the land thus allotted together with other associated facilities;
(v) The right of the plaintiff in Suit 1 to worship at the disputed property is also affirmed subject to any restrictions imposed by the relevant authorities with respect to the maintenance of peace and order and the performance of orderly worship.
Chronology of Events
Although conflicting narratives exist whether this was the Mughal Emperor Babur or Aurangzeb behind the alleged desecration and demolition of Hindu shrine at the disputed site before erection of a mosque but an overwhelming view exists in favour of the former emperor. As per historical records, Babur invaded North India in 1525 CE and captured Delhi after defeating Ibrahim Lodi in the First Battle of Panipat in 1526. He founded the Mughal Empire by conquering a major portion of the Northern India. Reportedly, one of his army generals, Mir Baqi invaded Ayodhya, destroyed a pre-existing Hindu temple with Ram as principal deity and built a mosque on the ruins of the temple in 1828 under the order of Babur. In many old records, it existed as masjid-i-janmasthan (mosque at the birthplace) or Janmasthan masjid and later it was popularized as Babri Masjid (Babur's mosque). The faith, belief and trust of devout Hindus in Lord Ram is so immutable that they continued to worship at the disputed site despite its desecration and changed status; this led to several recorded and unrecorded conflicts and riots between the two communities over centuries.
Although the two major communities in India traditionally have a troubled history of intermittent communal conflicts and violence so much so that this led to partition of the country at independence to secure a separate homeland for Muslims. The demolition of the disputed structure in 1992 by a frenzied mob (kar sewaks) became a major sore point and deep fissure in the relations of Hindus and Muslims in India. While common Hindus are traditionally docile and tolerant but majority of them were unable to accept the denial of their right to worship at a place which is a symbol of their eternal faith and belief in a country which has traditionally been their homeland since the inception of civilization in the sub-continent. On the other hand, Muslims felt that the demolition of Babri Masjid was a personal attack on their religion and any compromise on the issue will put them at disadvantage socially and religiously for all time to come.
Here is a chronological fact sheet of major events and conflicts from erection of masjid to Supreme Court judgment:
The verdict was generally welcomed nationwide by all sections of the society irrespective of caste, creed, region and religion. An overwhelming majority of politicians, media, intellectuals, jurists and common people hailed the decision stating that the Supreme Court has done justice to both communities and the verdict will pave way for a long lasting peace and brotherhood between two communities. While Hindus cautiously avoided any jubilation or celebration on the occasion, most Muslims too showed maturity and grace in accepting the verdict of the apex court. Of course, the government and administration remained extremely vigilant and alert to effectively deal with any attempted canard, mischief or inflammatory acts in public or on social media.
Most of the Muslims including key individual litigants in Ayodhya case welcomed the judgment and expressed satisfaction over the long pending dispute coming to an end. Zafaryab Jilani of AIMPLB expressed dissatisfaction with the outcome but simultaneously expressed Muslims’ commitment to honouring the Supreme Court verdict. A prominent Shia Cleric Maulana Kalbe Jawad expressed satisfaction over the judgment suggesting that the dispute has ended with Muslim community accepting the verdict peacefully. Maulana Arshad Madani, head of a prominent Muslim body Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind, indicated the possibility of a review petition against the Supreme Court order. A self-proclaimed politician and leader of Indian Muslims, Asaduddin Owaisi was unhappy and bitter with the outcome of the Supreme Court verdict. Expressing his dissatisfaction with the verdict, he opined that the apex court is supreme but not infallible and that his party does not favour “the khairat” (doles or benefaction) of five acres of land proposed in the judgment for building a mosque.
On the other hand, the judgment was widely reported with lopsided interpretation and/or prejudice by a small fraction of national media, Pakistan and top international media houses world over. India’s oldest party Indian National Congress cautiously welcomed the verdict but its affiliated newspaper and mouthpiece “National Herald” published at least two controversial reports questioning judgment, its efficacy and implication. A regular columnist wrote in a report if God can reside in a temple built by force, violence and bloodshed besides suggesting that judges attempted to satisfy popular sentiments while at the same time not doing justice to those wronged and violated years ago. Both controversial pieces were, however, removed by the editors under an apology tendered by the Editor-in-Chief.
In yet another article in the same paper, an ex-judge who caused jitters to higher judiciary few years back as an accused of sexual harassment to a woman intern questioned the judgment vis-à-vis Supreme Court’s responsibility to upheld Constitution. Yet another English daily “Hindu” published an article suggesting the Supreme Court’s direction to the Central government to formulate a scheme and set up a trust to facilitate the construction of a temple on the disputed land would amount to a breach of the secular character of the State. A former judge of Madras High Court K. Chandru suggested that the state is neither pro-particular religion nor anti-particular religion and must maintain neutrality in matters of religion. Another eminent jurist Upendra Baxi, however, held that there was no breach of constitutional secularism in the Central Government being given the responsibility; his views were endorsed by another eminent constitutional expert R. Venkata Rao.
Several top international media houses covered the historic Ayodhya verdict by Supreme Court with their own understanding, interpretation or prejudice on the subject and country. Some such reporting is briefly mentioned as follows:
From the above account, it is clear that the foreign media neither have true knowledge and understanding of the India’s complex social fabric, cultural and religious traditions nor they understand the maturity and professionalism with which India’s apex judiciary functions. Such faulty rather mischievous reporting only exposes and reflects on their lack of understanding and professionalism besides blatant prejudice in the matter. Needless to mention, as hitherto fore the Pakistani political establishment and media too criticized the verdict with usual neurotic zeal lamenting for Indian Muslims with allegation that the Indian Supreme Court has failed to uphold the demands of justice. On their part, India promptly rejected the 'unwarranted and gratuitous' comments of Pakistan on the verdict, citing it purely an internal matter of the country.
* Also spelled as "Janam Bhoomi"
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