On November 9, the Supreme Court (SC) pronounced its long-drawn but “unanimous” Judgment on Ayodhya/Babri Masjid conflict. A five-judge bench led by Chief Justice of India, Ranjan Gogoi, ruled that Hindus get the disputed land to build Ram Mandir, and Waqf Board will be given a separate five acres land within Ayodhya at a “prominent” location.
Further, a board of trustees needs to be formed within three months to commence the construction of the Mandir by the government of India. Also, the rights of the possession of the land are constrained by law and order and communal peace.
The bench which made head or tail of this prolonged civil dispute consists of CJI Ranjan Gogoi, S.A. Bobde, D.Y. Chandrachud, Ashok Bhushan and S. Abdul Nazeer.
The Inception of the Ayodhya Dispute
The then disputed land was believed to be a mosque built by Mughal emperor Babur. The mosque became the point of contention between Hindus and Muslims. To elucidate the schism between the two religious groups, British officials in 1856 erected a fence in order to allocate the places of worships – the inner court was then given to Muslims and the outer court to Hindus. In 1885, Mahant Raghuvir Das filed another lawsuit for building a temple on Ram Chabootra; however, the plea was rejected. Despite the dismissal of the plea, a Ram idol was placed inside the building – which Muslims claim that the Hindus placed in the darkness of the night. The alleged move by the Hindu was aggravated protests by the Muslim and later both the parties filed a civil suit – which led the government term the premise as “disputed”. And after 70 long years when all was said and done, the dispute finally came to an end – in favour of the Hindus.
What Led The Decision in Favour of the Hindus?
A major chunk of the decision is based on ASI report as neither of the parties were able to prove ownership of the site with reference to purchase paper, grant or any such document which proves the formal acquisition of the land. Contrast to heterogeneous preceding of Hindus, Sunni Waqf Board exerted itself to prove to show that a grant has been given to them in Mughal time as recognised by the British-era land records. However, the evidence carried less conviction for the court to identify it as proof.
The court then turned to the ASI report which says that excavation of the site reveals the “… existence of underlying structure dating back to the twelfth century has large dimensions … there were 85 pillars bases comprised in 17 rows each of five pillar bases…”. And the nature of the findings was suggestive of being of Hindu religious origin. Later the mosque was constructed resting on the pre-existing structure. The excavation further divulges the existence of a Vrttaakaar Mandir (circular shrine) which indicates Hindu worship.
However, it is important to scrutinies the ASI report which indicates the underlying structure to be a Hindu temple architecture of the twelfth century as the reason behind demolition of the pre-existing “Hindu structure” is due to the construction of the mosque is not proven. As per the ASI report, the base of the structure dates back to twelfth century, and there is a gap of nearly four centuries in-between between the construction of the mosque and underlying structure.
Another historical interpretation which was used by the court to establish its decision is based on travellers Tieffenthaler and Montogomery Martin in the eighteenth century which communicates that the existence of faith in Hindu religion suggests the disputed land was the birthplace of Lord Rama. Some of the recognisable sites such as Swargdwar and Sita Rasoi also indicates Ram’s birth at the disputed land.
On What Grounds the Land was Rejected to the Muslims?
As much of the decision is based on an historical account and archaeological factors as examined by ASI, the Supreme Court also put a question to “adverse possession” of the land, to which the Muslims claimed the mosque to be existed on a plot since 16th century which was rejected by SC by stating that the plot was empty and “anybody could have built anything”.
Furthermore, the Supreme Court dismissed the argument of the Sunni Waqf Board that the mosque was built on an Idgah where namaaz prayers were offered. However, the evidence contradicted 2003 ASI’s report, which says the underlying structure to be “not an Islamic structure”, as the findings from the excavation suggest to be a Hindu structure.
The Supreme Court further identified that after the British constructed a railing to divide the site between two parties to have their respective place of worships (which was solely for the purpose of maintaining law and order and has little or nothing to do with propriety rights), namaaz was not offered from the time of its construction in 1528 to 1857. Whereas, Hindus kept the prayer alive till date.
Where is the contradiction in the Judgment?
One of the paragraphs of the 1045 pages Ayodhya judgment reads “…As regards the inner courtyard, there is evidence on a preponderance of probabilities to establish worship by the Hindus prior to the annexation of Oudh by the British in 1857. The Muslims have offered no evidence to indicate that they were in exclusive possession of the inner structure prior to 1857 since the date of the construction in the sixteenth century. After the setting up of the grill-brick wall, the structure of the mosque continued to exist, and there is evidence to indicate that namaaz was offered within its precincts”.
Surprisingly, the same paragraph reads “they have offered no evidence to indicate that they were in exclusive possession of the inner structure before 1857 since the date of the construction in the sixteenth century …”.
In the whole Judgment, what is left unaddressed is when the dispute arose in 1856 between the two parties over inner and outer courtyard as a worship place, automatically indicates that both the parties have been worshipping there from before. And the land dispute in 1856 is the partial reason why the 5-acre land is being offered to the Sunni Waqf Board. However, because Muslim litigants were not able to provide any evidence with any exclusive possession, the land was handed over to Hindu plaintiffs.
Despite several flaws in the Judgment, if not just, the verdict was a practical and an essential one, considering the elongated quarrel over land which invited several riots in the past, which was equally vulnerable in the near future if the Judgment was not given. The Indian constitution, which guarantees religious rights to all the communities, did not leave the Muslim community in the lurch.
UP Sunni Central Waqf Board will decide by November 26 whether to accept the five-acre land for construction of a mosque in Ayodhya allocated by the apex court.