“To other countries, I may go as a tourist, but to India, I come as a pilgrim.”
-Martin Luther King Jr.
Yes, India has since long been seen as the land of multiple religions colluding together in beautiful harmony. It was the same diversity that once made the country stand out from the rest of the world. However, in recent years, Bharat has been anything but a peaceful, religious land. Communal and religious violence has gradually become an ugly truth the nation faces every day. Disputes over Babri Masjid in Ayodhya tell yet another tale of the intolerance that the country is slowly equating itself to.
It’s been decades now that the case of Babri Masjid has been dragged around in courts, and there seems no near end to it. In a September 2018 verdict, the Supreme Court rejected the plea to have a larger bench reopen the issue of a 1994 verdict that said mosques are not necessary for practice of Islam. The issue has once again come to limelight now, with one dissenting judge from the same bench, Justice Nazeer speaking against the judgement.
So, what is the famous Ayodhya verdict all about? And, why hasn’t it managed to reach the doors of justice even after so many years?
A brief history
The initial wave of controversies and disputes in Ayodhya was first recorded approximately in 1857. The eastern part of the masjid had been taken over to build a “Rama Chabutra”. The muezzin of Babri Masjid filed a petition in front of the magistrate, complaining against the take-over, following which the British government built a wall, separating the Hindu and Muslim places of worship.
Things continued the same way, with occasional disputes spiking up every now and then. It was in 1949, that situations took an ugly turn once again. Statues of Lord Rama were placed inside the mosque, by unknown Hindus. In an uproar that followed, both the communities filed cases, and the tension amplified. The gates of Babri Masjid were subsequently closed down by the authorities, declaring it a disputed site.
The upcoming years saw different suits and petitions filed in front of the Indian judiciary, with the main claims being – Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas (1950), Nirmohi Akhara (1959), and Sunni Central Board of Waqfs (1961). However, the gates of the masjid remained bolted till almost 40 years, finally opening in 1986 following a court order by the Faizabad district judge.
In September, 2010, the Allahabad High Court, in a historic judgement, divided the 2.77 acres of land known as “Babri Masjid- Rama Janmabhoomi” between three groups – Nirmohi Akhara sect, the Sunni Central Board of Waqfs, and Ramlalla Virajman. However, the judgement was anything but the end of this dispute. Since then, all the concerned parties involved have more or less shown their dissatisfaction with the verdict, working for a re-appeal.
The demolition of Babri Masjid
In 1984, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), a right-wing Hindu nationalist organisation, started a full-fledged movement for the establishment of a mandir at the alleged birth-place of Lord Rama. L.K. Advani, the BJP member, was made the leader for this campaign.
As the demands for a Ram Mandir at the place of the masjid grew, so did the movement. In September 1990, the famous Ram Rath Yatra was initiated – a political and religious rally that aimed to support and urge for the cause of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, and its affiliates – that of building a Ram Mandir at the place of Babri Masjid. The yatra was organised by the Bharatiya Janata Party, along with its Hindu-nationalist associates. Advani, who was then the president of BJP, led the yatra. It was initially supposed to be a 10,000 kilometers long movement across the country. However, Advani was arrested in Bihar, along with many kar sevaks in Uttar Pradesh. Thousands of activists still managed to reach Ayodhya, ready to take down the masjid. While they were unsuccessful in the demolition, many died as a result of the consequent communal violence in the area.
On 6 December, 1992, a large crowd, composed of members of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), BJP, and VHP had gathered near the disputed site, allegedly for offering prayers. However, as the day went by, the rally got more and more agitated, with slogans and uproars, and the crowd quickly getting out of control. It is said that one unnamed kar sevak managed to get past the barriers, and mounted on top of the masjid’s dome with a saffron flag. Soon after, the crowd had managed to break through. What followed, was a horrific destruction and demolition of the masjid by the maddening crowd.
And so, a masjid with a rich history of about 500 years, fell to the ground in what will forever be known as one of the worst attacks on the secular peace of our country.
Soon after the demolition, Liberhan Commission was set up by the Government of India to investigate the sensitive case. The single-man commission, run by M. S. Liberhan, a retired High Court judge, finally submitted its report in 2009, to the then Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh. In this report, the commission had found several big names from BJP guilty and contributing in the demolition of Babri Masjid.
In 1992, Uttar Pradesh was governed by the BJP party, with Kalyan Singh as the Chief Minister who resigned shortly after the incident. The report criticised the CM harshly for the unfolding of events. Consequently, cases against the accused people have appeared and re-appeared in courts multiple times since then, with the CBI often requesting reviews.
With the Supreme Court nearing its final judgement on the decades old Babri Masjid case, the situation in the country often appears tense. Post the September, 2018 verdict, a Muslim community meeting was held in the city of Agra, to discuss the road ahead. The heads of the meeting assured that they will accept the judgement of the apex court, however it pans out.
Has justice been done?
The 2010 High Court judgement also had one interesting factor attached to it- the central dome of the mosque, with the statues of the deity Ram, was declared to remain in the hands of the Hindus. 2/3rd of the disputed land was given to the Hindu organisations, in a decision that was said to be based on the consent of the majority. When the verdict naturally failed to bring any reasonable peace to the region, and the demand for a Ram Mandir continued, the judicial system advised the concerned parties to settle the dispute outside the court, and even offered help in doing so.
The question remains, has justice been done? The answer is a disappointing “no”. Yes, technically the judicial system of our country has given several judgements on this issue, allotted the land in what it believed was a just manner. However, one cannot simply look away from the horrors of December, 1982. In what can only be called meaningless hatred, a historical monument was wrecked to pieces. The report submitted by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), that hinted at a mandir existing before the mosque, has been questioned more than once for its authenticity.
Even if we keep aside the findings and assume that, yes, there existed a mandir before Babri Masjid was built in its place, does that change the truth? No. Whatever the circumstances could have been, destructing the masjid brought no glory to any religion, only hurt. However politicised you make that, it does not justify the brutal horror.
If we are indeed a peace loving, secular country, it is about time we start acting that way.