BY-Sneha Sudhakar (Central University of South Bihar)
The story of the second-longest proceedings in the Indian History in the matter of Ram Janmbhoomi – Babri Masjid land dispute case centered on the ownership of a plot of land in Northern India – Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh – has been begun in 1949, two years after the Indian Independence and came to its end on the historic date of 9th day of November 2019. Starting as a typical land title dispute between two communities – Hindu and Muslims – it shaped itself as the most sensitive political, religious communal fights. The dispute revolves around the history and location of Babri Masjid at the concerned site, the fact of whether there is any Hindu temple that was demolished by Muslim invaders to create a mosque.
The legal and political drama that has been on for debate for more than six decades now turned as one of the worst incidents of inter-religious brutality in the history of India which is responsible for the lives of thousands. The provided information says that there exists a temple of Ram Lalla or infant Lord Ram, “The most revered Hindu deity” which has been demolished by one of the general of Mughal Emperor Babur, Mir Baqi and there erected a mosque named Babri Masjid or “Babur’s Mosque”.
The Century-long dispute to pray and raise a temple on the platform near the mosque triggered bloodbath many-a-times and several petitions were filed from both sides of the concerned communities. On 30th September 2010, Allahabad High court pronounced verdict to divide the disputed land into the three parts which were stayed and overruled by Supreme Court of India and then the constituted Five-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi gave the final judgment on 9th November 2019 which vacated the previous decisions and ruled to hand over the territory in dispute to Hindus.
Facts of the Case
The historical case “M. Siddiq (D) Thr Lrs v. Mahant Suresh Das & Ors” [Civil Appeal Nos 10866–10867 of 2010] popularly known as Ayodhya title dispute is a historical, political, and socio-legal contention that is on fire for more than a centum.
Historical preview of India’s longest-running property dispute:
The Ayodhya Title dispute has its history of more than 200 years which is full of bloodsheds due to which it has been labeled as one of the barbarous communal riots which severely hit the Indian democratic system. The first case regarding the concerned matter was filed 135 years ago. Over the decades, it has bound its way up through legal hierarchy starting from the Civil court of Faizabad to the Supreme court of India via Lucknow bench of Allahabad High court and parallelly India became Independent from being a colony ruled by British.
Here is some significant breakthrough in the case which gave one of the remarkable events in the history of India.
The Pre-Independence event:
The first documentary evidence regarding the presence of Hindu inside the inner courtyard of the concerned site came from an FIR that was lodged by Mohd. Salim against the group of Nihang Sikhs who have put their symbols and written “Ram” inside the Babri mosque and perform Havans and certain rituals. The same was confirmed by Sheetal Dubay, the thandenar of Avadh and in his report on December 1, 1858, the construction of chabutra by the Sikhs was also mentioned. This recorded legal history proves the presence of Hindu in the inner courtyard apart from the outer yard.
But the legal fight began only after the filing the suit (No. 61/280) by Mahanth Raghuvar Das against the secretary of state for India in Council in the Civil court of Faizabad for the erection of temple on the raised platform in the outer courtyard but it was dismissed and then appeal was filed against 1885 judgment (Civil Appeal no. 27) which was also later dismissed.
The second Civil Appeal (No. 122) was filed against this dismissal which was also dismissed by the court of Judicial Commissioner and from then the case was standstill without any further legal process to the next 63 years. In 1934, a riot took place in Ayodhya in which a part of Babri Masjid was demolished which was rebuilt by Britishers and they separated the disputed site into two parts by fencing in which both communities starts worshipping separately.
The appearance of Idol:
The surreptitious attack of placing Lord Rama idol in the central dome of Babri Masjid in the night of December 22-23 of 1949 marked as the beginning of the heightened tensions and legal battle. It was not a “miracle” but a “planned attack” which transformed this religious sentimental fight into the legal battle. Following this event, On December 29 Faizabad Court placed this site under the custodial responsibility of the state and Additional Magistrate issued a preliminary order under Section 145 of the Code of Criminal Procedure to control rising communal tensions.
Legal discourse of the Case in Independent India
The first suit regarding the Ayodhya Dispute in Independent India has been filed by Gopal Singh Visharad of Hindu Maha Sabha on 16th of January, 1950 against five Muslims, State Government and the District Magistrate of Faizabad for the infringement of Right to pray, on account of that, The Civil Judge passed on the order of Injunction and allowed Hindus to pray in the inner courtyard. The Second suit was of same nature was filed by Pramahans Ramchandra Das on May 25, against Zahoor Ahmed and others. The Third Suit was filed by Nirmohi Akhada, Nine years later, on 17th December 1959 claiming itself the rightful manager of Ram Janmabhoomi. Subsequently after two years, on December 18, Sunni Central Waqf Board filed the Fourth suit claiming the possessions of the mosque and removal of the idols and on July 1, 1989, The fifth suit was filed by former Allahabad High Court Judge Deoki Nandan Agarwal on behalf of Lord Rama (the deity, deemed a minor legal person) and prayed to hand over the whole site to Ram Lalla for the construction of a new temple.
On March 20, 1963, Faizabad Court held that the few persons can’t represent the whole Hindu community and ordered a public notice to implead Hindu Maha Sabha, Arya Samaj, and Sanatan Dharma as defendants to represent the Hindu community.
Then the turning point of Ayodhya’s dispute came which altered the political discourse of India. Umesh Chandra Pandey, an advocate filed an application on January 25, 1986, to Munsif Magistrate, Faizabad, to open the locks and allow to worship the idols which had been found inside but the same was rejected by the magistrate mentioning it out of their jurisdiction as all the matters related to Ayodhya title were before the court. On January 31, 1986, he appealed the order in the District Court of Faizabad. Then on the admission of District Magistrate and SP of Faizabad to maintain peace and everything under control on the opening the locks, the seal was removed on the first day of April which triggered the dispute and establish the Babri Masjid Action Committee with Zafaryab Jilani as the convenor.
All the petitions and suits filed in different courts got transferred to the three-judge bench of the Allahabad High Court on July 12, 1989. Then under the Land Acquisition Act, the BJP state government acquired a total of 2.27 acres of land (the disputed land along with some adjoining areas) in the purpose to develop it for tourism which was challenged by Muslims through six writ petitions but got quashed by the high court.
Ram Rathyatra, which lasted from September to October 1990, was one of the biggest mass movements in India organized by Bhartiya Janta Party and its Hindu nationalists led by L.K. Advani, the then president of BJP. The Yatra began in Somnath, Gujrat on 25 September 1990 and passed through different regions which triggered religious violence. The purpose of the Yatra was to support the agitation of erecting Ramjanmbhoomi temple on the disputed site of Babri Masjid which was led by Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), and the volunteers (Kar-Sevaks) of Sangh Parivar. Due to the clashes of Hindu- Muslim community, Bihar government opposed this yatra and arrested L.K. Advani in Bihar and the Yatra came to its end.
The violence accompanied by the Rath-Yatra and the incendiary speech of BJP-leaders in Ayodhya in December 1992 gave rise to agitation which overnight demolished the Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992, despite the interim orders of High Court and Supreme Court which fired the anger of Muslim communities.
Demolishing Mosque and suppressing the feelings of any community was against the Rule of Law. Considering the nationwide outbreak of communal fights and the injustice to what happened to Muslims, Liberhan Commission was set up on 16th December 1992, by the Government of India whose in-charge was MS Liberhan, a retired High Court Judge. It was the longest-running inquiry commission whose deadline was three months but the report was submitted after 17 years with 48-extensions. This report revealed the active role of certain BJP- leaders in the Babri-demolition, those are, L.K. Advani, Kalyan Singh, Uma Bharti, etc. and also the deficiency in security managements as the UP government publically announced not to shot anyone in any circumstances. The Ayodhya demolition was not a quick decision of a mob but a well-planned conspiracy by these faces of the so-called secular Government.
Sensing further trouble, on January 7, 1993, Central Government acquired 67.7 acres of land including the central Ayodhya and disputed site by promulgating an ordinance.
Foundation of the Present Case
At the next National election in 1996, the BJP won its first majority in the Indian parliament and added the erection of Ramjanmbhoomi temple in its manifesto. The then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee constituted “Ayodhya Vibhag” for the purpose to resolve the issue.
After thirteen years in March 2002, Allahabad High Court began the hearings to assert the ownership of land and the case was given to three-judge panel, they were, Justice Sibghat Ullah Khan, Justice Sudhir Agarwal and Justice Dharamveer Sharma. The Panel ordered the Archeological Survey of India (ASI) to excavate the disputed site. The ASI submitted the report on 22 August 2003 and provided that “there was non-Islamic massive structure beneath the disputed structure”. But according to a report in “Outlook weekly” there two Muslim graves were also recovered but no detailed analysis of it has been performed.
The Splitting of land
The three-judge panel, on 10th September 2010, gave its verdict in which the disputed land had to split into three parts for each of the three parties: Sunni Waqf Board, Nirmohi Akhara and Ram Lalla Virajman. The part which had Ram-idol went to Ram Lalla Virajaman. Sita Rasoi, storeroom and Ram chabutra to Nirmohi Akhara and the remaining part to Sunni Waqf Board. But neither of the parties accepted this adjudication and appealed in the Supreme Court. Then SC stayed this order of Allahabad High court on 9th May 2011.
In February 2016, BJP leader Subramanyam Swamy filed a petition in the Supreme Court to allow him to offer prayers at disputed Rama Temple. SC dismissed his plea by saying that only parties to the original suit can file pleas but after that, it was admitted saying a writ petition for enforcement of Fundamental Rights.
Constitution of Five-Judge Panel and the Final Verdict
The dispute then passed to the five-judge bench on 8th January 2019. It was heared by the Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, Sharab Arvind Bobde, DY Chandrachud Ashok Bhusan and S. Abdul Nazeer. The Gogoi-led Panel bench proposed a court-monitored mediation and the member of the panel were former Apex Court Judge FMI Kalifulla, Senior Advocate Sriram, and Spiritual Guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. The mediation began at Awadh University, Faizabad on March 13 but failed to draw a requisite solution due to which court decided to start the regular hearing from the 6th of August, 2019.
After 40-long day’s hearings, from August 6 to October 14, the constitution bench came at a conclusion but reserved the judgment and asked parties to file submission on “Moulding of Relief”. Under 142nd Article of Indian constitution “Moulding of Relief” is mentioned that means in any land title dispute cases if the verdict goes in the favor of one party, then the different options to the other party given as molding of relief.
On the historical date of 9th November 2019, the Supreme Court declared the Judgement which cleared the way for the construction of Ram Mandir. Using Article 142 of the Indian Constitution SC held that the disputed land of 2.27 acre should be given to a trust (now Ram Janmbhoomi Teertha Kshetra trust) for the establishment of Lord Ram temple and alternative land of 5 acres would be given to Sunni Waqf Board to construct a mosque.
On March 5, 2020, Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister of India, is likely to lay the foundation stone of the historical Ramjanmbhoomi Temple, Ayodhya after which its construction work will be flagged off.
Critical Analysis of the Case:
The final verdict of the Supreme Court has been a matter of praise worldwide as to how a dreadful community fight has been brought to its closure but also criticized on several grounds. Talking about the ASI report, it mentioned that there were some non-Islamic structures in the 12th century, and in the 16th century there was a mosque. The history of in-between 400 years is missing. But nobody took it seriously.
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