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IOS Minaret Vol-1, No.1 (March 2007)
Vol. 5    Issue 10   01 - 15 October 2010

The Allahabad High Court’s Verdict on Ayodhya: A Travesty of Justice and the Rule of Law

Minaret Research Network

Babri Masjid Mosque

The Babri Mosque, located in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, was built by Mir Baqi, a general of Babar, the founder of the Mughal dynasty in India, in 1528. For more than 400 years, until 1949, the mosque was in continuous use for prayers by the local Muslim community. In the night of December 22, 1949, a group of 50-60 persons entered the mosque and installed an idol of the Hindu god Ram there. Police constable Mata Prasad and sub-inspector Ram Dube lodged an FIR about the incident at the Ayodhya police station the following day, following which a case was filed under Sections 147, 295 and 448 of Cr. P. C. On December 23 the district magistrate of Faizabad, K. K. Nayar, sent a message to the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, Govind Ballabh Pant, as well as the chief secretary and the home secretary, saying that “a few Hindus entered Babri Masjid at night when the masjid was deserted and installed a deity there……Police picket of 15 persons was on duty at night but did not apparently act”.

On January 9, 1950, Vallabhbhai Patel, the then home minister in the central government, sent a letter to the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, expressing his anguish over the incident and saying that ‘any unilateral action based on an attitude of aggression and coercion cannot be tolerated’. When Jawaharlal Nehru, the then prime minister, came to know of this incident he became furious and immediately asked G. B. Pant to take remedial action. On the instruction of the chief minister, the state’s chief secretary, Bhagwan Sahay, and the inspector-general of police, U. N. Lahiri, sent orders to the district magistrate and asked him to remove the idols. In his reply, K. K. Nayar acknowledged that the installation of the idols in the mosque was ‘an illegal position created by force and subterfuge’ but refused to remove the idols from the mosque. On December 29 the mosque was locked on the orders of the District Magistrate, M. Singh, and Priya Datt Ram was appointed receiver of the property and allowed to perform puja.

In the litigation that followed, the Deputy Commissioner of Faizabad, J. N. Ugra, solemnly declared, on behalf of the state of Uttar Pradesh, on April 25, 1950 that ‘true to my knowledge, the property in suit is known as Babri Mosque and it has, for a long period, been in use as a mosque by the Muslims. It has not been in use as a temple of Shri Ram Chandraji, and that on the night of December 22, 1949, the idols of Shri Ram Chandraji were surreptitiously and wrongly put inside it’. It is significant to note that a staunch Gandhian, Akshay Brahmachari, went on a hunger strike in protest against the sacrilege.

On February 1, 1986, the district judge passed orders, under instructions from the highest authorities in the country, to open the locks of the mosque and to allow puja by Hindu devotees. Following the opening of the gates of the mosque for Hindu worshippers, the RSS and other Hindu organizations launched the Ramjanmabhoomi movement for the ‘liberation of the birth place of Lord Ram’ and for the construction of a grand temple on the site. On December 6, 1992 the mosque was torn down by a frenzied Hindu mob under the nose of the district administration and the police and paramilitary forces. The central government forces which were specifically deployed for the protection of the mosque looked the other way when the structure was being vandalized and demolished. On December 7, the day after the demolition of the mosque, Vinay Katiyar, BJP member of Parliament from Ayodhya, said: “We thank the state, the district administration, the UP police and the PAC for giving us all the help to complete our mission”.

The dispute over the title of the land on which the Babri Mosque stood has been pending in the Allahabad High Court since 2002. In a controversial judgement delivered on September 30, 2010, the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court directed that the disputed site of 2.77 acres be partitioned, with two-thirds to be allotted to Hindu litigants and one-third to their Muslim counterparts. The judges also ruled that the crucial area under the central dome of the mosque be allotted to Hindus since this is the site where, according to their belief, Lord Ram was born, and that the idols should not be removed from there. Justice D. V. Sharma, one of the three judges on the bench, ruled that the entire premises belonged to Hindus and should therefore be handed over to them for the construction of a temple. Justice Sharma and Justice Sudhir Agarwal held that the mosque was built after demolishing a Hindu temple on the site and was therefore illegal.

The eagerly-awaited judgement of the Allahabad High Court has shocked and disappointed legal luminaries, jurists, historians and liberal intellectuals and writers. The verdict has been described as fundamentally flawed and lopsided on the following counts. First, it fails to address the basic issues involved in the litigation: the title suit, the illegality of the usurpation of the mosque premises in December 1949, and the barbaric and criminal destruction of the mosque in December 2002. Instead, the judges focused on issues that are at best peripheral and extra-judicial, such as the determination of the place where Lord Ram was born. Second, the verdict relies on the faith and beliefs of the majority population, rather than on legal principles and documentary and other evidence, in determining the ownership of the disputed site. To say that Lord Ram was born under the domes of the mosque, without a shred of historical and archaeological evidence in support of the assumption and entirely on the basis of popular belief, is preposterous. Third, the court treated Ram as a ‘juristic person,’ on par with human litigants. The learned judges did not think it would be problematic or questionable to conflate the issue of legality with matters of mythology and metaphysics. Consider, for example, this convoluted logic in the verdict: “The court is of the view that place of birth, that is Ramjanmabhoomi, is a juristic person. The deity also attained divinity like Agni, Vayu, Kedarnath. Asthan is personified as the spirit of divine worshipped as the birth place of Lord Ram Lalla or “Lord Ram as a child”. Fourth, the verdict indirectly legitimizes the barbaric destruction of the Babri Mosque and lends respectability to the Ramjanmabhoomi movement, which left a trail of discord and violence across large parts of the country. Finally, the verdict bristles with contradictions. Thus on the one hand, the judges set aside the claim of the Sunni Wakf Board over the ownership of the disputed site. On the other, they allocate, perhaps as an act of charity, one-third of the land to Muslims. Unfortunately, the verdict has set a wholly unfortunate and dangerous precedent. Hopefully, the Supreme Court, where the matter will be taken in appeal, will set aside this lopsided verdict.

The Muddle Path

Dileep Padgaonkar

The verdict of the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad high court on the title suits related to the disputed site in Ayodhya makes you wonder whether anything straight can ever emerge from the crooked timber of the majoritarian mind. The three parties involved in the suits the Nirmohi Akhara, the Sunni Central Board of Waqf and the Ramlalla Virajman had expected, on wholly reasonable grounds, that the court would rule in favour of one or the other side without a trace of ambiguity. What the three judges decided instead was to trifurcate the land and hand it over to the litigants in equal parts.

Among the factors that led them to do so, the most intriguing by far is the cachet of legality that they have bestowed on belief and faith. Both, we had assumed, naively as it turns out, had to be kept outside the ambit of the court. Here, judges weigh evidence rooted in incontrovertible facts, examine the pertinence of reasoned arguments and proceed to deliver a judgement that conforms, in letter and spirit, with the laws prevalent in the land. But by their very nature, faith and belief have no factual basis. They are above reason. And if push comes to shove, they aren't answerable to norms of legality laid down by mere mortals.

This is the road that the three judges chose to tread. They looked upon Lord Ram not as a mythological figure who, given his exemplary life and character, dwells in the hearts of millions of Hindus, but as a historical character. This explains the court's willingness to identify the precise location of his place of birth. The exercise did not call for a shred of evidence. None was sought and none was forthcoming. It was undertaken simply because the faith and belief of Hindus decreed that the Lord was born under the central dome of the mosque that was razed to the ground.

Once faith and belief are factored into a resolution of a legal tangle, you embark, swiftly and surely, on the slippery slope of majoritarian conceit. Both can well come into play if a settlement is discussed outside the confines of a court. Attempts to this effect have indeed been made since 1992. Each one has failed. The reason, quite simply, is that when the sangh parivar asked for a compromise, it in fact wanted the Muslims to renounce their claims to the disputed area "out of respect for Hindu sentiments". That was no compromise solution at all. It was a summons to surrender.

For this very reason, the Muslims asserted time and again that they would like the case to be examined in a court of law and that they would abide by its verdict. This affirmation of trust in the judiciary is easily explained. They had every right to expect the court to focus on the title suits without taking into account considerations that were extraneous to the judicial process.

The biggest infirmity of Thursday's verdict, therefore, is that the court treated Lord Ram as a 'juristic person'. In the eyes of the law, a deity or an idol is thus entitled to be placed on par with flesh-and-blood litigants. The sheer brazenness of this stand, which belittles the exalted stature of Hinduism's most revered divinity, makes you wince.

The ruins of the demolished mosque and the make-shift temple at the site (Photo:Douglas E. Curran/AFP/Getty Images)

After this bit of 'creative' legal thinking, the other infirmities in the verdict appear to be no more than trifles. Take the issue of whether or not a mosque was built after demolishing a temple. From all accounts, the findings of the Archaeological Survey of India were incomplete at best and, at worst, misleading. At any rate, experts are divided on the subject. But that did not persuade the judges to exercise a bit of circumspection.

But assume for a moment that Babar did order the destruction of a temple and the construction of a mosque in its place. How can you apply the laws of the 21st century to the depredations witnessed in the 16th century? And, more significant still, why should the sins committed by Babar visit his co-religionists today? In a country where, for example, Buddhists have been at the receiving end of Hindus, this can open a can of worms. This verdict therefore smacks of majoritarian arrogance which, one hopes, will be jettisoned root and branch by the Supreme Court.

The silver lining in all this is that the country has by and large heeded the appeal of political parties and religious leaders to remain calm after the verdict. With the exception of a few hotheads, who have again raised the spectre of Kashi and Mathura, their own reactions have indeed been muted. Does this augur well for an out-of-court settlement? Much would depend on the outcome of a criminal case related to the demolition of the mosque that is being heard in another court. Exemplary punishment for those who brought shame and infamy to India could go a long way in persuading the Muslims to part with the land that is now rightly theirs in the larger interests of the nation. They can then walk tall as citizens who put the future of our democratic and secular republic above their sense of hurt.

(Source: The Times of India, October 2, 2010)

The verdict on Ayodhya: A Historian's Perspective

Romila Thapar

The verdict is a political judgment and reflects a decision which could as well have been taken by the state years ago. Its focus is on the possession of land and the building a new temple to replace the destroyed mosque. The problem was entangled in contemporary politics involving religious identities but also claimed to be based on historical evidence. This latter aspect has been invoked but subsequently set aside in the judgment.

The court has declared that a particular spot is where a divine or semi-divine person was born and where a new temple is to be built to commemorate the birth. This is in response to an appeal by Hindu faith and belief. Given the absence of evidence in support of the claim, such a verdict is not what one expects from a court of law. Hindus deeply revere Rama as a deity but can this support a legal decision on claims to a birth-place, possession of land and the deliberate destruction of a major historical monument to assist in acquiring the land?

Carved pillars for the construction of the proposed Ram temple at the site (Photo: Rajesh Kumar Singh/AP)

The verdict claims that there was a temple of the 12th Century AD at the site which was destroyed to build the mosque — hence the legitimacy of building a new temple.

The excavations of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) and its readings have been fully accepted even though these have been strongly disputed by other archaeologists and historians. Since this is a matter of professional expertise on which there was a sharp difference of opinion the categorical acceptance of the one point of view, and that too in a simplistic manner, does little to build confidence in the verdict. One judge stated that he did not delve into the historical aspect since he was not a historian but went to say that history and archaeology were not absolutely essential to decide these suits! Yet what are at issue are the historicity of the claims and the historical structures of the past one millennium.

A mosque built almost 500 years ago and which was part of our cultural heritage was destroyed wilfully by a mob urged on by a political leadership. There is no mention in the summary of the verdict that this act of wanton destruction, and a crime against our heritage, should be condemned. The new temple will have its sanctum — the presumed birthplace of Rama — in the area of the debris of the mosque. Whereas the destruction of the supposed temple is condemned and becomes the justification for building a new temple, the destruction of the mosque is not, perhaps by placing it conveniently outside the purview of the case.

Has created a precedent

The verdict has created a precedent in the court of law that land can be claimed by declaring it to be the birthplace of a divine or semi-divine being worshipped by a group that defines itself as a community. There will now be many such janmasthans wherever appropriate property can be found or a required dispute manufactured. Since the deliberate destruction of historical monuments has not been condemned what is to stop people from continuing to destroy others? The legislation of 1993 against changing the status of places of worship has been, as we have seen in recent years, quite ineffective.

What happened in history, happened. It cannot be changed. But we can learn to understand what happened in its fuller context and strive to look at it on the basis of reliable evidence. We cannot change the past to justify the politics of the present. The verdict has annulled respect for history and seeks to replace history with religious faith. True reconciliation can only come when there is confidence that the law in this country bases itself not just on faith and belief, but on evidence.

(Romila Thapar is a distinguished historian of Early India.)

(Source: The Hindu, October 2, 2010)

Ayodhya: Is a Solution Possible?

K. N. Panikkar

It should be clear to everyone, most of all to the judges who ordered the judgment deferred, that if the issue has defied a solution for a hundred years, no miracle is likely in less than a week.

The Supreme Court of India on September 23 gave a pause to the vexed Mandir-Masjid controversy and the contending title claims to the site made by the Muslim Waqf Board and the Hindu Dharam Sansad, by directing the Allahabad High Court to defer the pronouncement of the long-awaited judgment. Now, a three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice of India S.H. Kapadia is set to decide on the matter on September 28.

The learned judges of the Supreme Court, whatever their publicly stated positions, are not so naïve as to believe that within less than a week a solution could be found for the contentious case. It should be clear to everyone, most of all to the judges, that if the issue has defied a solution for more than a hundred years, no miracle is likely to happen within less than a week. All the water that has flowed down the Sarayu river through all these years has not helped Ayodhya to recover the meaning of its name — a place without war. On the contrary, the claims and counter-claims by the parties involved in the dispute have only helped to harden the respective positions, which have spread the hatred and distrust thus generated to the whole country.

Jubilant Hindu leaders celebrate the verdict with firecrackers in Amritsar (Photo: AP)

Given these facts and the situation, what prompted the judges last week to grant a stay could not be the possibility of an imminent solution. They were probably trying to convey a message to the nation, particularly to those who are party to the dispute, as well as to the government. The case has dragged on for such a long time under the assumption that it could be resolved by the intervention of the judiciary. The court now seems to suggest that it is not the case; a real solution lies in the political domain, with the active participation of civil society.

The salience of the civil suit lies in the fact that it is implicated in the larger issue of the dispute pertaining to the Mandir and the Masjid on which the court cannot really pronounce a judgment, even if it gathered evidence from historians. The government was using the judiciary as an escape route. And the judiciary, instead of dismissing the case, attempted to overreach itself. As far as the civil suit for the title of the land is concerned, it was in fact decided in 1885-86. It was in the post-1857 period when political conditions were fluid that the mahant of Ayodhya constructed a chabutara on the land leading to the masjid and started worship, claiming it to be the janmasthan of Sri Ram. The mahant filed a case in 1885 claiming title to the land, but it was dismissed. So were his appeals to the superior courts. The British officials favoured the status quo, for religious and political reasons.

Record of aggression

The history of the Mandir-Masjid dispute during the post-Independence period is but a record of aggression by Hindu communal forces, and a series of compromises and reconciliation bids by the Central government led by the Indian National Congress, particularly under Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao.

In 1949, Hindu communal forces conducted a seven-day continuous recitation of Ramcharitamanas, which proved to be the precursor to the installation of an idol of Ram Lalla in the mosque. The fact that they got away with the defiance of the state not only emboldened them to indulge in further aggression, leading ultimately to the demolition of the Masjid. During this period, the Sangh Parivar not only organised a series of agitations to mobilise Hindus in the name of Ram but also made preparations for the construction of the temple. It assiduously built up a tempo of aggression, with Uma Bharti and Rithambara leading the charge. The finale of this carefully constructed aggression was the Rath Yatra led by Lal Krishna Advani 20 years ago, which finally led to the demolition of the Masjid in 1992. The demolition was a criminal act according to the laws of the country, as the mosque was a 400-year-old historical monument that the state was committed to protect.

While the Hindu communal forces were engaged in a progressive assault, the state was unable to solve its own political dilemma. The Congress which led the government during this period was committed to secularism in principle, but the party realised that it was not possible to survive without the electoral support of Hindus. As a consequence, the party indulged in secular rhetoric, but followed communal politics in practice. It pursued what has now come to be termed ‘soft Hindutva'. Through this means it hoped to outsmart the Hindu communal forces.

The leader who initiated this disastrous policy was Rajiv Gandhi. He ordered the opening of the locks of the Masjid, thereby permitting Hindus to perform puja inside. He did this in order to steal the thunder from the Hindu communal forces. His successor-Prime Minister pursued the policy of compromise much more vigorously, and ‘officially arranged' the shilanyas of the temple. The Congress thus became an appendage of communal forces; that is what emboldened a mob to demolish the Masjid, thus inflicting a major blow on democracy and secularism.

Decisive factor

The failure of the Indian state was a most decisive factor behind the act of demolition. As is evident from the account given later by Narasimha Rao, it is clear that the state failed to discharge its duty of protecting the monument. It failed to prevent Mr. Advani's Rath Yatra, which led to the loss of several lives: everybody knew it would have disastrous consequences. Even after the demolition, the construction of a temporary temple was not stopped. At least now the state can rectify its mistakes by charting out a bold and innovative step in line with the principles of secularism.

The parties to the dispute and those who indulged in violence in the name of Ram are not representatives of India's Hindus and Muslims. They have no authority to speak on behalf of Hindus and Muslims. They are actually seeking to coerce the members of these communities by claiming to speak on their behalf.

(Dr. K.N. Panikkar is a former Professor of Modern History with Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi. He is currently Vice-Chairman of the Kerala State Higher Education Council, Thiruvananthapuram.)

(Source: The Hindu, September 27,2010)

Ayodhya Verdict

Manoj Mitta

Three days after a Ram idol was placed under the Babri Masjid's central dome, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru shot off a letter to UP chief minister G B Pant directing that the mischief be undone. His reason: "A dangerous example is being set there, which will have bad consequences."

But Nehru's concerns were overridden by the local administrator, Faizabad's deputy commissioner K K Nayar. Even as he acknowledged that the installation of the idols was "an illegal act", Nayar refused to remove them from the mosque. His reasoning was that "the depth of feeling behind the movement ... should not be underestimated."

It was against the backdrop of this battle between secular and sectarian views that the first of the four title suits was filed on January 16, 1950. In allowing the idols to remain where they were placed on December 23, 1949, and in placing religious sentiment above the rule of law, the Allahabad high court verdict 60 years later seems to have preferred Nayar's position to that of Nehru.

Though thousands of pages in this verdict have been devoted to quotes from Hindu scriptures, it made little effort to examine the illegality of the 1949 act. The mischief played with the idols, in a bid to convert a masjid into a mandir, was central to the adjudication of the title suits.

Yet, the three judges on the bench, despite delivering separate judgments, adopted the common approach of treating the forcible installation of idols as a fait accompli. They did not dare question its legality or validity. This, despite the fact that the bench had, in May 2009, specially called for and placed on record the original file of the district administration that dealt with the 1949 episode.

The verdict could have been radically different had the judges mustered the courage to analyse this crucial issue. Advocate Anupam Gupta, who grilled an array of leaders on the Babri Masjid demolition before the Liberhan Commission, told TOI: "Since the title suits had derived from the installation of idols, the judges would have had to acknowledge that the Hindu claim was based on a patent illegality and that nothing said about the history of the Hindu belief prior to 1949 would have cured this illegality."

In its anxiety to be pragmatic or conciliatory, the high court also pulled its punches on the demolition of the mosque in 1992 although it was a violent interference with the subject of the title suits. While it dwelt extensively on the Hindu "bent of mind" in the context of the belief about the exact location of Ram's birthplace, the high court did not attempt any such analysis of the mentality that propelled the demolition.

As a result, in a major blow to secularism, the high court allowed the vandals of 1992 to turn into the victors of 2010. This has made a mockery of the Supreme Court's 1994 declaration while reviving the Ayodhya title suits after a two-year limbo: "The Hindu community must bear the cross on its chest, for the misdeed of the miscreants reasonably suspected to belong to their religious fold."

Far from bearing the cross for the demolition, Hindu groups seem to have intimidated the high court into coming up with a solution that provides much cause for concern to Muslims and believers of secularism. By accepting faith as the determining factor for allotting the area under the central dome to Hindus, the system has shown no remorse to the affected community.

The high court's refusal to let the illegality of the 1949 and 1992 events have a bearing on the title suits will mean that there can be no closure to the Ayodhya dispute any time soon. Its partition scheme has ended up vindicating, however unwittingly, those very forces that had so brazenly undermined India's commitment to secularism. As jurist Tahir Mahmood puts it, "What had begun as a title suit ended up with a decree of partition. Religious beliefs and sentiments had triumphed over historical facts and legal precepts. The judicial anxiety reflected in the judgment is understandable but its legal tenability is not beyond reproach."

The consolation is that the verdict could have been worse if the judgment delivered by Justice D V Sharma, awarding the entire disputed site of 2.7 acres to Hindus, did not turn out to be a minority view on the bench. Sharma's judgment is an unabashed celebration of the fundamentalist Hindu perspective on the Babri Masjid.

The Ayodhya verdict actually fits into a pattern displayed by the Indian judiciary to suppress inconvenient facts. The Allahabad high court's failure to examine the implications of the 1949 and 1992 events is reminiscent of an infamous omission by the Supreme Court in its much touted judgment upholding Hindutva.

This ideology of Hindu hegemony received judicial approval because the Supreme Court, while equating Hindutva with the liberal ethos of Hinduism, steered clear of the fact that the term had been coined by Veer Savarkar to suggest that India belonged only to those for whom it is both birthplace and sacred land.

Thanks to this vital omission, the BJP derived much legitimacy from the SC verdict on Hindutva. It remains to be seen how, despite the restraint displayed by it for the time being, the BJP will politically leverage the verdict in the Ayodhya case. It is no coincidence that Nayar who defied Nehru's order to remove the idol from the Babri Masjid went on to become an MP of Jan Sangh, forerunner of the BJP.

(Source: The Times of India, October 3,2010)


First Or Last?


Surprise is the first reaction. After 60 long years, we have a judgement which may not bring closure. But here it is. And we must see how the legal process proceeds from here.

If you have been reading newspapers and watching television in the past week, you could be forgiven for thinking that India is a rationalist’s utopia. So much goodwill, so much wisdom, so many calls to move on and put India first have been delivered by our politicians and concerned litigants that it would be logical to surmise that duplicity and deceit have vanished from our shores. The honourable judges of the Allahabad High Court have posed a challenge to these lofty sentiments.

Now that we have a verdict which has gone unequivocally in favour of the Hindu litigants, we will wait to see how the goodwill and common sense translate into action on the ground by both the winners and the losers. It is important to state that the judgement undeniably throws up both categories. The expectation that all the litigants would be satisfied—with something for both the Hindus and Muslims—has proved false. To remind the nation that the temple dispute for the last 20 years has not been about “faith” but about “politics” is not necessarily an act of treason. Neither is it an act of treason to remind the nation that the ‘Hindus vs Muslims’ description of the dispute is a gross fallacy. This is an altercation between the Sangh parivar (and its supporters) and the Muslims.

In 1999, when the BJP came to power on the back of the mandir wave, the party got 23 per cent of the vote. Which means 77 per cent of Indians did not vote for the temple. In 2009, the BJP got 18 per cent of the vote. Which means 82 per cent of Indians did not vote for the temple.

Of all the non-issues facing our country, the Ramjanmabhoomi issue is top of the list. For an overwhelming majority of Hindus, it is no big deal. If it can be built peacefully, fine. If it can’t, Hindus will not be overly disappointed. How and why this non-issue came to occupy such criticality in the national consciousness, I will leave the historians to answer.

The nervousness and anxiety of the Indian State over a minor flare-up turning into a major flare-up is understandable. We should not forget that, in the real India, there exist political parties, individual politicians, media houses and allegedly pious NGOs who do not subscribe to the fine thoughts expressed in the last few days.

The verdict delivered in the court on Thursday must find acceptance within the prevailing good-bad environment. Our masters remain what they were yesterday. Self-interest generally trumps national interest in their scheme of things. India and its citizens must learn to resolve disputes wrapped in blood and unhappy historical memory in the real India.

How both the parties conduct themselves after the verdict will determine whether India comes first or last.

(Source: Outlook, October 11, 2010)

Law Makes A Leap Of Faith


The politics of Lord Ram got some divine sanction from the law. A movement that had been spent, an issue that had collectively exhausted the nation, a politics that had been virtually abandoned, was given a new lease of life by the three-judge bench of the Allahabad High Court. They were all quite magnanimous about matters of faith. They gave primacy to the “belief” that the disputed site is the birthplace of Lord Ram. In doing so, they also gave respectability to the movement led by the VHP and BJP leader L.K. Advani that culminated in the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992, seen by many as a criminal act for which cases still continue.

Was this the majesty of the law or the primacy of faith? All the three judges gave separate judgements but the majority agreed to divide the disputed land at Ayodhya into three parts—one held by Hindus, one by the Nirmohi Akhara (a Hindu outfit) and one by the Muslims. A two-thirds victory technically for the Hindu side but really a decisive win for them. The little piece of land that will now be the right of Muslims will actually be an embarrassment for them, and could be used to corner them once again. All those dark emotions, the collective humiliations will now be recalled by the community.

As for the janmabhoomi votaries, it was their judgement day all the way. Consider the views of the three honourable members of the bench. Justice Sudhir Agarwal concluded that “the area covered under the central dome of the disputed structure was the birthplace of Lord Rama as per faith and belief of Hindus”. He also said that “the building in dispute was constructed after demolition of a non-Islamic religious structure, i.e., a Hindu temple”. Justice S.U. Khan, meanwhile, concluded that “no temple was demolished for constructing the mosque” and the “mosque was constructed over the ruins of temples which were lying in utter ruins for a very long time” and that “after some time of construction of the mosque Hindus started identifying the premises in dispute as exact birth place of Lord Ram”.

The views uploaded on the Allahabad High Court website citing Justice D.V. Sharma make for the most revealing reading. “The disputed site is the birthplace of Lord Ram,” he states decisively, because “place of birth is a juristic person and is a deity. It is personified as the spirit of the divine worshipped as birthplace of Lord Rama as a child”. He also dwells on some philosophical matters—“spirit of the divine ever remains present everywhere at all times for anyone to invoke at any shape or form in accordance with his own aspirations and it can be shapeless and formless also.” He does not hesitate to pronounce judgement on Islamic law too—“the disputed building was constructed by Babar, the year is not certain but it was built against the tenets of Islam. Thus it cannot have the character of a mosque”.

These are remarkable judgements because, in a manner of speaking, they comment on whether God exists, or more specifically that Lord Ram did, and was born at a particular site! Most observers expected the judgement to be based on cold facts and not be a claim of faith. Legal experts say these are matters on which high court judges are not expected to comment. Indeed, the question that may be asked is, now that the legitimacy of the claim has been established in a court of law, do we therefore judge the Ramjanmabhoomi movement as a legitimate agitation and end all the criminal cases?

VHP leaders Praveen Togadia and Acharya Giriraj Kishore celebrate with sweets in New Delhi. (Photograph by Tribhuvan Tiwari)

The Muslim side has frankly been shocked and stunned as it had actually been expecting to win on the title deeds. They’ll appeal in the Supreme Court, but will have to be circumspect in all future moves as the RSS-VHP-BJP combine now feels its entire case, movement and politics have gained respectability. They would therefore use every opportunity to hammer home the point about “Muslim obduracy” and engage in a discourse that stokes old faultlines. Zafaryab Jilani, the lawyer for the Sunni Waqf Board, has said the matter will be appealed in the Supreme Court. “This is not the end,” he says, “the verdict will be final only when the Supreme Court decides so. If the apex court also rules against us, then we’ll abide by it.” Nai Duniya editor Shahid Siddiqui expresses the community’s anger: “No judgement should be made on the basis of faith. It should be made on the basis of hard evidence. I’m deeply shocked by the verdict. I feel as numb as I did on the day the mosque fell.”

More shocking twists and turns to the traumatic Ayodhya issue could be awaiting the community. For one, the BJP—which had been expecting a legal defeat—is hugely relieved. The party will use the verdict to embrace even greater respectability. Sources say a section of the party will even be pressing for what will be called a “magnanimous gesture” towards Muslims. In other words, they’ll suggest that Muslims should be allowed to build a mosque on the one-third land they have been given as long as a temple too is built. The attempt, therefore, will be to project the Muslims as the churlish party unwilling to give in to Hindu generosity. The argument and the secular-communal divide would actually have been turned on its head.

On judgement day, the parivar acted in concert. A decision had been taken that RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat would be the first to speak and give out the line after the verdict. Since he had every reason to be content and had no grouse against the court, he sounded almost statesman-like. “It should not be seen as a victory for any group or defeat for another,” he said. He also asked “all countrymen, including Muslims” to forget past acrimony, and become “active collaborators” in constructing the Ram temple.

Smug in its “victory”, the usually lumpen VHP too was a picture of calm and composure after the verdict. Dholakwalas were brought in to launch festivities at their press office in Delhi but then sent away after some senior functionaries decided it would be against the restrained mood. Sweets, though, were distributed widely. Praveen Togadia, with a big grin on his face, said, “We have appealed to all Hindus for restraint in their celebrations. We will collaborate with the police to maintain calm. Celebrations for us will take the form of distributing sweets and singing hymns to Ram in our homes and temples.”

The advocates of Ramjanmabhoomi will now sing bhajans and enjoy the sudden legitimacy their movement has acquired. The BJP, meanwhile, has called for “inter-community amity and a fresh start”. For the Muslim community, though, it is a sad judgement. Extremist elements who maintain that the Indian state, police and judiciary can never deliver justice to minorities will find one more reason to tell moderates ‘we told you so’. The kind of historical memory and narrative that drive extremist ideology will get one more story. The tale of a mosque being demolished, bloodbaths across the country, justice delayed, and now apparently, denied. The older generation which has a collective memory of the Ayodhya movement will be more sad than angry. As the Sangh parivar begins to project its “generous gestures”, Muslims will be further humiliated.

In the prelude to his order, Justice S.U. Khan writes: “Here is a small piece of land (1,500 sq yards) where angels fear to tread. It is full of innumerable land mines. We are required to clear it. Some very sane elements advised us not to attempt that. We do not propose to rush in like fools lest we are blown. However we have to take risk. It is said the greatest risk in life is not daring to take risk when occasion for the same arises. Once angels were made to bow before man. Sometimes he has to justify the said honour. This is one of those occasions. We have succeeded or failed? No one can be a judge in his own case.” The three good men have therefore left it to Lord Ram.

(Source: Outlook, October 11, 2010)

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