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[Burning Issue] The Ram Janmabhoomi Verdict


Context

In a unanimous judgment, a bench headed by CJI Ranjan Gogoi asked the Centre to formulate a scheme within three months and set up a trust to manage the property and construct a temple.

Centre had acquired the entire 67.73 acres of land including the 2.77 acre of the disputed Ramjanmabhumi-Babri Masjid premises in 1993.

Background

 

  • The Ayodhya dispute was a political, historical, and socio-religious debate in India, centered on a plot of land in the city of Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh.
  • The issues revolve around the control of a site traditionally regarded among Hindus to be the birthplace of their deity Rama, the history and location of the Babri Masjid at the site, and whether a previous Hindu temple was demolished or modified to create a mosque.
  • The mosque there, the Babri Masjid, was demolished during a political rally which turned into a riot on 6 December 1992.
  • The first recorded instances of religious violence in Ayodhya occurred in the 1850s over a nearby mosque at Hanuman Garhi. The Babri mosque was attacked in the process.
  • Since then, local groups made occasional demands that they should have the possession of the site and that they should be allowed to build a temple on the site, all of which were denied by the colonial government.

The Mosque over temple

 

  • Babur was the first Mughal emperor of India and the founder of the Mughal empire.
  • It is believed that one of his generals, Mir Baqi, built the Babri Masjid (“Babur’s Mosque”) in 1528 on his orders.
  • The belief came into currency since 1813–14, when the East India Company’s surveyor Francis Buchanan reported that he found an inscription on the mosque walls which attested to this fact.
  • He also recorded the local tradition, which believed that emperor Aurangzeb (r. 1658–1707) built the mosque after demolishing a temple dedicated to Rama.

Testimony of excavations

  • In its judgment, the Supreme Court referred to an Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) report to observe that the Babri Masjid, which stood on the disputed site until its demolition in 1992.
  • It reported that Mosque was not built on vacant land and there was evidence of a temple-like structure having existed on the land before the mosque was built.
  • Considering the ASI report valid, the Supreme Court said what was found in the excavation “was not an Islamic structure”.

Judicial intervention

 

Allahabad High Court Judgment of 2011

A suit was filed by the Sunni Wakf Board for declaration and possession of the site. The Allahabad high court bench began hearing the case in 2002, which was completed in 2010.

After the Supreme Court dismissed a plea to defer the High Court verdict on 30 September 2010, the High Court of Allahabad, the three-member bench ruled that the disputed land be split into three parts.

The judgment which was pronounced with majority decision of 2:1 held that the 2.77 acres land located in Ayodhya will be divided into a three-way division — one-third for the Sunni Waqf Board, one-third for the Nirmohi Akhara and one-third to the party for ‘Ram Lalla’ or infant Ram represented by the Hindu Maha Sabha.

 

The Final Verdict

  • The Hindus would get the entire disputed 2.77 acres in Ayodhya where the demolished Babri Masjid once stood.
  • Possession of disputed 2.77-acre land will remain with the Central government receiver.
  • The Muslims will get alternate five acres of land either in the surplus 67 acres acquired in and around the disputed structure by the central government or any other “prominent” place.
  • A trust will be formed in 3 months to build a temple on the disputed land. The court held that the Nirmohi Akhara is not the shebait or devotee of the deity Ram Lalla but will get to be a member of the Trust.

What the verdict relied upon?

  • In the backdrop of the said dispute then P.V. Narasimha Rao government enacted, in September 1991, a special law to freeze the status of places of worship as they were on August 15, 1947.
  • The law kept the disputed structure at Ayodhya out of its purview, mainly because it was the subject of prolonged litigation.
  • It was also aimed at providing scope for a possible negotiated settlement.

Places of Worship Act, 1994

  • The Act declares that the religious character of a place of worship shall continue to be the same as it was on August 15, 1947.
  • It says no person shall convert any place of worship of any religious denomination into one of a different denomination or section.
  • It declares that all suits, appeals or any other proceedings regarding converting the character of a place of worship, which are pending before any court or authority on August 15, 1947, will abate as soon as the law comes into force.
  • However, there is an exception to the bar on instituting fresh proceedings with regard to suits that related to the conversion of status that happened after August 15, 1947.
  • This saves legal proceedings, suits, and appeals regarding the chance of status that took place after the cut-off date.
  • These provisions will not apply to ancient and historical monuments and archaeological sites and remains that are covered by the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958.

How did SC use the act?

  • In its verdict, the Supreme Court commended the enactment as one that preserved the constitutional value of secularism by not permitting the status of a place of worship to be changed.
  • The state has, by enacting the law, enforced a constitutional commitment and operationalized its constitutional obligations to uphold the equality of all religions and secularism, which is a part of the basic features of the Constitution.
  • It said the Places of Worship Act imposes a non-derogable obligation towards enforcing our commitment to secularism.
  • The court observed that non-retrogression is a foundational feature of the fundamental constitutional principles, of which secularism is a core component.

Article 142 invoked by SC

Article 142(1) states that “The Supreme Court in the exercise of its jurisdiction may pass such decree or make such order as is necessary for doing complete justice in any cause or matter pending before it, and any decree so passed or order so made shall be enforceable throughout the territory of India in such manner as may be prescribed by or under any law made by Parliament and, until provision in that behalf is so made, in such manner as the President may by order prescribe”.

  • The Supreme Court, implicitly referring to the demolition of the Babri Masjid at the disputed site, said that it was invoking Article 142 “to ensure that a wrong committed must be remedied”.
  • This was the first time that the court invoked this power in a case involving a civil dispute over an immovable property, involving private parties.

 

Significance of the verdict

 

Communal politics comes to an end

  • Ayodhya in the past was the center stage for communal politics and a tool for polarization before elections.
  • The high-pitched events not only disrupted daily life and business, but also endangered communal harmony in the region.
  • By settling the dispute between communities by the intervention of the Supreme court and other democratic institutions supporting this landmark judgment, a new era of Economic progress in the region is expected.
  • This, in turn, will lead to the exploration of tourism and synergy to business development at the priority of the Govt and all the stakeholders in the region.

Victory of harmony over hate

  • The date on which the verdict had been delivered, November 9, was particularly significant as it was on that day that the Berlin Wall, dividing East and West Germany, had been brought down and people on opposite sides reconciled PM Modi said.
  • India also saw the opening of the Kartarpur Sahib Corridor. Ayodhya verdict on this day, therefore, is telling us that the message from the date is to be united in harmony and amity.

Law stands apart over political considerations, religion and beliefs

  • The judges declared that the demolition of the 16th century Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992, was “an egregious violation of the rule of law” and “a calculated act of destroying a place of public worship”.
  • The Muslims have been wrongly deprived of a mosque which had been constructed well over 450 years ago, the Bench said.
  • The Court referred to the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act of 1991, which prohibits the conversion of the status any place of worship, to say that all religions are equal.
  • After giving the disputed land to Hindus and a separate five acres for construction of a mosque in Ayodhya, the SC shut the door for fresh litigation to alter the status quo of sites such as those in Kashi and Mathura, which have also seen discord over worship.
  • “The Constitution does not make a distinction between the faith and belief of one religion and another. All forms of belief, worship, and prayer are equal,”
  • The Bench said the Act “speaks to the future by mandating that the character of a place of public worship shall not be altered”.
  • “Places of Worship Act is an affirmation of the solemn duty which was cast upon the State to preserve and protect the equality of all faiths as an essential constitutional value, a norm which has the status of being a basic feature of the Constitution,” the Supreme Court addressed the government.
  • In the times to come and given India’s demographic and cultural complexity, the judgment may prove to be an invaluable legal treatise that upholds “justness” and delivers impartial treatment to a vexed and emotional case.

Latent implications of the ruling

 

Ruling is regarded as majoritarian coercion

  • The Supreme Court has averted an immediate crisis, insofar as there has been neither outbreak of violence, nor any reports of bloodshed in the aftermath of the Ayodhya verdict.
  • The point is that majoritarian coercion over time has deepened and legitimized a process where institutional remedies for highly charged communal disputes are sought.
  • What mattered ultimately was comfort, peace and tranquility and the judgment — by its so-called ‘balancing act’, it is argued — holds immense promise.
  • But perhaps the greater crisis that the Court has involuntarily invited is that of minorities losing their faith in the institution of the judiciary.
  • In an environment where the legislature and the executive are turning majoritarianism as accused by some parliamentarians, they are left with no choice but to repose their faith in the courts.

Worrisome silence

  • The response from Muslim denominational organizations is guarded. It ranges from immediate acceptance to muted disagreement to appeals to “move on”.
  • There are various social media postings that have appealed to the Sunni Waqf Board to decline the compensatory gift of five acres of land.
  • Nevertheless, a state of shock and incredulity runs deep; the silence and stillness is far more worrisome.
  • The demolition of the mosque in 1992 had indeed left its impact on generations to come, as the Nellie (1983), Gujarat (2002) and Bhagalpur (1989) riots did.

Conclusion

  • The issue inherently has a religious angle, and to appease these sentiments there is a larger need to address the issue of communalism.
  • The verdict attempts to bring an end the festering one-and-a-half centuries-old legal battle over the title to the disputed structure.
  • The judgment did result in a victory for the majority and coincidentally for the mob that demolished the Babri but a reading of the judgment clearly shows disapproval and disavowal of the mob.
  • The legal victory is indeed based upon secular principles and pluralist ethos. This can be projected as the victory of secularism too.


Let’s have a look at the chronology of the Ayodhya dispute

 

1528:

First Mughal Emperor Babar is believed to have constructed Babri Masjid

1885:

Mahant Raghbir Das moves Faizabad court seeking permission to construct a temple in the vicinity of the Babri Masjid. The plea is declined.

December 22-23, 1949:

Idols of Lord Ram is mysteriously found inside the mosque

1950:

Gopal Visharad and Ramachandra Das moves Faizabad court for permission to worship the idols

1959:

Nirmohi Akhara files plea seeking possession of the disputed land.

1961:

Central Sunni Waqf Board, U.P., moves court for declaration of title of the disputed land and removal of the idols inside the mosque.

February 1986:

Faizabad court allows Hindus to worship the idols.

August 1989:

Allahabad High Court takes over the title dispute. Orders status quo.

November 1989:

The Rajiv Gandhi government allows Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) to perform puja near the disputed site.

September 1990:

BJP leader L.K. Advani begins rath yatra

December 1992:

Kar sevaks demolish Babri Masjid. Justice Liberhan Commission appointed to probe.

1993:

P.V. Narasimha Rao government acquires 67 acres of land adjoining the disputed site. The Supreme Court upholds the acquisition in its Dr. Ismail Faruqui judgment.

April 2002:

Allahabad High Court commences hearing the title suits.

March 2003:

SC bans religious activity in the acquired lands in Mohd. Aslam @Bhurre case.

2009:

Liberhan Committee submits inquiry report.

September 30, 2010:

High Court delivers a majority judgment for three-way partition of the disputed property among Hindus, Muslims and Nirmohi Akhara.

May 2011:

SC stays the high court judgment on cross-appeals filed by the parties.

August 2017:

A three-judge Bench of the Supreme Court led by Justice Dipak Misra begins hearing the appeals. The main title issue is side-tracked. Muslim parties seek a reference of a contentious observation made in the Faruqui judgment that worshipping in mosques are not integral to Islam to a Constitution Bench. A majority judgment is pronounced declining the prayer.

January 2019:

A Constitution Bench of five judges led by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi resumes hearing the title appeals but suggests mediation first.

August 6, 2019:

Mediation committee led by former Supreme Court judge, Justice F.M.I. Kalifulla fails to draw a consensus and court hearing commences.

October 16, 2019:

After 40 days of hearings, the Constitution Bench reserves judgment

November 9, 2019:

Constitution Bench clears the way for constructing Ram Temple at the disputed site. It orders the government to provide five-acre land to Muslims at a prominent place in Ayodhya.

 

 



References:

https://thewire.in/law/ayodhya-dispute-public-justice

https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/a-chronology-of-the-ayodhya-dispute/article29929198.ece

https://www.bloombergquint.com/opinion/ayodhya-verdict-beliefs-do-matter

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-50065277

https://www.thehindubusinessline.com/opinion/some-questions-on-ayodhya-verdict/article29985922.ece

https://www.indiatoday.in/india-today-insight/story/why-critics-of-majoritarianism-on-the-ayodhya-verdict-are-wrong-1617787-2019-11-11

https://thewire.in/communalism/ayodhya-verdict-babri-masjid-ram-temple-dn-jha

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Aradhana Ravindra
Aradhana Ravindra
1 year ago

What is the golden line in Ram janmabhoomi dispute?