The landmark Supreme Court verdict in the Ayodhya dispute marks a watershed for our country. In a unanimous verdict, a five-judge bench of the Court ruled that the disputed land belonged to Ram Lalla. The 2.77 acre piece of disputed land will see the construction of a Ram temple, while a piece of 5 acre land will be allotted elsewhere in Ayodhya for the construction of a mosque. The verdict caps 27 years of festering dispute ever since the Babri Masjid was brought down on December 6, 1992.
Prior to that, the entire legal dispute is at least a century and a half old, dating back to 1856, while the psychological and religious claim of the Hindus has been there since centuries, persisting unabated even after the Babri Masjid was constructed over the Ram temple in 1528, with the Hindus continuing to offer worship despite all obstructions.
A Brief History of the Dispute
The Supreme Court, in its verdict, has treated the entire dispute as a property dispute between three parties – Ram Lalla Virajman (who has been represented by various Hindu litigants during the last few decades), Nirmohi Akhara and UP Sunni Waqf Board – basing its judgement on evidence and records available rather than on questions of faith. Towards the end of the judgement, there was an addendum which elaborated on the faith of the Hindus and of the significance of Lord Rama in not just Hindu, but the entire Indian history and culture, including references to Him in Islamic literature as Imam-e-hind. This was, however, an unsigned addendum and was not factored into the judgement.
The legal dispute began when, in 1858, an FIR was filed against a group of Nihang Sikhs, who had written ‘Ram’ everywhere on the walls inside the Babri mosque and also performed havan and puja there. They also installed a chabutra there. This was the first testified, recorded legal evidence that the Hindus had staked claim to the temple.
Prior to that, records of Hindu worship at the site and of the significance of the Janmabhoomi for Hindus are available through gazetteer’s records and travelogues which – while providing ample corroborating evidence of links between Rama and Ayodhya – have not been taken into account in the civil legal dispute.
After the tensions in 1858, the British administration decided to divide the mosque site into inner and outer courtyards, with the inner courtyard housing the mosque and the outer courtyard being the site where the Hindus were allowed to worship. In 1885, a Mahant filed a court case asking for a temple to be built in the mosque’s outer courtyard. This was dismissed.
The next turning point came in 1934, when communal riots took place between the Hindus and the Muslims in Ayodhya and a part of the mosque was damaged and later, rebuilt by the Britishers. After that, the issue was revived once again soon after Independence in 1949. On the night of 22nd December 1949, idols of Lord Rama and Sita devi appeared mysteriously inside the inner dome of the masjid. Prior to this, non-stop Ram Charit Manas was being recited by the Hindus in the locality near the site for nine days.
The incident of 22nd December 1949 was investigated and the masjid was locked and blocked from all worship, but the shrines were not removed. This was a significant step in solidifying the Hindu claim to the property and blocking the Muslim claim.
Between 1949 and 1989, a series of lawsuits were filed in courts by Hindus to be allowed to worship at the site. Claims began to be staked by Muslims from 1961 onwards to remove the shrines. The claims by the Hindus were always on a stronger footing since 1950, when restricted worship was allowed at the site, and, in 1986, the locks were broken and unrestricted worship was permitted.
Legal developments from 1949:
1950: Gopal Singh Visharad of Hindu Mahasabha files a suit for the right to pray and conduct pooja in the inner courtyard. This was allowed by a civil court. Since then, restricted worship has been permitted at the site.
Paramahans Ramchandra Das filed a similar suit.
1959: Nirmohi Akhara filed a suit to takeover the management of the site from the receiver appointed by the state government after the December 1949 events.
1961 · Sunni Central Waqf Board filed a case for removal of idols and a handing over of the mosque to the Muslims.
1986 · An appeal was filed with Faizabad district court seeking for the opening of locks and darshan of the idols found inside the disputed structure. This was a turning point in the Ayodhya dispute.
1989 · Suit filed on behalf of Ram Lalla Virajman (deemed to be a legal minor) so that the site can be handed over for the construction of a Ram temple.
1991 · Places of Worship Act, 1991 promulgated – it states that existing religious structures as of 15 August 1947 cannot be altered. But the Ayodhya site does not come within its ambit, since there was already a legal dispute around it.
1992 · Babri mosque was razed and a temporary, makeshift temple was erected near the site.
1993 · Allahabad High Court held, in response to a petition, that every Hindu has the right to worship at the place believed to be the birthplace of Lord Ram.
Centre acquires 67 acre area within and around the disputed site and also sends a reference to the Supreme Court to determine whether there was a temple prior to the construction of the Babri masjid.
2002- · Allahabad High Court starts hearing the case in 2002
2010 and delivers the judgement in 2010, dividing the land between the three disputing parties.
In 2003, Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) had carried out excavations at the site. According to ASI there is a massive non-Islamic structure, dating to 12th c, below the mosque and items of Hindu pilgrimage.
2011- · In 2011, the case is admitted in the Supreme Court.
2019 In 2019, the Supreme Court rules that the disputed area belongs to Ram Lalla Virajman for the construction of a Ram temple, while a mosque will be constructed elsewhere in Ayodhya.
As the brief timeline of the above events shows, the year 1986 turned the legal case decisively in favour of the Hindus. Unrestricted worship was allowed and the locks of the mosque were broken.
It was also due to the political movement that had begun to grow in strength since the 1980s. The emergence of the Ramjanmabhoomi movement, during the 1980s, as a national issue had mobilized the Hindu psyche in an unimaginable way. The Ramjanmabhoomi movement was the first large-scale mass movement of national consolidation in Independent India, in a society which was beginning to decay under the corrupt and degenerate burden of divisive ideological forces of Naxalism, caste divisions, Left politics and socialist-secular culture.
It was co-terminus with the rise of the BJP as a political party in the Hindi heartland. Throughout the 1980s, the mobilization around the Ayodhya issue occurred on a massive scale, forcing even the ruling Congress of the time to defer to the sentiments of the majority community, with Rajiv Gandhi being instrumental in allowing the opening of the locks of the Babri Masjid.
Simultaneously, archaeological and historical debates, during the 1970s and 80s, had also started lending credence to the fact that the masjid was constructed by a foreign invader over a temple. During 1976-77, BB Lal and his team had carried out excavations at Ayodhya at the disputed site, as part of a project called ‘Archeology of Ramayana Sites’, which not only revealed that there was a settlement at the site dating to 7th century BC, but also the presence of a temple at the disputed site underneath the mosque, whose pillars had been used to provide support to the mosque. This framework of BB Lal was used as the basis of the 2003 ASI report as well.
Occurring at a time when the Leftist historians were ruling the research and policy circles in India and sitting in all the prime positions of power, systematic efforts were made by these politically-motivated historians to discredit the archeological findings. One such effort was the ‘Historians Report of 1991’ which attempted to baselessly disregard all scientific evidence at Ayodhya. Significantly, in the final 2019 judgement, the Supreme Court dismissed the Historians’ Report as mere ‘opinion’ while upholding the ASI findings as ‘scientific’.
In the present judgement, the Court also held that, “the mosque in dispute was constructed up on the foundation of the pre-existing structure. The construction of the mosque has taken place in such a manner as to obviate an independent foundation by utilizing the walls of the pre-existing structure…” (The Sunday Express, 2019). The Court had also upheld that this pre-existing structure dated back to 12th century B.C. and was of Hindu religious nature. However, the Court left open the question of whether the mosque was constructed by demolishing the temple.
Besides the work of the ASI, some historians like Meenakshi Jain have also dealt with the question of historicity of Ramayana extensively, corroborating her findings with a vast array of literary, epigraphic and archeological evidence. In an interview, she recently said that, “In the 12th century, three important temples were built in honour of Ram and each had an inscription that we are creating this temple in honour of Ram. Two of those are still there, in Madhya Pradesh, and the third was the temple in Ayodhya at the disputed structure from which the inscription fell from the walls of the Masjid in 1992.” (Pandita, 2019).
But what is interesting is that the masjid party, which had so many so-called eminent Leftist historians of the country supporting their case for the last 30 years, has not been able to submit a single piece of evidence to show that anything Islamic existed below the Babri masjid, since the ASI excavations of 2003 were carried out under strict supervision of third parties. Indeed, the main modus operandi of the masjid parties have been to simply decimate or attempt to discredit, with baseless allegations and opinions, the vast amount of evidence and records submitted by the mandir parties. Not just foreigner travelogues, but also medieval records dating to Akbar’s correspondences with Ayodhya priests, literary evidence, ASI reports etc. all provide ample evidence for the clear existence of a mandir below the masjid.
In the light of the legal developments since 1950, the archeological work since 1970s, historical evidence from time-to-time, and the political-cultural mass mobilization undertaken by the BJP to rouse the Indian public during the 1980s, the strength of the Hindu case was already on a strong footing.
Through these ASI findings and various other evidence submitted by the Hindus to the Supreme Court, the Court was able to arrive at a legal reasoning based on a balance of probabilities.
The Legal Reasoning in the Present Case
Considering that the Muslim parties had little by the way of evidence on their side, their main argument was that they were entitled to the disputed property by the way of ‘adverse possession’. Now, the theory of adverse possession implies that a party which has taken control of a property and has been utilizing that property for an unimpeded length of time, becomes the de facto settler on that property and should not be displaced. It is also called ‘squatters rights’.
The Muslims stated that they were entitled to the disputed structure through ‘adverse possession’, by the virtue of their “long, exclusive and continuous possession” from the time the mosque was built to the time it was desecrated (Sheriff, 2019).
This also turned out to be a very weak footing on which to base the masjid case. It was clear from all available colonial era and prior historical records that the Muslims were never in unimpeded possession of the disputed property. Their claims to the masjid were always contested by the Hindus. Legal evidence and FIRs lodged since 1858 show that. Moreover, as the Court has noted, prior to 1857, there is proof of Hindus offering worship at the site, whereas the evidence of Muslims offering namaz at the site was available only after 1857. Therefore, the Muslim claims that they were in adverse possession were demolished.
According to the Court, “The concept of adverse possession contemplates a hostile possession i.e., a possession which is expressly or impliedly in denial of the title of the true owner. Possession to be adverse must be possession by a person, who does not acknowledge others’ rights but denies them…To prove title to the land by adverse possession it is not sufficient to show that some acts of possession have been done…In other words, the possession must be actual, visible, exclusive, hostile and continued during the time necessary to create a bar under the statute of limitation…Dr Dhavan (counsel for the Muslim parties) repeatedly asserted that Muslims were obstructed in their offering worship at the mosque as a result of the illegalities of the Hindus. Dr Dhavan refers to the incidents which took place in 1856-7, 1934 and 1949…The events which are associated with each of the above incidents constitute indicators in the ultimate finding that in spite of the existence of the structure of the mosque, possession as asserted by the Muslims cannot be regarded as meeting the threshold required for discharging the burden of a case of adverse possession” (Sheriff, 2019).
On the other hand, the Hindus were always in clear, exclusive and unimpeded legal possession of the outer courtyard, and have always laid their claim to the inner courtyard as well and offered worship there, braving all communal obstacles and confrontations. Legally, this made the Hindu claim to the title stronger.
Some Leftist legal commentators have suggested that the Court was inconsistent in applying the strict standards of exclusive possession to the Muslim party, but not to the Hindus. These are baseless conjectural arguments and they fail to grasp the simple point that the Hindus never claimed adverse possession, to begin with. They claimed the entire unit – inner and outer courtyard – in a single uniform piece of property.
The Supreme Court had accepted this and done away with the artificial barrier between inner and outer courtyard constructed by the British purely for the sake of law and order. The British jurisprudence of the time never even went into the mandir-masjid questions or questions of justice. Like the Allahabad High Court injunction of 2010, the British too divided the property into two halves between Hindus and Muslims just to maintain order and peace of mind – a solution, based on partition of property, which made no sense given the religious sensitivities in the dispute.
As the British Judicial Commissioner W Young had stated in 1886 about the birthplace of Lord Rama, “his spot is situated within the precinct of the grounds surrounding a mosque erected some 350 years ago owing to the bigotry and tyranny of the emperor who purposely chose this holy spot, according to Hindu legend, as the site of his mosque. …The Executive Authorities have persistently refused these encroachments and absolutely forbid any alteration of the status quo………I think this is a very wise and proper procedure on their part and I am further of the opinion that the Civil Courts have properly dismissed the plaintiffs claim” (Malik, 2019).
Despite the practical injunction to maintain status quo, even the colonial era view shows something significant and obvious viz. that the mosque was constructed due to the ‘bigotry and tyranny of the emperor who purposely chose this holy spot.’
During the British time, the reason stated for not allowing the mandir to be constructed in the outer courtyard was purely law and order and nothing else – it had no debate about who rightfully owned the property, and, neither was it given on the basis of the fact that the mosque was built by a foreign invader on a centuries old temple.
Despite the fact that justice has been dispensed 491 years after the mosque was constructed on one of the most sacred Hindu sites, we have seen how a series of political and cultural events and legal developments since the colonial era have worked to solidify a strong Hindu claim to the disputed property.
The Significance of Lord Rama for India
In this entire judgement – though treated on the basis of pure evidence and legal arguments as a property dispute – it is significant that the point which most bolsters the Hindu claims to site is that they persisted in their strong faith and in offering worship at a disputed mosque site, despite all kinds of obstructions and the communal violence that has taken place for decades.
Today, the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) has expressed unhappiness with the verdict and filed a review petition, while intellectuals and Muslim activists have alleged that the implication of the Court rejecting the Muslim claim to adverse possession – on the ground that their adverse possession was not hostile or exclusive – is that Muslims were wrong in having ‘allowed’ Hindus to offer worship at the site. Nothing could be more preposterous. Hindus, as accepted as evidence by the Court, have been offering worship much before 1857. They did not stop attempting to breach the inner courtyard also, despite Muslim objections and a hostile British government which had given the inner courtyard to Muslims. Communal riots took place at the site, clashes occurred since the British period, the Britishers came and went and even ‘secular’ governments came and went, even locking up the site. But through all of this, the Hindus continued their worship.
Indeed, the singular point here is that Hindus have continued their efforts to worship at this sacred birthplace of Lord Rama despite all obstacles placed in their way by the Muslim community and by various adverse governments. The Hindus were not worshipping at the site because the Muslims ‘allowed’ them to, but in spite of the latter. This should have been the most obvious point that should have emerged out of the entire conflict-ridden story of Ayodhya dispute. Yet, for various intellectuals and for Muslims to peddle this lie and for the public to accept it, would be most preposterous.
It was the faith of Hindus and their fight for the janmasthaan that has culminated in the current verdict. Time was also ripe. A major reason for delay was the political obstacles thrown in by successive governments over the last 27 years, for the fear of losing minority vote-banks. Indeed, not many devotees would have expected the verdict to come in their lifetime.
The deeper significance of this development is the awakening and resurgence of India in the light of the Aryan spirit that seemed to have been deserting us – a bolstering of our national character and national strength through a stronger assertion of India’s civilizational faith and principles.
The influence of Ramayana in our civilization has been a living reality for centuries. According to Sri Aurobindo, “The work of Valmiki has been an agent of almost incalculable power in the moulding of the cultural mind of India: it has presented to it to be loved and imitated in figures like Rama and Sita, made so divinely and with such a revelation of reality as to become objects of enduring cult and worship, or like Hanuman, Lakshmana, Bharata the living human image of its ethical ideals; it has fashioned much of what is best and sweetest in the national character, and it has evoked and fixed in it those finer and exquisite yet firm soul-tones and that more delicate humanity of temperament which are a more valuable thing than the formal outsides of virtue and conduct.” (SABCL 14, 1972, p. 290).
Malik, O. (2019, November 9). Firstpost. Retrieved from https://www.firstpost.com/politics/what-is-ayodhya-case-from-babar-era-to-numerous-court-orders-how-fait-accompli-always-dictated-fate-of-disputed-site-7598031.html
Pandita, R. (2019, November 15). Open. Retrieved from https://openthemagazine.com/cover-stories/left-historians-misled-indian-muslims-on-ayodhya/
SABCL 14. (1972). The Foundations of Indian Culture. Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram.
Sheriff, K. (2019, November 10). New Delhi: The Indian Express.
The Sunday Express. (2019, November 10). New Delhi: The Indian Express.