Separating fact from fiction

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Separating fact from fiction

There seems to be a conscious attempt to muddle up the Ayodhya case by embroiling it in extraneous occurrences which have no bearing with the actual dispute

On December 5, 2017, a three-judge Bench of the Supreme Court of India, while hearing the first appeal of the Babri land dispute, was met with a rather unconventional request by advocates of the Sunni Waqf board and Babri Masjid Action Committee, who were seeking adjournment of the case till 2019, until the next General Election is over, because they felt the verdict would have political ramifications. Even though the Court didn't grant the request, the matter was adjourned till February 8.

This rather strange request is not the only peculiarity with this dispute which has been a victim of politics for more than 150 years now, even as the Supreme Court is likely to start hearing the appeal in February. To put the uniqueness of this situation in context, it should be pointed out that the original suits that were withdrawn to a three-judge bench of the Allahabad High Court, would under normal circumstances, be heard by a single munsif magistrate and the appeal would go before a district judge. Various external reasons have made sure that the underlying property dispute has not been decided till date, starting from the first recorded suit of 1885 over the property, which merely ended in status quo because the court felt that any other order might lead to riots; to the Suit of 1950, which along with three other suits were withdrawn to the High Court and heard by a full Bench till in 1993, the Ayodhya Act was passed by which the disputed land was acquired by the Central Government and all pending suits were put in abeyance.

The Supreme Court in Dr M Ismail Faruqui vs Union of India in 1994, struck down the portions of the Act which abetted proceedings and consequently the pending suits were revived. Even now, there seems to be a conscious attempt to muddle up the case by embroiling it with extraneous occurrences which have no bearing with the actual dispute before the Court. And this is not just by the parties involved but also various reporting agencies and even articles in academic journals, that are purposely misreporting the nature of these proceedings and unjustly dragging in the events of 1992 demolition and the ensuing violence to spread panic and hatred amongst the population.

Hence, it is necessary to clarify what it is that was the subject matter before the courts and what the court is not in a position to go into. The trigger to the present round of litigation came in 1949, when some persons allegedly entered inside the structure and installed an idol of Lord Ram inside the structure. The first recorded litigation over the disputed land came in 1885 in the form of a suit titled, 'Mahant Raghubar Das v Secretary of State for India', which claimed that the open lands adjacent to the structure of the masjid were in the possession of Hindus who were using it for worship and sought permission to build a temple over an elevated chabutra which had been demarcated by a wall. The trial court dismissed this suit for reasons including avoiding a possible riot in the area. The first major development took place on 23.12.1949 when a group of around 5,000 people barged into the disputed structure and installed an idol inside. On 29.12.1949 the Additional City Magistrate of Ayodhya took custody of the disputed structure under section 145 of the CrPC to keep a check of persons from both communities from indulging in any violence. The Government maintains custody of the site till date.

With this factual matrix in mind we should briefly look into the nature of the proceedings before Allahabad High Court. The High Court was basically sitting as a trial court to decide four regular suits of 1. 1950, 2. 1959, 3. 1961, 4. 1989 which were renumbered as Original Suit No. 1, 3, 4 and 5 of 1989 respectively. The suits were of the following nature:

  •  The first suit was filed by Gopal Singh Virsharad who sought injunction against the state machinery from interfering in his right to continue praying at the disputed site.
  •  The second suit was filed by the Nirmohi Akhara challenging the attachment of the disputed property by the administration and claiming that apart from everything else since 1943 no Muslim had entered the disputed cite.
  •  The third suit filed by the Central Sunni Waqf Board in 1961 was the first to claim the disputed site was in fact a mosque and that the order of attachment of 1949 was bad in law.
  •  The fourth suit in question was filed in 1989 on behalf of the deity (Shri Ram Lalla Virajman) by persons interested in protecting his interests.

After careful deliberation of the material on record and the statement of witnesses along with the report of the ASI the Court came to the decision by a majority of 2:1 that both Hindus and Muslims were in joint possession of the property and directed for a three-way split of the land between Hindus, Muslims and the Nirmohi Akhara. The Court also observed that it was believed by people that the disputed site is the birthplace of Lord Ram. One of the three judges who gave a dissenting opinion however held that it was proved that the disputed site was in fact the birthplace of Lord Ram and was please to grant the entire disputed premises to the Hindu parties.

The incident of 1992 or the violence that ensued were not subject matters of the suits before the High Court, but the factual changes on the disputed premises were brought on record by all parties by way of amendments. Considering the limited and civil nature of the proceedings before the apex court, the attempts to drag in the violence post-1992 is both unfounded and unwarranted, and a diversionary tactic at best to delay the proceedings before the Court. It can only be hoped that come February, the Supreme Court will not give any heed to the same and decide the matter one way or the other and put to rest one of the most contested disputes in the history of India.

(Kartikeya Bahadur is currently practicing at Allahabad High Court; Raghav Pandey is a Research Fellow with the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, IIT Mumbai)

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