Beyond Mandir And Masjid
The Allahabad high court judgement may not bring closure to the Ayodhya dispute. The Sunni Waqf Board has indicated that it intends to move the Supreme Court on the judgement, which says that the land where the Babri masjid stood must be divided between Hindu and Muslim groups. The court has ordered that there must be a status quo at the site for the next three months. All must respect the verdict and due process must be followed in seeking redress. It's welcome that political parties and religious groups have stressed the need to maintain peace and have appealed to cadres not to take to the streets.
The court appears to have used non-legal categories like faith to come to conclusions about Ram's exact birthplace. The reasoning and evidence used by the court is hidden in the 8,000 pages that constitute the three-bench judgement. But we hope the judges have based their conclusions on sound legal principles. In any case, the court judgement can be a first rather than a final step in resolving the dispute. If any party feels aggrieved, it has the right to go up to the Supreme Court. Both sides could come to a mutually satisfactory out-of-court settlement as well.
It must also be kept in mind that the HC ruling doesn't condone the act of demolition of the Babri masjid carried out by the sangh parivar on December 6, 1992. The demolition wreaked havoc on the country's multi-religious fabric. It divided communities and set us back by many years. The wounds are healing, slowly. Any act that threatens to reopen old wounds must be avoided. A new resurgent India has emerged from the debris of the violent 1990s. A new generation has come of age since then and it doesn't want to be tied down by ancient hatreds. Simply put, a mandir at what is believed by some Hindus to be Ram's birthplace is not an existential issue for this country, especially its youth.
Political parties must recognise the shift in ground, which is best evident in the twin cities of Faizabad and Ayodhya. The local people, especially the youth, insist that their concern is not a mandir or a masjid at the disputed site but facilities that'll enable them to improve their material conditions. People have had enough of pitting Ram against Rahim. We need to move on and the onus is on the state, political parties and community elders to ensure that the issue is not kept simmering for too long.
Intriguing compromise could work
The majority verdict of the Allahabad High Court on the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute is a compromise calculated to hold the religious peace rather than an exercise of profound legal reflection. This search for a compromise informs the orders of Justice S.U. Khan and Justice Subir Agarwal even if they would seem to stretch the law and, at times, logic as well. The third judge, Justice D.V. Sharma, decided that the disputed structure could not be regarded as a mosque and ruled in favour of the Hindu plaintiffs. The effect of the majority judgments is that the disputed land of 2.77 acres is to be divided equally among the two Hindu plaintiffs, the Nirmohi Akhara and Bhagwan Sri Rama Virajman, the deity regarded as a jurisdic person that can own property, and the Sunni Central Board of Waqfs U.P. The portion of the inner courtyard where the central dome of the Babri Masjid stood before its demolition and where the makeshift temple now exists is to be given to the Hindu plaintiffs. The rest of the area where the Babri Masjid stood, including part of the inner courtyard and some part of the outer courtyard, is to be allotted to the Waqf Board. The Nirmohi Akhara is to be allotted the buildings that stood in the outer courtyard of the premises, including Ram Chabutra and the Sita Rasoi, while it is to share the unbuilt area of the outer courtyard with Bhagwan Sri Rama Virajman. To facilitate such a three-way division, and also to provide access, some part of the land acquired by the Central government around the disputed land could be used.
In arriving at his decision on the three-way division, Justice Khan has concluded that the disputed structure was a mosque constructed by or under orders of Emperor Babar and that it was built not after demolishing any temple but on an area where some temples were already in ruins. He notes that before the mosque was constructed, the Hindus believed that somewhere in the large area of land where the Babri Masjid came to stand later was the spot of birth of Lord Ram. After the mosque was constructed, they came to believe that the place where the mosque stood contained the birth spot, and much later in the decades before 1949 they came to identify that spot as the one under the central dome. He also holds that much before 1855, the adjoining Ram Chabutra and the Sita Rasoi existed and Hindus were worshipping there. According to his finding, the idol of Lord Ram was placed for the first time under the central dome of the Babri Masjid in the early hours of December 23, 1949. In view of the side-by-side worship and joint possession of the disputed site, he would declare both parties as joint title holders. However, that part of the land under the central dome of the Babri Masjid where the idols were placed and the makeshift temple now stands after demolition would be allotted to the Hindus.
However, Justice Agarwal who also favoured the division of the land differed from Justice Khan on some critical issues. He does not find evidence of Babar having built the mosque or any material to support the exact date when it was built, though he finds it was in existence before 1776. He finds also that the idol had been placed under the central dome on December 23, 1949 but wants that spot to be allotted to the Hindus. The Sunni Central Board of Waqfs is to get no less than one-third of the total area in dispute, including the rest of the area on which the mosque stood and some part of the outer courtyard. Justice Sharma finds that the idol was placed under the central dome on December 23, 1949 but in his other findings and conclusions he differs radically from his fellow judges on the Bench. He has ruled that as the disputed structure was built against Islamic tenets, it could not be regarded as a mosque.
At one level, from the standpoint of political morality, the verdict could be viewed as partially rewarding those who placed the idol overnight under the central dome of the mosque and those who in 1992 razed it to the ground. Nevertheless, the confusing mass of findings the reasons for which are not entirely clear and the compromise nature of the verdict along with the substantive outcome of dividing the disputed land have restrained any party from claiming outright victory or sulking in total defeat. The Sunni Waqf Board and the Sri Ramjanmabhoomi Trust have indicated that they would appeal against the verdict to the Supreme Court.
All sections of political opinion had issued appeals for calm and restraint on the eve of the verdict but apprehensions of disturbances remained, and a last minute effort was made to halt the judgment. The Supreme Court struck a blow for the rule of law and decided that the judicial process that has been winding slowly over the last 60 years ought not to be halted at the last minute for fear of disturbances and under some imaginary hope of the parties arriving at a negotiated settlement. If overall the reaction from the public and from large sections of political opinion has been subdued, much of it has to do with the mood of the nation in which the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid issue does not find much traction any more — in striking contrast to the 1990s. On balance, the nature of the Allahabad High Court verdict should help the nation as a whole put a longstanding dispute behind. Secular India needs to move on and not be held hostage to grievances, real or imaginary, from the distant past. A great deal of the responsibility lies with political parties and religious groups to maintain harmony in the face of fundamentalist forces seeking to disturb the peace and profit from raising communal issues. They ought not to allow revanchist sentiment and any talk of revenge to come to the fore as many of them did in the 1980s and 1990s by their passivity or collaboration. For too long has the Ayodhya dispute remained an obsession with large sections of the people. It is to be hoped that after this major, even if not final, step in the judicial process it will cease to occupy the political stage.
The verdict is for reconciliation
By ordering a three-way split of the disputed 2.7-acre site in Ayodhya between the Hindu Mahasabha, the Sunni Waqf Board and the Nirmohi Akhara, the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad high court has perhaps delivered the only possible verdict it could have on the vexed case that has dragged on for 60 long years. It is pertinent that the majority verdict, delivered by Justices S.U. Khan and Sudhir Agarwal (while differing on certain key aspects) harked back more to the long tradition of Hindus and Muslims worshipping together at the disputed site rather than to the knotty and complicated legal issues involved in the title suits. In effect, the verdict has sought to reinstate the remarkable tradition of amity which prevailed in the area from the 19th century before the entire issue was complicated by political parties and religious outfits for their own narrow partisan ends. Of course, a final analysis of the judgment can be made only after a detailed perusal of the court orders, which are understandably long-winded. But the general drift of the directive seems to be that the disputed land in Ayodhya is a joint property, in which all the three claimants have stakes. According to the reports available till Thursday evening, the two judges have said that the makeshift temple under the central dome of the structure where Lord Ram’s idol exists belongs to the Hindus. The portion that has the “Sita Rasoi” and Ram Chabootara would go to the Nirmohi Akhara and the remainder of the land would go to the Sunni Waqf Board, where a mosque can come up. Justice D.V. Sharma, on the other hand, ruled that the entire site was the birthplace of Lord Ram and rejected the claim of the Waqf Board. But the majority judgment prevails, and it seems to have been made taking into account the sensitivities related to the issue as well as the overall national mood, rather than simply from a narrow legal standpoint. Though some eminent lawyers have expressed disappointment over this legal “deficit”, the country as a whole is likely to be pleased with the judges taking a broader national perspective on the issue rather than merely quoting the rulebook. Mercifully, the parties involved in the dispute have so far not chosen to portray the verdict as a victory or defeat. While the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh has said it paves the way for the building of a Ram temple, it has been careful not to go overboard and has in fact stressed that the ruling was not a victory or a loss for anyone. Similar has been the response of most Muslim organisations. The political parties too have by and large welcomed the verdict, responding according to their particular ideological nuances but without adopting an alarmist or triumphant tone. The media too has been restrained and the populace generally calm. This is surely welcome. Legal hair-splitting is not the need of the hour. A mosque and a temple existing side by side at Ayodhya would not only be a grand spectacle but would also heal many a wound in the entire body politic. Hindus and Muslims are after all joint titleholders of the nation too.
Source: The Asian Age
At last, faith in the law
The feral, giant creature of the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute has been finally placed where it belongs: within the solid and safe confines of India’s legal system. This is no mean feat. For those who have been following the trials and tribulations of the issue since 1949 when Ram idols were placed within the structure of the then existing Babri Masjid, a chapter that seemed to refuse to be closed has come to a major pit stop, if not necessarily to a close. What had initially been a property dispute morphed into something far bigger, fuelled by the sectarian politics of the late 80s that reached a bloody climax in the destruction of the disputed structure in Ayodhya on December 6, 1992 and its horrific aftermath across India. Thursday’s verdict was a product of its time. The India that dabbled in communal politics has given way to an India that finds such tremors to be obstacles, rather than short-term stepping stones for one community, in its path. But the high court’s verdict couldn’t have been left hanging indefinitely. For leaving such a sore open, even if it had become just a scar for an India that has moved on since, would have left the door ajar for future misunderstandings and calamities.
Political parties across the spectrum have reacted in a mature manner to the verdict. The judgement itself — essentially acknowledging the fact, for the first time, that a Ram temple did exist prior to a mosque being built over it, and the division of the contentious land between three petitioners — is a sagacious one that, importantly, leaves no ‘losers’. There
may be critics who will find the law sidestepping certain issues, but they are liable to be nitpicking, missing the wood for the trees. The fact that the Sunni Waqf Board will be taking the verdict to the Supreme Court is itself a recognition that the ‘Ayodhya’ issue has been contained within the frames of the law. A bull has been caught by its horns and credit should be given where its due: the law overwhelming what had always seemed — and had, during a dangerous period of our political history, become — a matter of extra-judicial misadventures and posturings.
One hopes that even with the differences that may remain after the High Court’s verdict, the judgement will provide enough impetus to all sides of the dispute to work out an amiable solution to independent India’s most voluble property dispute. In the end, what is of prime importance and deserving both relief and applause is that the verdict, in no mean way, has been a touchstone moment for Indian secularism and a definitive step away from the pit of religious fundamentalism
Law and sacrifice
The Lucknow bench’s verdict on Ayodhya is far from simple. And that is unsurprising: the judiciary was asked to respond to an entire block of issues, by one judge’s count as many as 30. And the exact implications of the judgment, the precedent it sets, and its relationship to settled law will be discussed and dissected for some time — which is as it should be. The most important thing, however, is that it be discussed calmly; and parties to the case give every evidence of being willing to do that, even as they weigh the merits of an immediate appeal to the Supreme Court.
That is, in fact, an indicator of the judgment’s broad thrust. None of the petitioners is completely happy, and each thinks an appeal might be called for. In effect, this is a reminder that maximalist positions of any sort will be either untenable or unimplementable. Whatever the way forward now, it will of necessity involve compromise and agreement. That is, in the three-judge bench’s opinion, the legal outcome; and that is also, by all appearance, the likely political requirement.
It is important, too, to take a step back and realise what was being asked of the courts and the people of India here. Our judicial institutions were being asked to address what has been one of the most divisive political issues that independent India has faced; and so many of India’s people, forward-looking and aspirational, have expected that a peaceful, legal mechanism will provide satisfactory closure to the problem. In this verdict, and in what appears for now to be a measured response to it, we see that hope in action. But what is true by implication is that, if the court’s verdict on this issue is to have political heft, other Ayodhya-related cases can’t be considered minor or forgettable. Nobody can stand behind the judicial process on this case — and in the matter of the Babri demolition case, for example, duck out of legal consequences. The question of culpability for that act is completely unrelated to the legal question of ownership of the Babri site. And those cases need to be pursued visibly and energetically. They, too, reflect the hope of the vast majority of Indians that our institutions are mature enough to deal with vexed questions without permitting the use of violence. Faith in the law requires stringent action against those who take the law into their own hands.
It’s over to the apex court on the Babri dispute
IT would be somewhat premature to arrive at a considered view of the Allahabad High Court’s judgment on the title suit over the Babri Masjid site given that it is such a voluminous verdict but a few of its strands are unmistakable. It can’t be said that the threejudge HC bench has been grossly unfair to the Sunni Waqf Board considering that it has been allotted one- third of the masjid site but the court does seem to have based its verdict on reasoning that is contestable.
As we have said before, this means the final of this protracted dispute will be played out before the Supreme Court of India, which the Sunni Waqf Board has said it will approach.
For instance, the High Court verdict seems to establish that the disputed site was indeed the birthplace of Lord Rama. Here it is difficult to resist the impression that the court has stepped into the domain of faith which was outside its bailiwick. In fact, we think the High Court erred by going into the question whether there was a temple on the site where the Babri Masjid was constructed in the 16th century. If the Archaelogical Survey of India’s report on which the High Court has relied is anything to go by, it is possible that some Hindu place of worship stood where the mosque was constructed.
However, the question to be asked here is whether it is possible or even desirable to seek to undo historical events. Giving free rein to that logic will create mayhem in society with every second party laying claim to a place or site on the ground that it was possessed by them at some point in the historical past.
In our opinion the High Court should have confined itself to deciding the title suit on legal grounds, stating that settling this contentious matter in totality lay outside its purview since it involved faith. It would have been fairer to all communities if it had asked the Union government in whose possession the disputed site lies to implement the project that it had proposed in the early 90s. This involved building a temple and a few secular structures alongside the Babri Masjid so that the premises stood out as a symbol of India’s syncretic culture.
The silver lining in Thursday’s developments is the restraint shown by both sides in their response to the verdict. This sends out the signal that maintaining harmony is far more important than the outcome of this dispute.