In a judgment unprecedented in the annals of judicial history anywhere in the world, the Supreme Court of India today (November 9, 2019) brought closure to the 491-year Hindu struggle to reclaim the birthplace of Sri Ram, and in a unanimous verdict announced by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, awarded the entire 2.77 acre disputed land in Ayodhya to Ramlalla Virajman and the Ram Janmabhumi Nyas. The verdict, it may be noted, was decided by evidence and not by faith (of either side).
It is pertinent, however, that Ramlalla was held to be a minor deity and a juristic person, and represents a triumph of the legal acumen of senior advocates K. Parasaran and C.S. Vaidyanathan, who represented Ramlalla Virajman.
The five-judge Bench ruled that the Hindu litigants were able to establish that they were in possession of the outer courtyard, while the Muslim side was unable to prove their exclusive possession of the inner courtyard.
This brings down the curtain on one of the bitterest contests in Indian history, when Hindus refused to renounce claims to the birthplace of Sri Ram, the only avatar of Vishnu who also became king, of a kingdom ruled by a distinguished solar dynasty with a special relationship with the Gods. Although the Supreme Court made it clear that it was treating the case as a title suit (property dispute), and not as righting a historical wrong, the dispute has profound civilisational implications. It is probably the first historical-civilisational dispute in the world to have been resolved successfully by judicial process.
The apex Court granted an alternative five acres of land for a mosque, as compensation to the Sunni Wakf Board, the principal Muslim petitioner, at a suitable and prominent place in Ayodhya, and dismissed the special leave petition of the Shia Central Waqf Board. Coming out of the court, advocate Zafaryab Jilani expressed disappointment and at a press conference of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board stated that a review petition would be filed.
This was soon contradicted by Zufar Faruqi, chairman of UP Sunni Waqf Board, who issued a written statement that he “welcomes and humbly accepts” the verdict of the Supreme Court and emphatically ruled out a review or curative petition against it. Zafaryab Jilani was forced to clarify that he had reacted as secretary of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board and not as counsel for the Sunni Waqf Board.
This brings down the curtain on nearly 70 years of contentious litigation in independent India and ends a dispute that defied resolution despite repeated attempts at mediation. The AIMPLB, which vehemently opposed the law banning triple talaq, that was fought for and demanded by Muslim women, is once again out of sync with Muslim sentiment.
Almost all political parties and leaders, namely Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, Home Minister Amit Shah, Congress Party and its former president Rahul Gandhi, BSP leader Mayawati, Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray, and others, have welcomed the verdict. This lessens the scope for acrimony and inflaming of passions on the issue. RSS Sarsanghachalak emphasised that the verdict was neither a victory for one side nor a defeat for another side, a sentiment echoed by VHP working president Alok Kumar.
The 1045-page judgment is unique in the annals of Indian judicial history for not disclosing the name of the judge who authored the judgment. World over, the convention is that the judge who is assigned the task of writing the judgment on behalf of the Bench gives his name and the names of other judges are appended as concurring with the same. Dissenting views, if any, are also recorded by name. In this case, the entire judgment has to be attributed jointly to Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, Justice S.A. Bobde (CJI-designate), and Justices D.Y. Chandrachud, Ashok Bhushan and Abdul Nazeer.
Given the enormous sensitivity of the verdict, for which political leaders and organisations urged maturity, peace and amity for several days preceding the judgment, it seems logical to credit this determined show of unanimity to Chief Justice Gogoi. It is pertinent that the CJI even met Uttar Pradesh Director General of Police, O.P. Singh, in advance of the judgment, to satisfy himself that peace would be maintained in this sensitive state. While stray incidents from miscreants cannot be ruled out given the fact that many jihadi cells operate in several states, there can be little doubt that sane voices within the Muslim community have broadly conceded the merits of the Janmabhumi case.
The Supreme Court’s verdict includes a 116-page addendum explaining why the disputed site is indeed the birthplace of Sri Ram as per Hindu faith and belief. The authorship of this addendum has also been withheld with the words, “One of us while being in agreement with the above reasons and directions, has recorded separate reasons on – Whether the disputed structure is the birth-place of Lord Ram according to the faith and belief of the Hindu devotees. The reasons for the learned judge are set out in an addendum”. (page 929)
This addendum cites various ancient texts and scriptures and observes, “it is found that in the period prior to 1528 A.D., there were sufficient religious texts which led the Hindus to believe the present site of Ram Janma Bhumi as the birthplace of Lord Ram”. It concludes: “… that faith and belief of Hindus since prior to construction of Mosque and subsequent thereto have always been that Janmaasthan of Lord Ram is the place where Babri Mosque has been constructed which faith and belief is proved by documentary and oral evidence discussed above”. Hence it is evident, and not faith, that carried the day in court.
The apex court has asked the Centre to constitute a body within three months, under sections 6, 7 of the Ayodhya Acquisition Act, to hand over the inner and outer courtyard to the Ram Janmabhumi Trust to build and manage the temple. The Nirmohi Akhara, whose suits were dismissed by both the Allahabad High Court as well as the Supreme Court, but was traditionally responsible for the prayers in the temple, has welcomed the fact that the verdict gives it adequate representation in the proposed Trust.
Essentially, the verdict upholds the main judgment of the Allahabad High Court while removing its anomalies. The apex court declared that the Allahabad High Court’s decision to give the Sunni Wakf Board and Nirmohi Akhara one-third each of the disputed property even after dismissing their suits “defies logic” and the entire land has to be considered as a whole. The Sunni Wakf Board was unable to prove its right to the disputed property, “possessory title”.
This is the historical lacuna on which Hindus won the case. For the uninitiated, we may mention that, as established in the Allahabad High Court, the Babri Masjid was built at a time of Muslim supremacy in north India, but the builders omitted to designate it as a Shia or Sunni mosque; in Islam, a mosque can only be denominational. Nor did the rulers ever create a Wakf for the upkeep of the mosque and the mutawalli who maintains it. This also is imperative. Under British rule, the British provided succour to the then mutawalli, which further establishes that the legal procedure under Muslim law for establishing a mosque was not followed. Above all, Muslims were not able to assert the right of adverse possession, as Hindus dispossessed them in 1934 and again in 1949 and 1986.
The Supreme Court accepted the presence of a pre-existing structure, “not Islamic in nature”, beneath the mosque, and that the artefacts recovered by the Archaeological Survey of India “have a distinct non-Islamic nature”. Hence, the mosque was not constructed on vacant land, though it agreed that Muslims never abandoned the Babri Masjid. However, even prior to 1855, Hindus had access to the inner courtyard. It agreed with the Allahabad High Court that the murtis of Ramlalla were placed inside the central dome of the Masjid on the intervening night of December 22-23, 1949, and added that while belief in the birthplace of Sri Ram is a matter of belief, no evidence was placed on record to “discount the belief of Hindus in the place.”
The verdict has been welcomed by some Muslim bodies, including Firangi Mahal, though All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen chief Asaduddin Owaisi grudgingly stated that the verdict of the court “is final but not infallible”. Owaisi said Muslims should reject the offer of five acres of land, but that ball is in the court of UP Sunni Wakf Board.
Sandhya Jain is Senior Fellow, Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, author, and columnist.