Dubai: A 134-year-old religious dispute, which dominated national discourse and public consciousness in post-independent India, was settled in little more than 30 minutes by the Supreme Court of India on Saturday morning.
Leading a bench of five judges, Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi read the unanimous Ayodhya verdict, settling a complex dispute that was first heard by a court in British India in 1885.
The bench, which included Justices S.A. Bobde, D.Y. Chandrachud, Ashok Bhushan and S. Abdul Nazeer, ruled that the entire disputed land of 2.77 acres in Ayodhya must be handed over to the Hindus for the construction of Ram temple.
The court also ruled that an alternative plot of five acres be allotted to the Sunni Waqf Board for building a mosque at a prominent site in Ayodhya.
Justice Gogoi is retiring on November 17 and Justice Bobde has been designated as the next chief justice.
Significantly, the Supreme Court said that the demolition of the Babri mosque in 1992 was a violation of the law and that the act of placing idols beneath the central dome of the mosque in 1949 was an act of “desecration”.
The bench directed the central government in New Delhi to come up with a plan for the construction of a temple within three months by setting up a board of trustees.
How long did it take to arrive at a decision?
The ruling was delivered after the Supreme Court heard appeals challenging a 2010 order delivered by a lower court which divided the disputed land into three parts — two to Hindus and one to Sunni Waqf Board.
Striking down the 2010 order, the Supreme Court said: “The disputed site measures all of 1500 square yards. Dividing the land will not subserve the interest of either of the parties or secure a lasting sense of peace and tranquillity. Bifurcation by the High Court was legally unsustainable. Even as a matter of maintaining public peace and tranquillity, the solution which commended itself to the High Court is not feasible.”
The Supreme Court heard arguments by Hindu and Muslim petitioners over 40 days since August and had reserved the verdict on October 16.
What did the mediation panel do?
Before the hearings began, the Supreme Court had appointed a mediation panel headed by a retired judge who interacted with Hindu and Muslim parties in an attempt to seek an out of court settlement.
The media panel, however, told the court in August that not all parties were ready for a settlement. Gulf News reported in July that Sunni Waqf Board, a key Muslim party, had decided to give up its claim on the disputed land.
On Saturday, the Sunni board welcomed the verdict and said it would abide by the Ayodhya decision.
“I welcome the verdict and humbly accept the Supreme Court order and we will not appeal or seek a review of the order,” Zufar Farooqui, chairman of Sunni Waqf Board told Gulf News over the phone from Lucknow. “If anyone is saying that they are filing a review of the court order then such persons have no relations with the Sunni board,” he added.
What was the dispute about?
The dispute was essentially over a piece of 2.77 acres of land in the heart of Ayodhya where the Mughal-era Babri mosque stood until it was demolished by Hindu zealots in December 1992.
“On 6 December 1992, the structure of the mosque was brought down and the mosque was destroyed. The destruction of the mosque took place in breach of the order of status quo and an assurance given to this court. The destruction of the mosque and the obliteration of the Islamic structure was an egregious violation of the rule of law.
"Justice would not prevail if the court were to overlook the entitlement of the Muslims who have been deprived of the structure of the mosque through means which should not have been employed in a secular nation committed to the rule of law. The Constitution postulates the equality of all faiths. Tolerance and mutual co-existence nourish the secular commitment of our nation and its people,” the court order said.
“The exclusion of the Muslims from worship and possession took place on the intervening night between 22/23 December 1949 when the mosque was desecrated by the installation of Hindu idols. The ouster of the Muslims on that occasion was not through any lawful authority but through an act which was calculated to deprive them of their place of worship,” it said referring to the incident in 1949 when idols were placed under the central dome of Babri mosque.
What did the ASI say?
The Hindus believed that deity Ram was born at that spot where the mosque was built, a claim contested by Muslims.
Drawing from a report prepared by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), however, the Supreme Court accepted that the mosque was not built on a vacant land and a structure below the mosque was not Islamic.
It noted that the ASI filed to prove that a temple existed on that site. The court also observed that mere existence of structure beneath the mosque cannot lead to a title for Hindus now, even if that structure is found to be of Hindu origin.
It further added that Sunni Waqf Board has not been able to prove adverse possession of land and that there is evidence to show that Hindus had been visiting the premises prior to 1857.
“There is clear evidence to show that Hindus worshiped in the outer courtyard of the disputed site. As regards the inner court yard [of the mosque], there is no evidence in the suit by Sunni Board to show exclusive possession prior to 1857,” the bench ruled.
What was the reaction?
Reacting to the verdict, Prime Minster Narendra Modi said: “The Honourable Supreme Court has given its verdict on the Ayodhya issue. This verdict shouldn’t be seen as a win or loss for anybody. Be it Ram Bhakti [respect for Ram] or Rahim Bhakti [respect for Rahim], it is imperative that we strengthen the spirit of Rashtra Bhakti [respect for the nation]. May peace and harmony prevail!”
“SC’s Ayodhya Judgement is notable because: It highlights that any dispute can be amicably solved in the spirit of due process of law. It reaffirms the independence, transparency and farsightedness of our judiciary. It clearly illustrates everybody is equal before the law,” he wrote on twitter
“The halls of justice have amicably concluded a matter going on for decades. Every side, every point of view was given adequate time and opportunity to express differing points of view. This verdict will further increase people’s faith in judicial processes,” he added.
Supreme Court: Demolition of Babri mosque was unlawful
The Supreme Court said:
“The exclusion of the Muslims from worship and possession took place on the intervening night between 22/23 December 1949 when the mosque was desecrated by the installation of Hindu idols.
"The ouster of the Muslims on that occasion was not through any lawful authority but through an act which was calculated to deprive them of their place of worship. After the proceedings under Section 145 of CrPC 1898 were initiated and a receiver was appointed following the attachment of the inner courtyard, worship of the Hindu idols was permitted.
"During the pendency of the suits, the entire structure of the mosque was brought down in 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.”
“On 6 December 1992, the structure of the mosque was brought down and the mosque was destroyed. The destruction of the mosque took place in breach of the order of status quo and an assurance given to this court. The destruction of the mosque and the obliteration of the Islamic structure was an egregious violation of the rule of law; Justice would not prevail if the court were to overlook the entitlement of the Muslims who have been deprived of the structure of the mosque through means which should not have been employed in a secular nation committed to the rule of law.
"The Constitution postulates the equality of all faiths. Tolerance and mutual co-existence nourish the secular commitment of our nation and its people.”
It said that a land measuring five acres should be allotted to the Sunni Central Waqf Board in Ayodhya. The handing over of the land to the Sunni Central Waqf Board, shall be conducted simultaneously with the handing over of the disputed site comprising of the inner and outer courtyards.
Key findings from Ayodhya judgment:
Board of Trustees: The Central Government shall, within a period of three months from the date of this judgment, set up a board of trustees for the construction of Ram temple. Possession of the inner and outer courtyards of the disputed site shall be handed over to the board of trustees. The Central Government will be at liberty to make suitable provisions in respect of the rest of the acquired land by handing it over to the trust or body for management and development in terms of the scheme framed in accordance with the above directions;
Nirmohi Akhara: The court has also invoked Article 142 of the Constitution, to direct that in the scheme to be framed by the Central Government, appropriate representation may be given in the Trust or body, to the Nirmohi Akhara [Hindu sect] in such manner as the Government deems fit.
Land allotment: The land shall be allotted either by: (a) The Central Government out of the land acquired under the Ayodhya Act 1993. The Central Government and the State Government shall act in consultation with each other to effectuate the above allotment in the period stipulated shall be handed over to the Sunni Central Waqf Board.
How the dispute started
Placing of idols
On the night of December 22/23rd, 1949 idols were placed inside the Babri Mosque.
On January 1, 1950, a suit was filed by Gopal Singh Visharad in the court of Civil Judge at Faizabad in which temporary injuction was granted against the removal of Idols from the Mosque as well as for of Puja. The temporary injunction was modified on January 19, 1950 and the court allowed the Darshan and Puja.
Opening of locks
On February 1, 1986, a court in Faizabad directed the District Magistrate and S.S.P. of Faizabad to remove the locks of Babri Masjid, allowing people to enter the main building of the mosque for Darshan and Puja of the idols that were placed just below the middle dome of the Masjid.
This court order was challenged by Mohammed Hashim before the Lucknow bench of Allahabad High Court on February 3, 1986. The court ordered to maintain status-quo of the building in suit. In May 1986, Sunni Waqf Board filed another petition in the high court.
Since then a series of suits were filed by Gopal Singh Visharad, Param Hans Ram Chandra Das and Nirmohi Akhara. The fourth suit was filed by the UP Sunni Central Board of Waqf and eight other Muslims in a representative capacity on December 18, 1961 in Faizabad court.
All these four suits were consolidated but the hearings never started. The case was shifted to Lucknow High Court.
In 1989, Deoki Nandan Agarwal files a suit on behalf of deity Ram in Allahabad High Court. The Lucknow bench of Allahabad High Court divides the disputed land into three parts — two for Hindus and one for Muslim in 2010.
Timeline: Ayodhya Dispute:
Following is a timeline of the events that have shaped the case.
1528: Babri Masjid built by Mir Baqi, commander of Mughal emperor Babur.
1949: Muslim groups accuse government officials of conniving with Hindu monks to place an idol of an infant Ram in the grounds of the mosque.
1950: A first suit is filed in a court near Ayodhya, seeking permission to worship the idol of deity Ram.
1986: A court orders locks to be opened at the disputed site and that Hindus be allowed to pray there.
1992: Thousands of Hindu activists, led by politicians of the nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) tear down the mosque.
1992-93: Hindu-Muslim riots erupt across northern and western India. Rights group estimate more than 2,000 people were killed.
2010: A three-judge bench of the Allahabad high court in Uttar Pradesh ruled that the site of the mosque should be divided into three parts between the three main parties in the case.
2011: The Supreme Court stays the high court’s order
2019: A five-judge bench of the Supreme Court of India begins day-to-day hearings to resolve the case.
Nov. 9, 2019: The Supreme Court gives a Hindu group control over the disputed plot and Muslims an alternative parcel of land.