India December 07(IM): A day before the 25th anniversary of the demolition of the Babri Masjid, the Supreme Court fixed 8 February, 2018 to hear on a day-to-day basis the final argument in the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute, better known as the Ayodhya matters. Prior to fixing the date, the Supreme Court rejected the plea of the Sunni Waqf Boards counsel, Kapil Sibal, to hear the matter after the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.Underlying Sibals plea was his apprehension that the Supreme Courts judgment in the Ayodhya dispute could be exploited to set the election agenda for 2019. Regardless of whether his fear is justified, a reading of the legal history of the dispute illustrates vividly how the Babri Masjid was converted into a temple over a century and more, often because of judicial pronouncements.
Whether these pronouncements were legally right or wrong will be known once the Supreme Court decides who holds the title to the spot where once the Babri Masjid and now a makeshift temple, having the idol of Ram Lalla and other deities, functions.
The conflict of 1855 The legal history of the dispute is linked to the claims that a general of the Mughal emperor Babur demolished a temple, located at the spot where Lord Ram is believed to have been born, to construct the Babri Masjid. There is no documentary evidence to back these claims. The generals alleged depredation constitutes Ayodhyas popular memory, reinforced further because of entries in the District Gazetteer and assertions that judges made in court cases without quoting sources.It led to a jumbling up of events and dates. For instance, it is claimed that there erupted armed clashes between Hindus and Muslims over the Babri Masjid in 1855. However, historian KM Panikkar in a chapter (A Historical Overview) in the book Anatomy of a Confrontation: Ayodhya and the Rise of Communal Politics in India, points out that the 1855 clash was over the Hanumangarhi temple.A Muslim party claimed that the Hanumangarhi temple had been built over a mosque and organised a raid in 1855 to occupy its premises. The raiders were beaten back, some killed, and others chased to the Babri Masjid where they took refuge. However, the victorious Hindus did not make claims to the Babri Masjid. This suggests that the mosque had not yet become contentious in Ayodhyas local memory.The Nawab of Oudh instituted a committee of inquiry into the conflict of 1855. The inquiry concluded that the Hanumangarhi temple hadnt been built over a mosque. However, to mollify Muslims, the Nawab toyed with the idea of constructing a mosque adjacent to the Hanumangarhi temple. It perhaps prompted the construction of a parallel story around the Babri Masjid.It originated, Panikkar says, most probably, as an attempt to checkmate the Muslim claim on the Hanumangarhi temple. It was probably conceived as a measure to mount counter-pressure on Muslims if they dared to revive their agitation over the Hanumangarhi temple.A few years after the revolt of 1857, the Mahant of Hanumangarhi built a chabutra or raised platform near the Babri Masjid. A complaint regarding the appropriation was made to the magistrate by the then muezzin of the Babri Masjid. In 1861, the district administration is said to have built a wall to separate the mosque from the chabutra.In 1883, mahant Raghubar Das started to build a temple over the chabutra, but the District Magistrate, because of the objections of Muslims, stopped it. It led to Raghubar Das filing a suit in 1885 in the court of Sub Judge, Faizabad, claiming that as the owner of the chabutra he should be allowed to build a temple there.The judgements of 1885-86 Sub Judge Pandit Hari Kishan referred to the 1855 clashes to say a boundary wall had been constructed between the chabutra and mosque. He was relying on the local memory which had connected two unrelated episodes. It had Kishan to assert that the "place (chabutra) where the Hindus worship is in their possession and their ownership cannot be questioned and around it there is the wall of the mosque and the word Allah is inscribed on it.But the sub judge denied permission to Das to build a temple. His reasoning was, "If a temple is constructed on the chabutra at such a place then there will be sound of bells of the temple and shankh (conch shells) when both Hindus and Muslims pass from the same way, and if permission is given to Hindus for constructing temple then one day or the other criminal cases will be started and thousands of people will be killed."Das went in appeal to District Judge Col F.E.A Chamier. He upheld the verdict of the sub judge in March 1886, but cancelled his observation that the ownership of the chabutra vested in Das and Hindus. Chamier, however, observed: It is most unfortunate that a masjid should have been built on land specially held sacred by the Hindus, but as that event occurred 356 years ago it is too late to remedy the grievance."At least until 1886, it was the chabutra, and not the spot under the central dome of the Babri Masjid, which was believed to be Lord Rams birthplace. This is evident from what Chamier said, The chabutra is said to indicate the birthplace of Ram Chandra.The indefatigable mahant then went in appeal to the Court of Judicial Commissioner, Oudh, not only to build a temple over the chabutra, but to also get Chamiers ruling that he wasnt the owner of the chabutra, cancelled. Judicial commissioner W Young on 1 November, 1886 said that the Hindus wanted to create a "new temple" over the "holy spot" that was said to be "birthplace of Sri Ram Chandra."
Young then went on to observe, Now this 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 Babur, who purposely chose this holy spot, according to Hindu legend, as the site of his mosque.A legend, we all know, is a story popularly thought to be historical, but cannot be verified. It was typically the style of British officials to harp on unverifiable stories to create a Hindu-Muslim divide in colonial India, of which the legend of Padmavati was an example.Young said the Hindus had been persistently trying to increase their rights to the property and to erect buildings on two spots in the enclosure: (1) Sita ki Rasoi (b) Ram Chandar ki Janam Bhumi. But the executive authorities, he said, had been right in forbidding any alteration of the status quo. He upheld Chamiers verdict, including that Das wasnt the owner of the chabutra.The Babri Masjid was next in news in 1934, because of a riot over cow-slaughter in a village near Ayodhya. Enraged Hindus damaged the Babri Masjid, which was subsequently repaired at the British governments expense. In March 1946, the mosque was declared a Sunni mosque after an inquiry ordered by the Commissioner of Waqfs.December 1949: A winter of joy and discontent It was the year in which the communal polarisation created an ambience conducive to hatching conspiracies. Anyone who thinks the Congress is anti-Hindu should turn to the by-elections held in Uttar Pradesh in 1948. At least, thirteen socialist legislators left the Congress and sought a fresh mandate. Among them was Acharya Narendra Dev, who stood from Faizabad. Congress leader and Uttar Pradesh chief minister Gobind Ballabh Pant fielded Baba Raghav Das as Congress candidate and then launched a vicious campaign accusing Acharya Dev of not believing in Lord Ram.In the election campaign against the Acharya, who was eventually defeated, Pant took the help of KKK Nair, the district magistrate of Faizabad. It was Nair who on 2 December, 1949 suggested to Hindu groups that it was wiser to secretly plant the Ram Lalla idol in the mosque instead of taking it over through mass action, a revelation made by Krishna and Dhirendra K Jha in Ayodhya: The Dark Night.Twenty days later, on intervening night of 22-23 December night of 1949, the idol was smuggled into the mosque. Harold A. Gould writes in Grass Roots Politics in India: A Century of Political Evolution in Faizabad District, Government inquiries revealed that followers of KKK Nair and Guru Datta Singh (city magistrate of Faizabad-cum-Ayodhya) used the authority which these two men commanded to persuade the police guarding the mosque to look the other way while the murtis (of Lord Ram and others) were smuggled inside.But as the situation on the morning of 23 December threatened to spiral out of their control, Nair and Singh rushed to Babu Priyadatta Ram, the chairman of the Municipal Board, who agreed to intervene and staved off the communal confrontation.
It should have been the administrations responsibility to remove the idol from the Babri Masjid. But Nair stonewalled suggestions from Lucknow on this count. In a letter to Uttar Pradeshs Chief Secretary dated 27 December, Nair said that the removal of the idol could spark off riots. He suggested an alternative proposal attach the mosque, exclude Hindus and Muslims from it, and appoint pujaris to perform pooja and offer bhog to the idols. This arrangement should continue, Nair advocated, until the civil court adjudicated on the rights of disputants.Nair made this suggestion after slipping a threat in a letter to Uttar Pradeshs chief secretary a day before. Nair had written, I would, if government decided to remove the idol at any cost, request that I be relieved and replaced by an officer who may be able to see in that solution a merit which I cannot discern.
It was a classic Hindutva strategy alter status quo and stoke communal animosity, and then claim that attempts to restore status quo ante would trigger bloody riots. It was now for the judiciary to respond to the brazen alteration of status quo, passed off as a miracle.The legal suits of 1949 On 29 December, 1949, Magistrate Markandey Singh attached the Babri Masjid and appointed Priya Dutt Ram as receiver. Ram took over the property on 5 January, 1950 and drew a scheme on the arrangements to be made there, including the cost involved in organising bhog. Eleven days later the ploy to roll back the right of Muslims to the disputed site was legitimised.On 16 January, 1950, Gopal Singh Visharad filed a civil suit (called Civil Suit No 2 of 1950) in the Faizabad court of the Civil Judge requesting that he be allowed to worship Lord Ram Lalla and other deities in the Babri Masjid. He also sought a permanent injunction against the removal of idols from the mosque.A temporary injunction was granted to Visharad. But the district magistrate asked the government counsel to move for a modification of the order. It was argued that if the public were to have unrestricted admission inside the mosque to do puja and darshan, it would imply allowing one party (Hindus) to exercise their rights which were in dispute.
Civil Judge NN Chadha modified his earlier order on 19 January, 1950. It now read, "The parties are hereby restrained by means of the temporary injunction to refrain from removing the idols in question from the site of dispute and from interfering with the puja, etc, as at present carried on. The civil judge confirmed his interim order on 3 March, 1951, justifying it thus: The undisputed fact remains that on the date of this suit the idols of Shri Bhagwan Ram Chandra and others did exist on the site and that worship was being performed though under some restrictions put by the executives.
The other undisputed fact that the idols hadnt been there on the site until 22 December, 1949 evening was ignored. What about the right of Muslims to pray inside the mosque? The civil judge said, It is a matter of admission between the parties that there are several mosques in the mohalla in question. The local Muslims will not, therefore, be put to much inconvenience, if the interim injunction remains in force during the pendency of the case.