In Retrospect

Facts, Faith & Trust

One of the longest-running battles in India's legal history has just concluded but the court's ruling in favour of the temple has opened up a new discourse – can faith defend the adherence to violence and deliberate destruction of a major historical monument?

Finally, the century-old land dispute has come to an end after the Supreme Court's verdict on the Ayodhya title suit on November 9. The pronouncement was made on Saturday – the day associated with the worship of Lord Hanuman, an ardent devotee of Lord Ram.

The saying has it that Hanuman had rescued Shani Dev when he was kidnapped by Ravana. The Shani Dev had rewarded Hanuman with the boon that the effect of Shani's in-auspiciousness will never affect his worshipers.

It can be argued that the judgement of the apex court has gone in Lord Hanuman's way as the verdict is based on faith rather than concrete facts. This happened as both groups – Hindu and Muslim – failed to produce enough proofs to claim their exclusive rights over the disputed land. In the battle of faith and rationality, the order has gone in favour of faith.

It was not easy for the court to declare its verdict in the dispute whose origins are as old as the idea of India itself. "The events associated with the dispute have spanned the Mughal empire, colonial rule and the present constitutional regime. Constitutional values form the cornerstone of this nation and have facilitated the lawful resolution of the present title dispute through 41 days of the hearing," the SC stated in its verdict.

The SC stated that faith and belief of the Hindus, as depicted by the evidence on record, establish that the Hindus believe the three-dome structure to be the birthplace of Lord Ram and the Mosque was constructed later. "The faith of the Hindus that Lord Ram was born at the demolished structure is undisputed," it stated.

"The statements noted in all Gazetteers unanimously affirm that at the Janmasthan of Lord Ram, Babar constructed the Babri Mosque in 1528. Indeed, statements recorded in the Gazette is not conclusive evidence but presumption of correctness of statements recorded have to be raised subject to being disproved by leading appropriate evidence," the SC said in its judgement.

"All Gazettes published by the government authority repeats the same statement that Babri Mosque was constructed at the Janmasthan of Lord Ram. There is no evidence to disprove it and oral evidences support the faith and belief of Hindus that Lord Ram was born at the place where Babri Mosque has been constructed," it stated.

The title suit in the Babri Masjid case has been going on in one form or the other since 1949, mainly in the local courts of Faizabad, where Ayodhya is located. The matter came to the national platter after erstwhile BJP leaders Lal Krishna Advani, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Murli Manohar Joshi highlighted the issue in the 1980s and confronted with Congress leaders Rajiv Gandhi and now forgotten villains Vir Bahadur Singh and Arun Nehru over the custodian rights of the temple.

If we go by the orders of the courts, the call given by the then BJP leaders to demolish the mosque had worked and people turned in hoards from different parts of the country and demolished the 'illegal' structure on December 6, 1992. Congress leader, Narasimha Rao, was the Prime Minister during this period.

Before demolition of the structure, LK Advani had started the Ram Rath Yatra on September 25, 1990, from Somnath. Advani's yatra was stopped in Bihar after his arrest on October 23 by the then Chief Minister of Bihar, Lalu Prasad Yadav. Lalu was authorised to stop Advani by the then Prime Minister, VP Singh. Advani was arrested in Samastipur by the district magistrate RK Singh, who later on became Union Home Secretary, and now a cabinet minister in the Modi government.

According to legal analysts, it was expected that the five-judge bench would deliver a balanced verdict, but the court's ruling in favour of the temple will boost the morale of the Sangh Parivar.

The Supreme Court has asked the government to allocate five acres for the construction of a mosque at a 'prominent' place in Ayodhya, forgetting that the case's significance was not about the availability of a mosque but whether it is permissible for anyone in India to use violence to dispossess a person or a community. Sadly, that question now appears to have been answered, implicitly, in the affirmative. Worse, the dispossession is acknowledged and compensated with five acres elsewhere but those who did the dispossessing are still allowed to enjoy the benefits of their crime.

Meanwhile, an eminent historian DN Jha has trashed the theory that the Babri Mosque in Ayodhya was built by demolishing a Hindu temple. Jha also put the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) under scanner as ASI shifted its stand on the issue.

On the issue, Jha said, "I see it as a battle between faith and rationality. For it is impossible to prove that Ram was born within the limits of 2.77 acres of the disputed land in Ayodhya. I don't see any logic in this faith. And as a professional historian I think history cannot be written based on faith; whatever is written or spoken about is only fantasy."

The SC verdict has two important political implications. The first one is that all political parties and leaders, including the ruling BJP, avoided using the judgement to show off and signal victory. The verdict has also put a full stop on the political use of 'Ram Mandir' as an agenda in elections. Secondly, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief, Mohan Bhagwat, defined RSS as an organization that believes in character-building and the organisation is not meant for launching agitations.

The SC verdict on Ayodhya has been criticized by distinguished historian Romila Thapar who has termed the verdict as a political judgment. "Its focus is on possession of the land and building a new temple to replace the destroyed mosque. The problem was entangled in contemporary politics involving religious identities but also claimed to be based on historical evidence. This latter aspect has been invoked but subsequently set aside in the judgment," Thapar stated in her published article.

Flaying the judgement, Thapar further remarked, "The court has declared that a particular spot is where a divine or semi-divine person was born and where a new temple is to be built to commemorate the birth. This is in response to an appeal by Hindu faith and belief. Given the absence of evidence in support of the claim, such a verdict is not what one expects from a court of law."

"Hindus deeply revere Rama as a deity but can this support a legal decision on claims to a birth-place, possession of land, and the deliberate destruction of a major historical monument to assist in acquiring the land?" she questioned.

Contradicting the findings of the ASI excavations, Thapar said, "Even though the findings and readings of ASI have been strongly disputed by other archaeologists and historians, the court has accepted most of the claims of ASI."

The SC verdict on Ayodhya may be cited as a precedent to resolve several controversial cases. The SC judges have also pronounced the verdict very smartly as they didn't go into the controversial issues like the mosque was built after demolishing the temple or vice-versa. All the five judges of the Supreme Court would be remembered for deciding the fate of one of the most controversial title suit that was lingering in different courts for over 100 years.

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