By Irfan Engineer,
The dispute over Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid, it is said, is creation of the colonial rule. It is difficult to be very sure on how far direct is the hand of the colonial rule in inventing and or sustaining the dispute between some elements from both the communities. However, there is little doubt that the colonial rule benefited from the dispute and therefore did not seem to take effective steps to see the dispute resolved. The authorities under the Colonial rule allowed the dispute over title of the land to acquire communal overtones. Whatever the former colonial masters did, or omitted to do, the post-Colonial state fared even worst in the matter. Post-Colonial State allowed the dispute over the land title to almost completely polarise the two communities. Essentially a title suit between the plaintiffs and the defendants over a piece of land was allowed to acquire religious and communal colour with competing all India mobilisations by political leadership belonging to both the communities. Even the most secular Prime Minister of the country – Jawaharlal Nehru found himself unable to resolve the dispute and / or stop it from acquiring communal colour, when he had the opportunity in 1949.
There are no two opinions that in the year 1528 a mosque was built by Mir Baqi by one of the Governors of the Mughal Emperor Babar. The Sangh Parivar maintains that this mosque was built after destroying a Ramjanmabhoomi temple, which existed on the land whereas the Muslim political leaders as well as most reputed historians of integrity insist that there is no credible proof that there was any Ramjanmabhoomi temple.
After the anti-British rebellion in 1857, the crown proclaimed that it would remain aloof and would not interfere in the religious matters of people of the Country. The Colonial power however, was often called upon to mediate disputes between communities. The Colonial State did not prove to be an honest mediator in the disputes. The state had its own axe to grind – legitimising the rule of the intruder being the uppermost. At times, the state even invented and created new disputes so that it was called upon the mediate. Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute appears to one of such disputes created by the Colonial rulers. The District Gazetteer of 1905 notes that till 1855, Hindus and Muslims prayed in the same premises which is now contentious Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid site. After 1857 rebellion, an outer enclosure was put in front of the mosque and the Hindus who were forbidden access to the inner yard raised an outer platform (chabutra). The first signs of the dispute sometime in 1861 appear too close after the 1857 rebellion to warrant such a conclusion. A British officer who was officiating as a Commissioner and Settlement Officer, Faizabad, in 1861 wrote a book A Historical Sketch of Fyzabad Tehsil Including the Former Capital Ayodhya and Fyzabad. The book was based on what he found was “locally affirmed” and his own surmises – Ayodhya must at least have possessed a fine temple in the Janmasthan. The dispute was initially only regarding Chabutra adjoining the Babri Masjid. He further wrote: “It seems that in 1528 Babar visited Ayodhya and under his orders this ancient temple was destroyed”. There is slender evidence to conclude that Babar ever passed Ayodhya.
Hindu priests wanted a temple constructed on the Chabutra to be able to conduct their worship without vagaries of weather, as Chabutra was an open platform. It is not clearly known as to when and how the Chabutra came to be constructed, and whether the Chabutra was raised on a land having legal title or an usurped land adjoining the mosque called Babri Mosque.
In the year 1885, one Mahant Raghubar Dass, claiming himself to be the Mahant of Janam Asthan had filed a suit on 19-1-1885 in the Court of Sub-Judge Faizabad, Pandit Hari Kishan (Suit No. 61/280 of 1885). It was alleged in the said Suit that Chabutra of Janam Asthan was a platform of 21 feet towards East and West and 17 feet towards North and South. It was further alleged in the said Suit that as there was no building over it and the Mahant and other priests had to face grave vagaries of the weather. The Mahant therefore wanted permission to construct a temple over the said Chabutra of 21 X 17 feet, which had been prohibited by the Deputy Commissioner of Faizabad. The Suit 61/280 of 1885 was dismissed on 24-12-1885 by Pandit Hari Kishan, Sub-Judge of Faizabad. Relying upon the site plan prepared by Gopal Sahai, the Learned Sub-Judge observed:
“The entrance to the enclosure is under a gateway on which appears the superscription of “Allah”. Immediately on the left is the platform or chabutra of masonary occupied by the Hindus. On this is a small superstructure of wood in the form of a tent. This chabutra is said to indicate the birthplace of Ram Chander. …
“… in between the mosque and Chabutra, there is a wall…and it is clear that there are separate boundaries between the mosque and Chabutra and this fact is also supported by the fact that there is boundary line built by the Government before the rent dispute”.
It was further observed that if temple was allowed to be constructed on the Chabutra at such a place, then there would be sound of bells of the temple and sankh, when both Hindus and Muslims passed from the same way. If permission was given to Hindus for constructing temple then one day or the other there would be rioting and thousands of people would be killed. Thus, the learned Sub-Judge opined that awarding permission to construct the temple at this juncture is to lay the foundation of riot and murder, hence in view of the policy and also in view of justice the reliefs claimed should not be granted. The Sub-Judge also rejected the reliefs sought on the ground of adverse possession and observed that:
“It is most unfortunate that a masjid should have been built on the land specially held sacred by the Hindus. But as that occurred 356 years ago, it is too late now to remedy the grievance. All that can be done is to maintain the parties in status quo.”
The Appeal of Mahant Raghubar Dass against the judgement of the Learned Sub-Judge before the District Judge of Faizabad and the Judicial Commissioner, W. Young (Civil appeal No. 27 of 1886) was also dismissed. In his judgement dated November 1, 1886 observed:
“This spot is situated within the precinct of the grounds surrounding a mosque erected some 350 years age owing to the bigotry and tyranny of the emperor who purposely chose this holy spot, according to Hindu legend as the site of his mosque. The Hindus seem to have got very limited rights of access to certain spots within the precinct adjoining the mosques and they have for a series of years been persistently trying to increase those rights and to erect buildings on two spots in the enclosure namely (1) Sita ki rasoi (kitchen of Sita) and (2) Ram Chander ki Janmabhoomi (birthplace of Lord Rama)… I am further of the opinion that the civil courts have properly dismissed the plaintiff’s claim.
Two things are to be noted here. The suit as well as the Appeal was rejected on grounds of adverse possession. The dispute was about the Chabutra situated in the precinct on which a building was sought to be erected and never the mosque itself. As set out in the judgement, certain elements from the Hindu community tried to persistently increase their rights – in the second and third round to the entire mosque itself. Even though the reliefs prayed for were not granted, the judgement tried not to antagonise the Hindu Community entirely by mentioning the atrocities of the tyrannical and bigot emperors (from whose tyrannical rule the colonial rulers claim to have “liberated” the sub-continent). It is not clear on what supporting evidence did the judges observe that the tyrannical Mughal Emperor out of bigotry demolished a temple 350 years ago to build a mosque in his name. Thus in spite of the judgements, the Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid controversy remained very much alive.
In 1934 riots, which were triggered off by the slaughter of a cow in the village of Shahjahanpur near Ayodhya, riotous mobs demolished part of the wall surrounding the mosque and damaged the domes. However, the mosque was restored at the cost of the Government.
Interestingly, there was also litigation between Shia Central Board of Waqf and Sunni Central Board of Waqf in the Court of Civil Judge, Faizabad. An inquiry was conducted the Commissioner of waqfs under the UP Muslim Wafqs Act. By judgement dated 23/3/46, it was held that the mosque was found by Babar Shah and used by members of both sects.
Till 22nd December1949, Muslims offered namaz in the Babri Masjid. However, on the night of 22nd December 1949, idols of Bhagwan shri Ramchandra were surreptitiously smuggled and installed inside the mosque. Constable Mata Prasad at Ayodhya Police Station reported the incident next day morning and the District Magistrate K.K. Nayar sent the following message to the Chief Minister and Chief Secretary by radiogram:
“A few Hindus entered Babri Masjid at night when the masjid was deserted and installed a deity there, DM and SP and force at spot. Situation under control, Police picket of 15 persons was on duty at night but did not apparently act.”
K. K. Nayar, who later contested elections on the then Jan Sangh ticket, wrote in his diary:
“The crowd made a most determined attempt to force entry. The lock was broken and policemen rushed off their legs. All of us, officers and men, somehow pushed the crowd back and held the gate. The gate was secured and locked with a powerful lock brought from outside and the police force was strengthened.”
Nayar also wrote to the Chief Secretary that in grave risk of large-scale riots it would not be desirable to attempt the removal of the idols through governmental agency. He also advised against stopping bhog and aarti but advised that the present pujari should be changed. Markandey Singh, Magistrate, First Class, and Additional City Magistrate, Faizabad-cumAyodhya after being “fully satisfied from information received from police sources and from other credible sources that a dispute between Hindus and Muslims of Ayodhya over the question rights of proprietorship and worship in the building claimed variously as Babri Masjid and Janmabhoomi Mandir, Mohalla Ram Kot, within the local limits of my jurisdiction, is likely to lead to a breach of peace,” ordered the attachment of the “said buildings” under Section 145 CrPC and appointed Priya Dutt Ram, Chairman, Municipal Board, Faizabad-cum-Ayodhya, as receiver to arrange for the care of the property in dispute on December 29, 1949.
Then a civil suit number 2 of 1950 was filed on January 16, 1950 by Gopal Singh Visharad in the court of the civil judge, Faizabad, praying for a declaration that he is entitled to worship and visit without obstruction or disturbance Shri Bhagwan Ram Chandra and others installed in the Janmabhoomi and a perpetual injunction restraining the defendants from removing these idols. Amongst the eight defendants were five Muslims and the state of Uttar Pradesh, the Deputy Commissioner and the Police Superintendent of Faizabad.
The civil judge N.N. Chadha, granted an interim injunction on 16/1/1950 allowing puja and darshan though the rights were in dispute. The Order was later modified on 19/1/1950 as follows:
“The parties are hereby restrained by means of the temporary injunction to refrain from removing the idols in question from the site in dispute and from interfering with the puja etc. as at present carried on.”
In addition to the above suit, three more suits relating to disputes over receivership and waqf were filed during the intervening period. The Nirmohi Akhara also staked its claim for ownership of the disputed land.
A lawyer of Ayodhya, Umesh Chandra Pandey quietly moved an application on 25/1/86 in the Court of Sadar Munsif, Hari Shakar Dubey seeking directions restraining the respondents from imposing any sort of restrictions or hurdles in the darshan and puja, etc. of Lord Rama and others in the Janambhoomi offered by him and other members of the Hindu community. The Application was in regular Suit no. 2 of 1950. The Munsif refused to pass orders on the ground that the file of the leading case along with which the above suit was consolidated was requisitioned in the High Court. Umesh Chandra had no locus standi in the above suit, and had not even impleaded all the defendants in the suit as party respondents in the application. Umesh Chandra filed an appeal against the order of the Munsif before the District Judge, Faizabad, K.M. Pandey on 31/1/86. The district judge rejected the application of the Mohammed Hashim to be impleaded as a party in the appeal. The District Judge recorded the statements of District Magistrate, Indu Kumar Pandey and Senior Superintendent of Police, Karma Vir Singh to the effect that:
“…it is not necessary to keep the locks at the gates for the purpose of maintaining law and order or the safety of the idols. This appears to be an unnecessary irritant to the applicant and other members of the community. There does not appear o be any necessity to create an artificial barrier between the idol and the devotees. It appears that the opposite parties have remained a prisoner of indecision for the last 35 years. Somebody in his wisdom thought fit to put locks at the gates at any point of time and nobody since then has seen whether there is any necessity to retain locks or not”.
The District judge then observed:
“after having heard the parties it is clear that the members of the other community, namely the Muslims, are not going to be affected by any stretch of imagination if the locks of the gates were opened and the idols inside the premises are allowed to be seen and worshipped by the pilgrims and devotees. It is undisputed that the premises are presently in the court’s possession and that for the last 35 years Hindus have had an unrestricted right or worship as a result of the court’s order of 1950 and 1951. If the Hindus are offering prayers and worshipping the idols, though in a restricted way for the last 35 years, then the heavens are not going to fall if the locks of the gates are removed. The district magistrate has stated before me today that the members of the Muslim community are not allowed to offer any prayers at the disputed site. They are not allowed to go there. … If this is the state of affairs then there is no occasion for any law and order problem arising as a result of the removal of the locks. It is absolutely an affair inside the premises. There is no justification for retaining locks after the positive statements of the district magistrate and the SSP Faizabad that the law and order situation can be very well kept under control by other means as well and for that end it is not necessary to keep the locks on these gates.”
The appeal allowed and the respondents – district magistrate, the city magistrate and the police superintendent of Faizabad were directed to open the locks forthwith and not to impose any restrictions or cause hurdle in the darshan and puja, etc. of the applicant and other members of the community in general. With the order of the District Judge, the site, which was in the register of waqf as a mosque for over over 400 years as a mosque was converted into a de facto temple. The procedure adopted by the district judge of recording the statement of the District Magistrate and the Senior Superintendent of the Police was very unusual to the say the least. Application of Umesh Chandra Pandey was incompetent as he was not a party in the suit. The suit itself was not pending. Gopal Singh Visharad, the Plaintiff in the Regular Suit No. 2 of 1950 had died years ago and no substitution had been made in his place and as such the suit had automatically abated. Such an order could not be passed altering the situation after 36 years. Also, contrary to the general procedure and practice was the fact that the District Judge rejected the application of the Muslims who were originally party to the suit to be impleaded as a party. The District Judge had no basis to conclude that Muslims would not be adversely affected and that too without hearing the applicants to be impleaded as a party. The District Judge in effect adjudicated the rights of the contending parties without hearing all the parties to the suit on a very narrow and negative ground that there would not be any law and order problem if the locks were removed. The adjudication was not on strength of respective claims and the case of the parties, as all the parties concerned and the strength of their claims were not heard were not heard at all. Law and order problem is never a consideration while adjudicating rights of the party. If the courts adjudicate rights of the parties to litigation on consideration of law and order, what we will have is not rule of law but rule of might. The background in which the judgement was delivered will not be out of place here. The SSP and the DM would not have given the statement about their confidence in being able to maintain law and order, without approval of the State and Central Government. The Rajiv Gandhi Government was on the one hand trying to appease the Muslim Fundamentalists on the issue of Sahabano and intended legislation for denial of maintenance to divorced Muslim women under S. 125 of Cr.P.C. On the other hand, the Government was also trying to appease the Hindu community by getting the locks of Ramjanambhumi-Babri Masjid opened for darshan and puja.
Supreme Court Judgement in Ayodhya case
The decade of 1980 will be remembered as a bloody decade with communal clashes all over the country as the issue of Ramjanambhumi was politicised and nationalised by the Sangh Parivar. The Ramjanambhumi, which had hitherto remained a dispute between some elements from both communities in Ayodhya, was taken to every nook and corner in most cities and even rural areas all over the country. The demand for which the mobilisation was aimed was to open the lock of the Babri Masjid and permit puja and darshan. After the lock was opened, the next demand was handing over the entire site for construction of Ramjanmabhumi Temple and shifting of the mosque outside panchkoshi parikrama. Legally, it was difficult to achieve this fete without the intervention of the courts and the state. The issue of title of the property, which is the main legal issue involved in the dispute pending in the courts operates against the protagonist of Ramjanmabhumi temple. For right to worship cannot be claimed as an easement on somebody else’s property. So far as law is concerned, faith and belief, or even proof of place of birth of Bhagwan Ramchandra is also not a relevant issue to decide the title and / or grant right to worship. Agitational mobilisation by the Sangh Parivar was to pressurise the state and the courts to act and the pressure did work.
First the UP State acquired the place surrounding the place in the name of providing certain facilities to the pilgrims, the site on which Rajiv Gandhi laid foundation stone of the Ramjanmabhumi on in November 1990. Babri Masjid was then demolished on 6.12.92 by mobs mobilised by the Sangh Parivar. The Courts as well as the state allowed the mob to assemble in the naïve belief that the Mosque will not be touched. Then the Union Government issued ordinance named ‘Acquisition of Certain Area at Ayodhya Ordinance’ on 7.1.93 for acquisition of 67.703 acres of land, including the site of Babri Masjid. The Ordinance was later replaced by an Act. The Union Government also made a Special Reference under Article 143(1) of the Constitution of India to the Supreme Court for the opinion of the Court on:
“Whether a Hindu temple or any Hindu religious structure existed prior to the construction of the Ram Janma Bhumi – Babri Masjid (including the premises of the inner and outer courtyards of such structure) in the area on which the structure stood”.
The reference itself was slanted in favour of the majority community. The Court was called upon to give its opinion whether any Hindu religious structure existed prior to construction of Ram Janma Bhumi – Babri Masjid. … The structure that stood was certainly not “Ramjanma Bhumi” but Babri Masjid admittedly constructed by Mir Baqi. The only contention of the protagonist of Ramjanma Bhumi Temple being that the same was after demolition of Janam Asthan Temple. Secondly, no time frame was prescribed for examination of existence of Ram Janma Bhumi – Babri Masjid. If the referendum had been answered in positive, the Union Government would have been compelled to hand over the entire site on which Babri Masjid stood to the Hindu litigants or a trust or association. The Supreme Court however rejected the reference as superfluous.
The five judge Constitutional Bench of the Supreme Court was also called upon adjudicate on the validity of the Acquisition Act in Ismail Faruqui Vs. Union of India (1994 (6) SCC 360). The Judgement delivered by Justice Verma on behalf of the majority held the Act as a whole to be valid, striking down only Section 4 (3) of the Acquisition Act on the ground that extinction of judicial remedy for resolution of the dispute without providing any alternative dispute resolution forum amounts to negation of rule of law. The Section 4 (3) is as follows:
“If, on the commencement of this Act, any suit, appeal or other proceeding in respect of the right, title and interest relating to any property which has vested in the Central Government under Section 3, is pending before any court, tribunal or other authority, the same shall abate.”
Even while holding Section 4 (3) to be void and unconstitutional, the majority Judgement upheld the Constitutional validity of the rest of the provisions of the Act, including that of Section 3 by virtue of which, right title and interest of the 67.703 acres of land area, including the site of Babri Masjid stood transferred and vested in the hands of the Central Government. The minority Judgement delivered by Justice Bharucha delivering judgement on behalf of himself and Justice Ahmedi held that the section 3, 4 and 8 are unconstitutional.
The majority Judgement held that the land of even mosque can be compulsorily acquired by the state and it stood on the same footing as that of other places of worship. While there can be no quarrel with that, the effect of compulsory acquisition could not be lost in the case at hand. The minority judgement held that secularism is absolute and
“the state may not treat religions differently on the ground that public order required it. … When adherents of the religion of the majority of Indian citizens make a claim upon and assail the place of worship of another religion and, by dint of numbers, create conditions that are conducive to public disorder, it is the constitutional obligation of the State to protect that place of worship and to preserve public order, using for the purpose such means and forces of law and order as are required. It is impermissible under the provisions of the Constitution for the State to acquire that place of worship to reserve public order. To condone the acquisition of a place of worship in such circumstances is to efface the principle of secularism from the Constitution…”
Section 7 of the Acquisition Act is slanted in favour of the Hindu community as section 7 (2) required maintenance status-quo as prevailed before 7-1-93, which would mean that idols must be retained where they were before 7-1-93 and puja as carried on as before. Section 7 would entail idol would remain and puja continue for an indefinite period.
The Ayodhya Judgement thus struck down only section 4 (3) of the Acquisition Act as per the majority Judgement and as a result of striking down Section 4 (3) all the Suits pending before the High Court revived and the High Court is now hearing the suit day to day. The minority Judgement, however, held that the Acquisition Act vested a whole bundle of rights in the Central Government, including that of the disputed site. According to Section 6 of the Acquisition Act, the Central Government was enabling provision and the Central Government could further transfer whole bundle of right and property to any authority or a body or a trust on terms and conditions that the Central Government might think fit to impose. Those terms and conditions are not specified in the Act, nor is there any indication in that behalf available. The majority Judgment however held that after the pending dispute was adjudicated, the Central Government would hand over the disputed site in accordance with the adjudication to appropriate authority, trust or body. In the event the adjudication is in favour of litigants from minority community, would the Central Government with any political party in power have the political courage to hand over the disputed site to a body, authority or trust of minority community to reconstruct the demolished mosque? That remains to be seen.
To summarise, admittedly, Babri Masjid was built by Mir Baqi in the year 1528 and is noted in the waqf register of Sunni Central Board of Waqf. In 1885 and 1886, the claim of the Hindu litigants was only on the Chabutra as they wanted to construct a structure to protect the devotees from the vagaries of the weather and no more. On the strength of adverse possession, the courts dealing with the dispute during the colonial period rejected the prayers of the Hindu litigants to construct any structure even on the Chabutra. The prayers were rejected even though the courts held (it is not known on what evidence) that the Masjid was built on land held sacred by the Hindus but that occurred 356 years ago on the same spot. After independence, the Hindu litigants adopted incremental approach, slowly enlarging their rights and claims with combination of surreptitious acts, agitational mobilisation and repeated applications to the court. Surreptitious acts when no legal claim left on their side. Another round of litigation on threat of agitational mobilisation. The claims were based not on the strength of title to the property but on their right to unhindered and unrestricted worship. After the idols were smuggled inside the Mosque, there was another round of litigation, which virtually ignored the title and turned the court into a receiver of the property giving the Hindus increasing access to the property as and by way of right to worship, while the Muslim community was denied the access in spite of the fact that the property was a waqf property. After the locks were opened in 1986 on the ground that there would be no problem maintaining law and order if the locks are open, the Hindu nationalist forces were emboldened even more. As they were mobilising their forces and indulging into hate propaganda, the State remained a mute bystander refusing to act and take preventive measures for maintenance of law and order. Even the courts when they had the opportunity did not act decisively and the hoodlums of Hindu nationalist forces were allowed to assemble in large numbers, ultimately resulting in demolition of Babri Mosque and construction of a make shift temple. The Courts as well as the executive rewarded those who demolished the Mosque by legitimising the “rights” acquired by force in the name of maintaining status – quo and maintaining law and order. The Central Govt. acquired the disputed site and the surrounding areas under the Acquisition Act, thus depriving the Muslim litigants of their defence or claim of adverse possession to the disputed site. The Supreme Court majority Judgement legitimised the acquisition by state in the name of maintaining public order. The litigants from the minority community, we feel, are fighting a losing battle – not because their claim to the title of the disputed site is weak or defective, but because they cannot match the power of the Hindu nationalist forces in creating law and order problem, which is material in influencing the decision making in our country. The Hindu nationalist forces have enlarged their rights and claims from Chabutra to worship on the very disputed site not because of their legitimate claim but by threatening not to obey the orders of the Court in matters of “faith”.