Prof Ujjwal K Chowdhury
Verdict & the Acceptance:
The biggest political trigger of our times, the Babri Masjid demolition and Ramjanmabhoomi dispute has been sorted out with the verdict of Saturday. The Supreme Court verdict has been unanimous involving judges from various backgrounds and stature. The apex court decided to give the disputed 2.77 acres to build Ram Temple and asked the government to find 5 acres in a prominent place in Ayodhya for a masjid to be built up. This order paves the way for a Ram temple to be built on the spot where the Babri Masjid was demolished in 1992, a long-standing demand of Hindutva organisations and the BJP, and around this site some 67 acres have already been acquired by Yogi Adityanath government of UP in preparation to build a grand Ram Temple. The verdict has been largely welcomed by the ruling and several opposition parties. There has been so no major news on violence or discontent expressed on the roads neither any aggressive celebrations. The Prime Minister addressed the nation without grandstanding or talking of vindicating his political position though compared this with the moment of the fall of Berlin, on which people may had diverse opinions. The ideological mentor of the ruling BJP, Sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat of the RSS also addressed welcoming the verdict calling for focusing on “character-building” ahead and not stressing on the other disputed sites in Kashi and Mathura. The verdict perhaps heralds the end of Ramjanmabhoomi centric politics and whipping up of sentiments across more than a quarter century in India.
So far so good. It is victory of peace and social harmony, and every Indian must welcome that. So it seems at least today.
Faith as Basis of Judicial Verdict:
But there is another side to the entire issue which emanates from a crucial stand expressed by the Supreme Court in its verdict on this issue (on page 215 of the verdict): “It is true that in matters of faith and belief, the absence of evidence may not be an evidence of absence.” And this in effect means irrespective of whether there is an evidence or not, matters of faith have to be upheld (and what gets implied here is that more so if there is a strong and aggressive public opinion behind it).
So matters of faith, and not scientific facts and findings, have become extension of law in effect. Many criticise the Sharia Law precisely for this that it institutionalizes matters of faith as premises of law. But we have just done a similar feat, albeit in one context. And may be with the pious intention to maintain peace.
Now the points to ponder over from purely judicial and factual perspective.
First, with this verdict the disputed piece of land is given to Ram Lalla Virajman, or infant Ram, whose idol is at the disputed site, and thereby a deity and a character of mythology who might have existed thousands of years ago in Treta Yug (another belief-based timeline), is made a legal entity today.
Second, the Court has called the installation of idols in the disputed structure in 1949 by one Abhirama Das being illegal as there were prayers being offered by Muslims there at that time. The Court has also called the demolition of Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992, as illegal as it was a forced destruction of a site of prayer. If both of these are illegal, then how does the idol installed through this become a legal entity owning rights of the land, and how do the ideological-religious successors of those who demolished the mosque illegally now get rights to the land?
Third, the Court’s one major premise was that the Muslim side (Sunni Wakf Board) failed to put on record any evidences to prove that the Muslims were praying there for a long time. The court has deprived Muslims of the disputed plot because they couldn’t show exclusive possession before 1857. Factually right. But the same yardstick was not applied for Hindus as to whether their ancestors were praying there or not for long. The crux of the judgement is that Muslims failed to show unimpeded possession of the disputed site in Ayodhya between 1528, when the mosque was supposedly built by Mughal emperor Babur, and 1857, when, after a clash between Muslims and Hindus, a railing was erected between the inner and outer courtyards at the disputed site. The inner courtyard is where the mosque demolished by Hindutva mobs in 1992 stood. The outer courtyard has several Hindu shrines. While the judgment strains to point out that the matter was not decided on faith, it places the onus on Muslims alone to prove exclusive possession of the site. There is no similar expectation from the Hindu side. This leaves the impression that the Hindu belief in the site being the birthplace of Ram somehow took precedence over the Muslim claim.
Fourth, From the ASI report, the court concedes that a structure existed beneath the mosque. It, however, chose to contexualise this report and state that the ASI did not conclude that a temple had been demolished to build the 16th century mosque. It also pointed to the date of the temple as 12th century, citing the long gap between the date of the temple and the construction of the mosque in 1528. Having done so, the court said the ASI findings could not be the basis of awarding title in a land dispute, disregarding a crucial point that there was no concrete link between the destruction of the ancient temple and the construction of the mosque.
Fifth, the entire imagery of Sri Ram and the argument of Ramlalla being born there are a matter of faith and not fact, and we cannot even tell exact birth-locations of ourselves or our earlier two or three generations. However, one of India’s longest running legal feud continued and now is resolved based on this fictional or mythological notion.
Sixth, this is based fundamentally on a compromise formula, and the Court accepts that, on Solomonic wisdom. King Solomon ordered dividing a child between two ladies who claimed to be its biological mother only to find the real mother accept the child to be given to the other lady but not divide the baby. This has ensured peace for the moment, but is this truly just remains to be answered.
Finally, notwithstanding the merits and demerits of the Supreme Court’s verdict on the Ayodhya title suit, one aspect of the judgment is clear: in its manner of handing over ownership rights of the land where Babri Masjid once stood to Hindu parties, it has consequently and essentially put the Modi government at the forefront of the temple building process to hog the limelight and reap political advantage. Interestingly, within 7 hours of the verdict, the Maharashtra Governor invited BJP to form government and prove its majority within 48 hours on the floor of the Assembly, though this action was expected over the last 15 days but not taken.
Long Forgotten Allahabad High Court Verdict:
The Supreme court said that the Allahabad High Court, which in 2010 had divided the land between the Ramlalla Trust (garbhagriha for making temple), the Nirmohi Akhara, and Muslim Sunni Wakf Board parties, “defied logic”. This verdict which to my mind accommodated all parties and still had the perceived birth-place given to Ramlalla, was more nuanced and balanced, but fell by the way, as strangely all three parties approached the Supreme Court for a final verdict.
Perhaps there is nothing more to expect out of this issue. The only two things one can hope moving ahead are that, first, there are no more such long-drawn and blood-soaked history of communally surcharged movements on other perceived Hindu holy places at the very sites of other mosques (as is claimed in Kashi and Mathura), and second, that the nation and its government now focus to fix the economy which is going down continuously with growth at an all time low in last decade at 5% (GDP growth rate at revised rates) and unemployment at an all time high in last four decades (at 9%), among other declining parameters.
The author is currently the Pro Vice Chancellor of Kolkata based Adamas University, and a regular columnist and television analyst, being the former Media Dean of Symbiosis, Amity, Pearl Academy and Whistling Woods International.