By Lekshmi Parameswaran*
History is replete with instances where disputes over property have led to wars and which have resulted in much bloodshed. One such instance in modern India was that of Ayodhya where the Hindus and Muslims have been involved in a title dispute over a land stretching to 2.77 acres in the state of Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous and politically sensitive state. Over this land stood a mosque constructed by Mir Baqi in 1528 on the orders of the Mughal Emperor Babur and which Hindus believe is the birthplace of one of the important deities they worship, Lord Ram.
It is ironical that the dispute which had defined the social, religious and cultural milieu of India happened in a place which derives its name from the Sanskrit verb ‘yudh’ which means ‘to fight or wage war.’ Starting in 1885 when the first suit was filed in the court to build a canopy outside the disputed structure for Hindus to worship and which was subsequently rejected by the court to idols of Lord Ram being placed in the central dome of the Mosque in 1949 to the demolition of the disputed structure – Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid on 6 December 1992, Ayodhya has witnessed events that have shaken the secular fabric of the nation for a period of 165 years.
In this context, the November 9 judgement of the five-judge constitutional bench of the Supreme Court is far bigger in scope than mere title dispute. The Ayodhya case will go down in the annals of history for the bloodshed it had seen and for making a nation aware of the stark communal differences. In the years that followed, political parties from all hues and colours have constantly used what happened in Ayodhya to sow seeds of hatred among communities.
While one party made it their election plank, another used it to perpetuate the idea of majoritarianism while another stood as a mere spectator to the events that unfolded despite having the power to stop what was coming. The media in India which had got into the habit of first reacting to something without understanding the repercussions of their actions ensured that the Ayodhya case was brought up time and again and made to stay alive in the public conscience. Even when there was a lukewarm response to the judgement of the Allahabad High Court’s judgment in 2010, the media in the years that followed made certain that there was a sustained interest in the issue in line with the dominant political ideology of the times.
The unanimous decision of the Supreme Court has laid to rest many of the uncertainties surrounding the title deed. Careful scrutiny of the judgement that is over 1000 pages long would bring to light that it was a judgment that had considered all aspects of the dispute and which has addressed many of the possible questions that may arise in the years to come. The court in its judgement has rightly condemned the atrocities faced by the Muslims over the years at the hands of Hindus. The desecration of their place of worship and demolition of the Babri Masjid has been acknowledged as historical wrongs in the judgement.
The judgement also took cognizance of the Archeological Survey of India’s findings which stated that the mosque was built over the ruins of a structure that was probably a Hindu temple. With the court refusing to consider the claims of the third party to the dispute, the Nirmohi Akhara due to the party not filing its suit in time, it established that both the Hindus and Muslims have rights over the disputed land. It was on the ‘balance of probabilities’ that the ruling went in favour of Lord Ram who was held to be a juristic person. The Sunni Waqf Board was directed to be given five acres of alternate land for a mosque in Ayodhya and the Nirmohi Akhara is to be given representation in the trust as deemed fit by the Central government.
Keeping aside the technicalities, there are certain facts that need to be noted. The Court has directed a trust to be formed under the Central government and has stated that the trust has rights to do whatever it wants to with the land that can also include the construction of a temple. Nowhere is it a victory of any of the Hindu outfits that have come to be identified with the Ram Janmabhoomi movement. What won was perhaps the faith of those thousands of people who staunchly believe that Ayodhya is their sacred land and they should be given the right to practice their faith.
It is also interesting to note that Article 142 of the Indian Constitution was invoked to give land to the Waqf Board. The Article allows the Supreme Court to pass any order necessary for doing complete justice to any cause. This in effect meant that the Court wanted a verdict that would satisfy the claims of all the parties involved and it did not view it as a mere title dispute case, but as a case, that would go on to define the secular fabric of India for generations to come.
Though the vandalism and demolition of a religious place of worship can never be justified, the Court in its judgement had given an underlying message that it is time to move on from the past and look ahead. Through its historic judgement, it had shifted the focus away from a stretch of land and has given Indians a chance to understand the essence of each and every religion. Perhaps the logic that at least one of the judges would have employed is that a mosque is a prayer hall that faces the direction of the Holy land of Mecca. So, other than dividing the disputed land, it would be in the larger interest to have two separate places of worship. For others, it may have been safeguarding the interests of the minorities in a land where the majority often turns hostile in the name of religion and politics.
The reasons for the judgement can be aplenty and it would require debates on politics, law. history and religion to understand the real nature of how the points made in the judgement will affect India. For the time being, all it can be hoped is that the parties celebrating the judgement will be sensitive to the thoughts of all the others involved in the dispute and those who see the judgement as defeat will realise that in fact, they are the ones who have claimed a moral victory. The judgement has put faith in their ability to maintain amity in the nation.
*About the author: The writer is Web Editor.of the Society for Policy Studies (SPS), New Delhi. She can be contacted at [email protected]
Source: This article was published by South Asia Monitor