Ayodhya case is history, time to look ahead

Devotees walk past the pillars that Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) say will be used to build a Ram temple in Ayodhya. Reuters file photo

The best thing about the Supreme Court’s Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid case judgement is that it may have brought closure to the festering problem underlying it, with all its legal, political and social implications, after decades of disputations, conflict and even bloodshed at times.

The five-judge Constitution bench presided over by the Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi has pronounced its judgement after a continuous 40-day hearing in the case, giving away the disputed land to the Ram Janmabhoomi Trust and providing for allocation of five acres of alternative land for Muslims for construction of a mosque to compensate them for the loss of Babri Masjid.

The judgement came on the petitions filed by both Hindu and Muslim parties against the Allahabad high court’s 2010 judgement which had divided the disputed land between the three parties.

 

 

The high court judgement had pleased no party, but the Supreme Court’s verdict seems to have pleased only the Hindu side.

The court directed the central government to frame a scheme within three months to allocate land for the mosque and form the temple trust. The 2.77 acres of disputed land will be handed over to the trust to build the temple.

The court reasoned that although Muslims never lost possession of the disputed land, they were not able to establish adverse possession. But it said, relying on reports of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), that there is sufficient proof that Babri Masjid was not built on an empty land but on an underlying structure that is not Islamic. It is ironic that this evidence would not have been available to the court before the demolition of the mosque, and if the case, which has a long history in various courts, had been decided earlier.

It should also be noted that the court has dubbed the installation of the idols of Ram and Sita inside the mosque in 1949 and the demolition of the mosque in December 1992 as criminal and illegal actions. Giving possession of the land to the Hindu side for the construction of a temple therefore seems to have some contradiction in it, and would seem to amount to validation and legitimisation of the demolition.

This is unfortunate, and would not send the right signals to the nation about the need to stick to the straight and narrow path of the law in dealing with disputes of this nature.

The court noted that Hindus have established a possessionary title to the outer courtyard by virtue of exclusive and unimpeded worship at the Ram Chabutra and other objects of religious significance. It has accepted the continuity of worship and practice as grounds for giving the title of the site to the Hindu side. The Muslim side would have the grouse that they also had continuity of worship and practice which was disrupted and impeded by others, and so their rights should not have been taken away. The court, and other courts before it, could have gone by the principle that they cannot and should not be used as tools and forums to correct historical wrongs. Going by that view it need not even have looked at historical evidence. In the end it gave a nod to historical evidence, which in any case is not completely reliable. Destruction of places of worship did not start with the Muslim invasions, and Buddhist and Jain shrines had been demolished before that. Is reconstruction possible and desirable in all such cases? In a modern democracy governed by a republican Constitution which grants equal rights to all communities and individuals, and holds all religions equal, such historical revanchism should not have arisen. But it did, driven by a politics of the majoritarian kind and gained strength, and the court was forced to adjudicate on a matter whose core is faith, which cannot be legally and judicially measured and determined.

When the details of the judgement and all the arguments are studied, there may arise many other issues which are debatable. It may even be seen that there is an element of arbitration in the judgement. There will also be discussions on whether there were alternatives, which are more in conformity with the secular nature of the Constitution and the country’s tolerant and inclusive traditions, which could have been explored by the court. It is certain that the judgement will be discussed and analysed for a long time to come from many angles. But it should be stressed that it is final and should be accepted by even those who are unhappy about it. The Muslim organisations, leaders of the community and others who have disagreements with the judgement have made it clear that the court’s decision is to be respected and abided by. The rule of law will take a knock if the judgement of the highest court of the land is not accepted by the parties to the case and all others, however disagreeable it is.

The nation also has to be on guard against the use of this judgement for retrieval of other places of worship like those at Kashi and Mathura, which are also on the agenda of the Sangh Parivar. The existing law on retaining the status quo of all religious places should be strictly adhered to and implemented. It should be noted that the Act of 1991 which ordains maintenance of the religious character of any place of worship as it existed on August 15, 1947 was mentioned by the court. Muslims may yet accept the Ayodhya judgement but if other places of worship are also threatened, it will plunge the country into an unending cauldron of communalism and conflict.

Now that those Hindus who wanted a Ram temple have had their ‘victory’, there should be no triumphalism and they should act, speak and conduct themselves with grace and ensure that Muslims do not feel defeated and under siege. It is a sign of the maturity and good sense of the people that there has not been any untoward incident in the wake of the judgement, and the authorities who took many steps to ensure there is no breach of peace should continue their vigil.

The Babri case is behind us, but we still do not know if the Ayodhya issue is completely behind us. But it is time to get back to matters of today and the future — such as the economy, and unemployment. A slide into communal politics and frenzy, seeking to correct the injustices, supposed and real, of a past age will mean that our demographic dividend will pass by without India having attained the global stature that it should within the next few decades.

 

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