History Behind the Babri Masjid
Since the partition of India in 1947, probably the most polarising issue that India has seen is the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid Land Title dispute in the city of Ayodhya in India.
To truly understand the political, legal, religious, and ideological aspects of an issue that shook India from its very foundations and dominated much of the Hindu Nationalist-Secular India agenda one will have to take a sneak peek into 500 years ago.
India, the birthplace of Lord Ram was predominantly a Hindu nation for a long time. With Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists and Jains mainly inhabiting the landmass then known as “Bharatvarsh”.
For a considerable period in history, this land was rich in its wealth but was divided into hundreds of smaller kingdoms and tribes, attracting several invaders, most significant of whom was the founder of the Mughal Empire Zahir-ud-din Muhammed Babur in 1526.
Although the Mughal Empire ushered in a period of unheard-of economic growth in the subcontinent, one of the most dubious and contentious outcomes of it was the building of the Babri Masjid by his Babur’s commander Mir Baqi in 1528-1529.
The entire debate of Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid Land Title dispute hinges on one single question, was there a temple on the site of the Babri Masjid before its construction?
The communal polarisation that was caged inside the Babri Masjid stayed there for several centuries. The Mughals ruled with an iron fist, and the British Raj refused to alter the status quo, things stayed the same way.
In 1949, the Akhil Bharatiya Ramayana Mahasabha organised a 9-day recitation of the Ramcharitra Manas which ended with activists breaking into the Mosque complex and placing idols of Ram and Sita inside. This placed the future of the entire new-born nation on a knife’s edge.
The Masjid/makeshift Temple was locked, but Hindu priests were allowed to perform daily puja, and this went on for 30 years.
In 1992, LK Advani led a delegation of Hindu Mahasabha, Vishwa Hindu Parishad and BJP leaders to the site of the Babri Masjid. Within 6 hours, the violent karsevaks levelled the Babri Masjid demolished using makeshift tools and improvised hammers.
Communal violence broke out of every corner in the country. The then Prime Minister of India, P.V. Narsimha Rao set up the Liberban Commission to investigate the events.
The Government then acquired the 67 acres of land surrounding the disputed site and adjoining areas. Hearing of the title dispute began in April 2002 in Allahabad.
Demands of the Parties
The Ram Janmabhoomi dispute is essentially one between three entities
- The Nirmohi Akhara, a Vaishnavite sect of Hinduism,
- The Sunni Central Waqf Board, an entity that represented the Sunni sect of Indian Muslims, and
- Ram Lalla, the idol itself, which was given juridical entity status.
The Nirmohi Akhara believed itself to be the custodian of the Temple; they were the ones who would maintain it. On 17th December 1959, Nirmohi Akhara instituted a suit before a Civil Judge in Faizabad claiming that it had an “absolute right” to manage the affairs of the Temple. It sought a decree to hand over the management and charge of the Temple to them.
Two years later, in 1961, the Sunni Central Waqf Board and nine Muslim residents of Ayodhya filed a suit before the same Court seeking a declaration that the entire disputed site of the Babri Masjid was a public mosque.
On 1st July 1989, another suit was brought before the Civil Judge, Faizabad by the deity Ram Lalla Virajman and the birthplace Asthan Shri Ram Janam Bhumi, Ayodhya. The suit demanded for the declaration of title to the disputed premises and to construct a temple. Ten days later, all suits were transferred to the High Court at Allahabad.
The Allahabad High Court Judgement
Sixty years following that fateful night on 22nd December 1949, when Idols were placed inside the Babri Mosque complex, the Allahabad High Court came out with its landmark judgement on 30th September 2010.
The three-judge bench ruled in a majority judgment 2:1 that there would be a three-way division of the disputed land. In a final judgement order that was in excess of 8,000 pages, the Court said that the 2.77 complex would be divided among the three legitimate plaintiffs.
The Court decreed that one-third of the land was for the Sunni Waqf Board, one-third for the Nirmohi Akhara and the final third belonged to ‘Ram Lalla’.
In an order that spans over 8,000 pages, the High Court said the three central domes under which the idols of Lord Ram and other Gods were placed in a makeshift temple, belonged to Ram Lalla Virajmaan. All three judges agreed on this decision because of the ‘belief’ that this was the birthplace of Lord Ram.
The Nirmohi Akhara would get the portion of the Ram Chabutra and Sita Rasoi. The Sunni Wakf Board was to be allotted a third of the remaining portion of the land. The Court assured the Wakf Board that the land secured by the Government in 1993 would be used to assure them their share.
Now the biggest failure of the Allahabad High Court Judgement was the fact that none of the three parties agreed for a partition of the land and consequently, the case was passed on to the Supreme Court, and a Judgement in the case was reserved in October 2019.
The Supreme Court’s Judgement
On the evening of 8th November, Friday the Supreme Court of India announced that the verdict for the Ayodhya title suit would be announced at 10:30 AM the next day.
It is speculated that the announcement was made at such short notice to ensure the safety of all citizens, so anti-social elements do not get the opportunity to prepare for any violence ahead of the verdict.
The Supreme Court bench, constituting of CJI Ranjan Gogoi, CJI-designate S A Bobde and Justices D Y Chandrachud, Ashok Bhushan and S Abdul Nazeer heard the arguments of both the sides involved in the dispute for 41 days before finally delivering the judgement. The 5-judge bench unanimously delivered the 1045-page judgement on Saturday morning.
Of the five pleas in the title suit, the Court dismissed that of the Shia Waqf Board against the Sunni Waqf Board on the claim to the Babri Masjid. The CJI said that the judgement was based on archaeological and legal evidence and that it was inappropriate for the judiciary to get into matters of theology.
He said that the findings of the Archaeological Survey of India that the mosque was built on a structure of Hindu origin were undoubtedly clear and could not be neglected. The SC stated that the desecration of the mosque by placing idols and the later demolition of the mosque were against the law and condemnable.
The apex court also noted that the earlier Allahabad High Court verdict was wrong in dividing the land into three pieces.
Ram Lalla, the deity was given ownership of the 2.77 acres of the disputed land, and the Sunni Waqf Board was allotted 5 acres of land for the construction of a mosque. The Supreme Court asked the Centre to formulate a scheme to appoint a board of trustees for the construction of the Temple at the disputed site. The Nirmohi Akhara will be given appropriate representation in this trust. The Centre will hand over the disputed land to the Board of Trustees and allocate five acres of land to the Sunni Waqf Board.
A TLDR Timeline
– Written by Siri Rajanahally, Sunay Mehta, Rahul Alvares, and Avaneesh Jai Damaraju for MTTN
– Edited by Rahul Alvares for MTTN