Ayodhya Dispute Settled

The Supreme Court paved the way for construction of a Ram temple at the disputed site in Ayodhya, on the ground that the Hindu litigants had demonstrated a stronger claim to the disputed property than the Muslim side, thus bringing to an end more than a century-long dispute over the title of the land. But in a gesture of restitution for the desecration and demolition of the Babri Masjid, the court ordered that the Muslims be given a five acre plot to build a mosque.

“… the evidence in respect of the possessory claim of the Hindus to the composite whole of the disputed property stands on a better footing than the evidence adduced by the Muslims…,” a five-judge bench led by CJI Ranjan Gogoi said.

Oral and documentary evidence suggested that the Hindus had historically worshipped the inner courtyard — on which the now-demolished masjid once stood — as the birthplace of Lord Rama, the court said.

The core of the dispute was about the legal title of the small inner courtyard (an area of 2.77 acres) on which the Babri Masjid once stood. Many Hindus have claimed that birthplace of Lord Rama was in the courtyard, under the central dome of the mosque.

“All evidence indicates that a reasonable inference based on a preponderance of probabilities can be made that there was continuum of faith and belief of the Hindus that the garbh griha was the place of birth of Lord Ram both prior to and after the construction of the wall,” the court said.

The British put a wall between the inner and the outer courtyard to reduce hostilities between the two sides, but the Hindus continued to pray at the side of the railing towards the garbh griha, the court said.

Though the Hindus continued to worship at the Ram Chabutra in the outer courtyard, the consistent pattern of their worship including the making of offerings to the Garbh Griha while standing at the railing, indicated their belief that it was the birth place of Lord Ram, the court said.

“… there can be no manner of doubt that this was in furtherance of their belief that the birthplace of Lord Ram was within the precincts of and under the central dome of the mosque.”

On the outer courtyard, the court said, that the use of the area within the railing by the Muslims was contentious and their access to the inner courtyard was landlocked; the only access being through the two gates to the outer portion and the area which were in the control of the Hindus. “There is clear evidence to indicate the worship by the Hindus in the outer courtyard continued unimpeded in spite of the setting up of a grill-brick wall in 1857. Their possession of the outer courtyard stands established….” as per the judgment.

There is evidence to establish worship by the Hindus prior to the annexation of Oudh by the British in 1857. The Muslims have offered no evidence to indicate that they were in exclusive possession of the inner structure prior to 1857, since the mosque’s construction in the 16th century.

The five-judge bench also ruled, in a unanimous verdict, that the UP Sunni Central Wakf Board would get five acres to build a mosque either in the surplus land area around the disputed structure or elsewhere in a suitable, prominent place. This was a reparation of sorts for the legal wrongs done to the community. “Justice would not prevail if the court were to overlook the entitlement of the Muslims who have been deprived of the… mosque through means which should not have been employed in a secular nation committed to rule of law. The Constitution postulates the equality of all faiths. Tolerance and mutual co-existence nourish the secular commitment of our nation and its people.”

The central government had acquired the surplus 67 acres in and around the disputed structure in the immediate aftermath of the December 6, 1992, demolition.

The disputed land, measuring 2.77 acres, will stay for now with a receiver till the central government sets up within 3 months a trust or any other body to take over its management and control. Nirmohi Akhara has been ousted as the sebait of the temple at the disputed site and will now be only a member of the trust among many others. Mere presence or possession is not sufficient to be vested with the powers of a shebait, SC said. No evidence has been produced to show exercise of management rights by the Akhara.

The bench also reminded the state of its obligation to enforce its commitment to secularism, in a hint to the government to rein in elements which may rake up similar disputes at Mathura and Kashi in the wake of the Ayodhya ruling by implementing the Places of Worship Act which freezes places of worship in India as they existed in 1947.

“Historical wrongs cannot be remedied by the people taking the law in their own hands. In preserving the character of places of public worship, Parliament has mandated in no uncertain terms that history and its wrongs shall not be used as instruments to oppress the present and the future,” the court said.

The court said this while striking down parts of HC judgment, which had diluted the 1991 law. The bench also refused to declare the janmasthan as a juristic person although it conceded that the deity itself could be given such a status. In its first reaction to the ruling, the Akhara said that it would await the consultative process with the government to discuss appropriate representation in the new trust. “At the same time, the lawyers will study the judgment in detail and then decide how to proceed legally.”

Sunni Waqf Board chairman Zafar Faruqi on his part said that the Board may not challenge the ruling though that may not be the final word on the subject. The Allahabad High Court had in 2010 ordered a three-way division of the land to declare that the Hindus would get two thirds and the UP Sunni Central Wakf Board one-third of the disputed land.

Under the HC ruling, the Ram Lalla was to get the inner courtyard while the Ram Chabutra and the Sita Rasoi, would go to the Akhara. The Board was to get land after all adjustments for entry and exit for all parties.

The top court bench, which also comprised CJI-designate SA Bobde, and Justices Ashok Bhushan, DY Chandrachud and S Abdul Nazeer, dubbed the HC order as devoid of logic. The High Court was not dealing with a partition suit, it said, but a title suit. “Even as a matter of maintaining public peace and tranquillity, the solution which commended itself to the High Court is not feasible.”

“The disputed site admeasures all of 1,500 square yards. Dividing the land will not subserve the interest of either of the parties or secure a lasting sense of peace and tranquillity.”

The bench said that religious beliefs were beyond the ken of courts in a modern constitutional system, refusing to examine the faith and belief issues invoked by both sides. The court cannot adopt a position that accords primacy to the faith and belief of a single religion, it said. “From Shahid Gunj to Ayodhya, in a country like ours where contesting claims over property by religious communities are inevitable, our courts cannot reduce questions of title, which fall firmly within the secular domain and outside the rubric of religion, to a question of which community’s faith is stronger.”

The bench said the ASI finding that there was a Hindu religious structure under the Babri Masjid was also not enough to rule in their favour.

Instead, the court said, it would go by the length and extent of use of the disputed area to take a call on the title suit. The court also rejected a claim by the Shias to the land.

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