New Delhi: The Supreme Court in an unanimous verdict Saturday said a trust should be set up by the central government within three months to help build the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya. The Muslims, the court said, should be given 5 acres of land elsewhere in Ayodhya to construct a mosque.
A five-judge bench, headed by Chief justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, also indicated that the disputed site is for the Hindu parties.
“Possession of inner and outer courtyard will be handed over to the trustees,” the bench said.
The 5-acre plot should be given to the Muslims either by the central or state governments, the court said.
The dispute over the ownership of the 2.77 acres of land in Uttar Pradesh’s Ayodhya — claimed by both Hindus and Muslims — has dominated India’s political discourse since the 1980s. The case reached a boiling point on 6 December 1992, when Right-wing ‘karsevaks’ demolished the 16th-century Babri Masjid they believed was built on the ruins of an ancient massive structure (temple) which essentially signified the birthplace of Lord Ram.
In the riots that followed across the country, over 3,000 people were killed.
The verdict of the constitution bench of the Supreme Court comes on an appeal against the September 2010 ruling of the Allahabad High Court which had trifurcated the disputed site between two Hindu parties — the Nirmohi Akhara and Ram Lalla Virajman, the deity installed at the site and seen as a juristic entity — and the Sunni Waqf Board.
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All the parties moved the Supreme Court, stating that equal division of land was not something they had prayed for.
After facing challenges like bench formation and translation of manuscripts in English for over eight years, the SC began began continuous hearings in the matter on 6 August this year.
What Hindu litigants said during the hearings
During the 40-day hearing in the Supreme Court, the Hindu parties argued that the disputed land was itself a juristic entity since it belonged to Lord Ram as his birthplace and the exact spot of his birth didn’t matter.
It was also argued that the mosque which once stood at the site was not an Islamic mosque as prayers weren’t offered there, and it had inscriptions of animals and humans which are strictly prohibited inside Islamic prayer sites.
The Nirmohi Akhara, which is a body of seers, claims to be worshippers and devotees of Lord Ram for over seven centuries. It, thus, stakes claim to “shebait” rights over the disputed site.
Shebaitship is a legal concept deriving from Hindu law where devotees are considered guardians of a deity’s daily affairs and associated property. It is not simply an office, but also carries certain rights.
The Akhara, which was founded by poet-seer Ramanand, operates on the collective memory of the sect — there is no written text, just oral traditions.
The Muslim litigants’ arguments
Appearing for the key Muslim litigant Sunni Waqf Board during the hearings, senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan said the word “Allah” was found inscribed at the entrance of the mosque, which he argued was clear proof that it was indeed an Islamic structure used for prayers.
He submitted a set of reports by historians to claim that Babri Masjid was never built by demolishing a temple.
The primary contention of the Muslim side has been that mere belief that Lord Ram was born exactly under the central dome of the Babri Masjid or the ‘Ram Chabutra‘ (inside the premises) does not give Hindus ownership of the disputed land.
The senior lawyer said there was no evidence of any title they held over the land, or to prove Ram was born under the inner dome as there “is no physical manifestation of the belief of Hindus”.
The failed mediation
Before the continuous hearings began in the Ayodhya case, a mediation effort by a court-appointed panel was also undertaken. Led by Justice (retd) Fakkir Mohamed Ibrahim Kalifulla, the panel informed the top court in July that the process was unsuccessful.
However, it mediation was later resumed in September after interested parties expressed willingness for it.
On the last day of the hearing last month, a mediation report was submitted, but key Hindu and Muslim parties later said they were not a part of it.
There had been at least nine failed prior attempts at mediation in the past 160 years.
Appeal for calm
Ahead of the Ayodhya verdict, senior leaders across party lines, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath and Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra appealed for peace.
On Tuesday, senior RSS and BJP leaders also held a meeting with prominent Muslim clerics and intellectuals at the residence of Minority Affairs Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi in Delhi. They stressed that irrespective of the nature of the top court’s ruling, there should neither be “junooni jashn” (excessive celebration) nor “haar ka hungama” (brouhaha over defeat).
Former Union minister Shahnawaz Hussain, who attended the meeting, said it was unanimously agreed that the Supreme Court verdict on Ayodhya will be acceptable to all.