New Delhi: The Supreme Court’s unanimous verdict in the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid title dispute case ruled that the disputed land in Ayodhya belonged to the Hindus.
The bench comprising comprising Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi and Justices S.A. Bobde, D.Y. Chandrachud, Ashok Bhushan and S.A. Nazeer ruled that the central or state government would have to allot a five-acre piece of land to the Muslims for the construction of a mosque.
In its 1,045-page judgment, the court accorded several reasons for ruling in favour of the Hindus.
‘Long, continued worship by Hindus’
The court clarified that in order to determine the title or ownership of the disputed land, it had to factor in the “length and extent of use”, and that the evidence was required to prove “exclusive and unimpeded possession” for “possessory title”.
While the Muslims had relied on the physical structure of the mosque, the court opined that the claim needs to be assessed on the basis of “exclusive and unimpeded possession”. This exclusivity and length of possession, according to the court, was proven by the Hindus and not the Muslims.
The court in fact noted that even the Muslims had “admitted” the presence of the Ram Chabootra and other places of religious significance, where Hindu worship had been continuous. Ram Chabootra was set up around 1857, when the British constructed a wall outside the Babri Masjid to act as a railing.
The court opined that the setting up of the Ram Chabootra within a hundred feet of the inner dome should be seen as an “expression or assertion of the Hindu right to worship at the birth-place of Lord Ram”.
“There is no evidence to the contrary by the Muslims to indicate that their possession of the disputed structure of the mosque was exclusive, and that the offering of namaz was exclusionary of the Hindus,” it observed.
The bench, therefore, ruled that the Hindus had established a “clear case of a possessory title to the outside courtyard by virtue of long, continued and unimpeded worship” at the Ram Chabootra “and other objects of religious significance”.
As for the inner courtyard, the court noted that the entry into the three-domed structure was also possible through two doors, which were under the control of Hindu devotees. It therefore ruled that there was a “preponderance of probabilities” to establish worship by the Hindus prior to 1857.
Travelogues, witnesses helped establish faith
The court noted that the Muslims had failed to prove offering of namaz in the mosque from its construction in 1528 to the setting up of a brick wall by the British in 1856-57. At the same time, it said that the faith and belief of the Hindus was established through travelogues — primarily Joseph Tieffenthaler and Robert Montgomery Martin.
The court pointed out that William Finch and Tieffenthaler, who visited India between 1743-1785, provided an account of Ayodhya, and that “conspicuous in both the accounts are references to worship by the Hindus to Lord Ram”. The travelogues also identified places of offering worship by the Hindus including Sita Rasoi, Swargdwar and the bedi (cradle) symbolising the birth of Lord Ram in and around the disputed site.
Tieffenthaler’s account in the 18th century, the court noted, was prior to the construction of the wall by the British.
Muslim witnesses were also quoted, who acknowledged the presence of symbols of Hindu religious significance both inside and outside the mosque. Among them is the depiction of Varah, Jai-Vijay and Garud outside the three-domed structure.
“They are suggestive not merely of the existence of the faith and belief but of actual worship down the centuries,” the court observed.
Muslims couldn’t show exclusive possession before 1857
The judgment also hinged on the failure of the Muslim parties to submit any evidence for proving their exclusive possession of the inner structure since the construction of the mosque in 1528 until 1857.
The court even noted that the Muslims had offered “no evidence” to prove that they were in exclusive possession of the inner structure prior to 1857, when the wall was constructed by the British. It also said that there was “no account” by Muslims to show “use or offer of namaz in the mosque between the date of construction and 1856-7”.
“For a period of over 325 years which elapsed since the date of the construction of the mosque until the setting up of a grill-brick wall by the British, the Muslims have not adduced evidence to establish the exercise of possessory control over the disputed site. Nor is there any account in the evidence of the offering of namaz in the mosque over this period,” it observed.
This was against the submissions by the Hindus who, the court noted, continued to pray at the railing facing towards the three-domed structure (mosque) believing that it contained the garbha griha or the exact spot of Lord Ram’s birth.
Why news media is in crisis & How you can fix it
India needs free, fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism even more as it faces multiple crises.
But the news media is in a crisis of its own. There have been brutal layoffs and pay-cuts. The best of journalism is shrinking, yielding to crude prime-time spectacle.
ThePrint has the finest young reporters, columnists and editors working for it. Sustaining journalism of this quality needs smart and thinking people like you to pay for it. Whether you live in India or overseas, you can do it here.