A member of the Border Security Force guards the Babri Masjid
A member of the Border Security Force guards the Babri Masjid | Robert Nickelsberg/Liaison
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Even the so-called Muslim parties involved in the dispute are more interested in the land on which the mosque once stood.

As the Ram Mandir-Ayodhya pitch gets shriller in the run-up to the 2019 polls, no one talks of Babri Masjid these days.

Even the so-called Muslim parties involved in the dispute are more interested in the land on which the structure of the 16th century mosque once stood.

The Uttar Pradesh Sunni Wakf Board and the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) are hesitant about evoking the assurance given by then Prime Minister P.V. Narsimha Rao in Parliament in 1993 that the Babri Masjid would be rebuilt on the same site.

Does it mean that the structure of Babri Masjid that was destroyed by the kar sevaks in 1992 does not have any political significance in 2019?

Site versus structure of Babri Masjid

The structure of Babri Masjid became a contested entity only after 1949, when a local mob forcibly occupied the mosque and placed the idols of Lord Ram in its central hall.

The local Hindus were never interested in the interior of the mosque before that incident. Their demand was to construct a temple on the site called Janmsthan Chabutra-near the outer boundary wall of the Babri Masjid compound.

The petition filed by the Mahant of the Janamsthan Chabutra in the court of a sub-judge, Faizabad in 1885 was primarily a request for erecting a proper temple at the Chabutra. This suit was dismissed and the permission to construct the temple denied.

Site Plan submitted by the Mahant in 1885/HA Collection

Nevertheless, the judge accepted the Mahant’s claim that the Janamsthan Chabutra was actually the property of the local Hindus.

The land/structure debate found a new political life during the time of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader L.K. Advani’s famous Rath Yatra. In an interview, Advani made an intresting comparison when he said: “I hold that there is no mosque there. There is a structure of a mosque above the temple. And the problem is that the Hindu sentiments are attached to the place.” (Muslim India, No. 103, July 1991, p.309)

This place-centric politics had crucial implications. In the post-1992 period, the ownership of land became the central point of debate. All stakeholders as well as the political elite began debating the fate of the land and the mosque itself gradually became unimportant.

This overemphasis on the site suited the political requirements of the Muslim elite, who had already started playing the victimhood card. It was inevitable for Muslim leaders to evoke the act of demolition for carving out a space in the post-2000s narrative of Muslim marginalisation.


Also read: What Liberhan panel said about Babri Masjid demolition conspiracy, and those involved


Demolition, reconstruction, and right to heritage

Babri Masjid was not merely a mosque; it was a heritage entity. Although the mosque was never protected by the Archeological Survey of India as a monument of importance, the historical and archaeological significance of the demolished building cannot be underestimated.

However, its demolition is never interpreted as an attack on the constitutionally granted right to heritage. Even the legal discussion in the famous Ismail Faruqui case (1994) revolved around the government’s ultimate right to acquire any land, including places of worship such as mosques and temples in the name of public purpose.

Similarly, the Place of Worship (Special Provision Act 1991), which declares that the religious character of a place of worship cannot be changed, is not applicable to the Babri Masjid site.

Article 29 (1), which is often described as one of core ‘minority rights’ given to religious and culturally minorities, is very relevant if we go beyond this Hindu versus Muslim representation of Babri Masjid. It says:

‘any section of the citizen residing in the territory of India or any part thereof having a distinct language, script or culture of its own shall have a right to conserve the same’

Here, the term ‘culture’ is not specified and it is possible to infer that historically relevant places of worship such as the Babri Masjid could also be seen as culturally relevant sites. Since the Constitution does not define the term ‘any section’ with regard to any religious or linguistic community, a possible reading of this article would suggest that all Indian citizens have a right to preserve the heritage of the country.

In this sense, the demolition of Babri Masjid was a clear violation of the constitutional right to heritage. Therefore, the Ayodhya dispute is not only about ownership of land but also the symbolic destruction of secular heritage.

This possible and overtly secular reading of the Constitution empowers us to make two crucial arguments.

First, the Ayodhya dispute should not be seen through the prism of imaginary history as Hindutva forces do; nor do we need to think of it as a symbol of Muslim victimhood. Indian citizens are legitimate stakeholders in this case and the destruction of the structure of Babri Masjid must be recognised as the violation of the right to heritage.

Second, the 67-acre land in Ayodhya that was acquired by the government in 1993 must be used for ‘public purposes‘ defined strictly in secular terms.

Following the spirit of the Constitution, no religious and/or political organisation should be allowed to use this land. Instead, a memorial must be constructed for commemorating the constitutional principle of ‘unity in diversity’.

This may sound odd in 2019; but this is exactly what many ‘creative minds’ proposed in 1993, immediately after the demolition of Babri Masjid.


Also read: The erasure of the Babri Masjid actually began six years before its demolition


Hilal Ahmed is a scholar of political Islam and associate professor at Centre for the Study of Developing Societies.

(ThePrint is publishing three series on minorities in India by Hilal Ahmed. The ‘Sarkari Muslim‘, Minority Report, and Line of Law will trace the political journey of Muslims in the country. This is the sixth article under Minority Report)

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2 COMMENTS

  1. If you ask me — the problem is nobody asks me — the MOST JUST solution to the Ayodhya issue can be worked out as follows:

    1) since there were numerous temples in Ayodhya through out history, it cannot be ascertained WHICH of those temples had MEGA IMPORTANCE in lord Ram’s life — like the site where he was born, or where he was coronated, or where he first sat on his throne after return from exile, etc. In the absence of any such irrefutable information, all temples in Ayodhya are and were EQUALLY SACROSANCT.

    2) therefore, even if there WAS a temple at the site of the now-defunct Babri masjid, no individual of present or past, no shred of history can incontrovertibly say that THAT temple was of any MEGA IMPORTANCE in lord Ram’s life.

    The only SURE facts are that lord Ram was born SOMEWHERE within Ayodhya, because Ayodhya was his father king Dashrath’s kingdom.

    3) in view of the above two points it is reasonable to say that the importance being ascribed to the said temple at the Babri site is INSINUATED by some self-righteous Hindus like the RSS BJP VHP Bajrang Dal and others, none of which can claim to represent the MAJORITY Hindu view on THIS particular issue, because even the only elected entity out of them, the BJP has NEVER won an election on this temple issue.

    This is getting a bit too much. These “unelected” people are thumping their chests as if they are the true representatives of Hindus at large!! Supreme Court should suspend all proceedings in the Ram temple case and conduct a national referendum on:

    SHOULD RAM TEMPLE BE BUILT IN AYODHYA ON AN UNDISPUTED PIECE OF LAND, OR ON THE SITE WHERE A MUSLIM MOSQUE WAS DESTROYED WITHOUT ANY LEGAL PERMISSION?

    In Hindi:

    Ayodhya mein Ram mandir nir-vivadit sthaan par banaana chahiye, ya uss sthaan par jahaan musalmanoan ki ek masjid binaa kisi kanooni ijaazat ke giraayai gayi thi?

    Ditto with a mosque — a mosque too should be built in Ayodhya, BUT NOT at the disputed site because it will unnecessarily perpetuate the acrimonious debate. Muslims will do well to remember that Prophet Muhammad sometimes prayed sitting at the back of his camel, whichever direction his camel happened to be going in (obviously not necessarily towards Mecca); sometimes he prayed with his shoes on; sometimes when the weather was foul he exhorted his followers to pray WITHIN THEIR HOMES and not bother to come to the mosque, etc. The Prophet’s essential message was: pray to God with sincerity, whichever way or wherever you do.

    And now to the most important point of my suggestion: what exactly to do with the disputed site??? My first suggestion is, drop the name of Babar; he was a nobody; so what if he was a king, he was an ordinary mortal like you and me. Secondly, build on the disputed site something that will serve, and will be dear to all Hindus and Muslims, and therefore will be dear to God — no matter whether we call him Ram or Allah. A most modern and FREE hospital should be built there:

    RAM — MUHAMMED NATIONAL HOSPITAL
    FOR THE POOR

    Well guys, this act in one fell swoop will finish the entire controversy FOR GOOD, and for the good of entire country.

  2. This issue goes beyond the preservation of cultural heritage. India has thousands of sites of cultural, historical significance that are lying neglected, exposed to the elements. What happened on 6th December 1992 is well understood. Two different ways of structuring Indian society in conflict. The Constitution has place for only one. 2. The Babri Masjid was constructed four hundred years before Mr Advani was born. Unclear who invested him with the power to declaim : I hold there is no mosque there. Only the “ structure “ – some would say, vivadit dhaancha – of a mosque above the temple.

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