Babri Mosque Verdict
India’s age of Hindu majoritarianism seems to be in the offing
Few events in the history of modern India have been as polarising as the 1992 destruction of the Babri Masjid in the Hindu holy city of Ayodhya. In an episode of unabashed ugliness, a frenzied mob of thousands of Hindu extremists — including some of the leading lights of the BJP, which now rules India — stormed the 16th-century mosque and reduced it to rubble, guided by the belief that the spot where the masjid was built was Ram Janamabhoomi, the place where Hindus believe the deity was born.
On November 09, the Supreme Court of India delivered a long-awaited verdict oon the issue of Babri Mosque. The SCI has ruled that the site in Ayodhya in northern India, where Hindu mobs destroyed a 460-year-old Babri Mosque in 1992, be handed over to a trust to oversee the construction of a Hindu temple, subject to conditions. In a unanimous verdict, the bench ruled that Muslims failed to show they offered namaz and that they were in “exclusive possession” of the mosque from 1528 to 1857, surprisingly the Hindu plaintiffs, who also failed to show this, get the land on “balance of probabilities”. To bring some balanced in the much measured verdict, the apex court has also ordered the Indian government to allot a five-acre land in another prominent place in Ayodhya, including the required fund to Sunni Waqf Board for the construction of a mosque.
The judgment has both positives and negatives: The court has affirmed that the placement of Ram Lalla inside the mosque in 1949 was unlawful and that the demolition of the mosque in 1992 was illegal — the criminal case with regards to the demolition will continue irrespective of this judgment.
While there is no doubt about Lord Rama’s links to Ayodhya, there is certainly doubt whether Rama was a real character or mythological. All reasonable assumption indicates to pure mythology with a remote possibility of the myth building around some ancient king in that area.
Most importantly, it wasn’t even conclusively proven that the exact spot where the mosque stood is the place where Rama was believed to have been born. Hindutva-bearers claim that there was a Ram Mandir beneath the Babri Mosque, successive archeological excavations found ruins, part of which resembles a sultanate period smaller mosque and part with a non Islamic structure — but not a Ram Temple.
It’s true that in medieval time many mosques were built on the ruins of non-Islamic structures for various reasons — one of which was to save effort and cost by the Muslim conquerors and rulers. But this wasn’t really the case for the Babri Mosque.
Yet, the full bench of the Indian Supreme Court, which included a muslim judge, unanimously decided to award the land for Ram Mandir based on inconclusive proof behind the ancient Hindu belief that Lord Rama was born on the exact spot where the mosque was build, whereas, presently, the Sunni Waqf Board clearly is the owner of the land.
Apparently, the belief of the mosque land as Rama’s birth place is rooted in the 19th century, and it intensified more recently — especially the late 1980s — when Rajiv Gandhi and the BJP started provoking the issue. While Gandhi’s provocation was limited, the Sangh pariver — BJP, RSS, Bajrang Dal and VHP — took it to another level and got the mosque demolished in 1992 sparking communal riots in India, with communal reactions in Pakistan and Bangladesh as well.
They incorporated it into their Hindutva socio-political ideology of majoritarian divisiveness with enhanced vigor and made an agenda out of an otherwise non-issue. Riding the Hindutva wave, of which Ram Mandir had been a major pillar, the BJP rose to power and formed government a few times in the turn of the last century with the help of the coalition allies.
In the legal front, the case has kept lingering. The procrastination has been useful in the sense that it gradually took the sting of hyper sensitivity out of it. It also gradually prepared Muslims for losing the court case. After Modi’s reelection and the appointment of a pro-government chief justice, the verdict was a foregone conclusion.
In the few decade-long public discourse on the matter and lingering court cases, Indian muslims realized that fighting for this matter, or putting too much communal effort in it, is futile and that it would only supply more fuel to the Saffron for its divisive politics and artificial Hindu consolidation against the Muslims, who are just one-eighth of the Hindu in size in India and hugely backward in the socio-economic barometer.
Even if one considers that the apex Indian Court has pronounced the Babri Mosque-Ram Mandir verdict as a unique, one-off case based on Hindu beliefs, the interesting thing would be to watch whether such faith-based claiming of Muslim places by the Hindus stops with this verdict or renews with new claims and fresh vigour.
If the Hindutva-bearers cook up more of such divisive issues, then it’s probably just the start of a long haul of mean political trickery in India. The Indian Supreme Court has clearly pronounced that this unique case can’t be the precedence for anymore such claims. However, BJP and its coterie aren’t the kind of people who always accept court verdicts in good spirit. The Sabrimala temple case has vindicated that.
However, whether Modi-Shah or their Saffron successors invent another Hindu-Muslim bone of contention to perpetuate their divisive politics and hide their governance failures, will be a thing to watch out for.
The age of Hindu majoritarianism seems to have come.
Indian state institutions — for which enlightened Indians had been taking pride for long — like its relatively neutral criminal investigation system, secular democratic culture, independent judiciary, free media, etc have entered a phase of decay due to the Hindutva sway.
It’s difficult to guess whether there will be any turnaround in the foreseeable future.
Gaping Holes in Babri Mosque Verdict
Overall, the verdict is teeming with gaping holes, such that one could drive a coach through them. We can take only some illustrations here to make the point.
- Despite all the talk of secularism and harmony, it has favoured one party over the other.
- While the court does take into account the atrocities inflicted against the Muslims, these observations and facts seem to not have impacted the verdict.
- Most glaring contradiction in this judgment is that the bench ruled that Muslims failed to show they offered Prayer and were in “Exclusive Possession” of the mosque from 1528 to 1857. Yet the Hindu plaintiffs, who also failed to show this, get the land to balance the situation.
- Nowhere the Hindu plaintiffs (other than the Nirmohi Akhara which the court himself ousted) been asked to demonstrate exclusive possession of the site.
- Hindus worshipped at the Ram Chabutra outside the domed structure and the 18th century European traveller Jozef Tieffenthaler’s account of the worship of the ‘bedi’ or chabutra/cradle is cited, but that is an ambiguous source for the claim that Hindus worshipped inside the inner courtyard.
- While the apex court did say that the demolition was illegal, by allowing the building of the temple, it has, through this verdict, indirectly supported the vandalism by the mobs.
- While the Supreme Court has acknowledged that neither party has legitimate claim on the disputed land, yet it offers it to one of the parties.
- Faith has been invoked to fill in the blanks here, despite the court’s avowal to not be guided by faith in the same judgment.
- The judgment does mention how the legal rights of Muslims had been violated in 1949 and 1992 through illegal acts. However, despite invoking extraordinary powers of restitution, the court has only deemed fit to order that Muslims be given a five-acre plot to build a mosque. In effect, in spite of the court acknowledging that the Muslim side has been wronged not once but twice and evicted from the site through patently illegal means of desecration, it hasn’t remedied the situation.
- It seems the judgment has legitimised the demolition of the masjid, despite explicitly qualifying it as an illegal act in the judgment.
- The court said that the possession of the disputed 2.77-acre land would be handed over to deity Ram Lalla, or infant Ram, who was one of the three litigants in the case.
How Experts See the Verdict?
“The ruling had actually placed a ‘premium’ on the mosque’s demolition in spite of the SCI bench describing the act as a crime … If Babri Masjid was not demolished, and Hindus went to court saying that Ram was born there, would the court have ordered it to be demolished? [The court] would not have directed it.”
Ganguly said that if he were a judge on this case he would have “directed the restoration of the mosque. If not, I would not have allowed any party to have built a temple or a mosque in the area. The land could have instead been used for some secular purpose, like a hospital, school or college.”
The judgment is flawed given that there has been no evidence to show that the structure underneath Babri Masjid was actually a Hindu structure in any way … How the Supreme Court could have surmised that the structures underneath the Babri Masjid were Hindu structures, given that the ASI report on the subject was inconclusive? The judges should have either ordered the mosque to be rebuilt or that the land be given to the government for a neutral purpose.”
Justice A.K. Ganguly
Former judge of the Supreme Court of India
“The judgment upholds a majoritarian point of view. Based on the operative parts of the judgment, it looks like the Supreme Court gave importance to belief over other concerns. The court, even while observing that faith is limited to individual believer and that it cannot determine a land dispute, eventually gave the disputed land for the construction of a Hindu temple. This means that belief of a section of people was given prominence over the rule of law even though the latter should have ideally determined a property dispute. The court while pronouncing the judgment did try its best to strike a balance between law and faith. But clearly faith has the last laugh here.”
Vice Chancellor Nalsar University of Law, Hyderabad
Ayodhya Verdict and ASI findings
The Supreme Court gave this verdict on the basis of the report of Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) that the mosque was not built on vacant land. Archeological Survey of India (ASI) excavated the disputed site for investigation on the directions of the Allahabad High court. There were two excavations conducted at the disputed Ayodhya site, first in 1976-77 and then in 2003. The ASI submitted evidence in the court found in the excavation of 2003. ASI started excavation on the disputed land on the directives of Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court. ASI conducted Ground-Penetrating Radar (GPR) survey to save mosque from demolition. The excavation project was conducted between 12 March 2003 to 7 August 2003. This task was completed with the help of a company named Tojo Development International.
- ASI excavations have found remains dating back to the 13th century BC. Among the ruins found in the excavations are the remains of the Kushan and Shung periods to the Gupta period and the early middle ages.
- It was said in the report that a platform of 15×15 meters was also found in the excavation that resembles some important object was placed in the centre of this platform.
- The circular temple was believed to be from the 7th to the 10th century. The structure of 50 meters north-south building of the early 11-12th century was found. There was one more structure of another huge building was found whose floor was made in three attempts.
- According to the ASI report, the disputed structure (mosque) was built in the 16th century on top of the ruins of this building.
- ASI found 50 pillars in its excavations which is located right under the Gumbad of disputed structure (mosque).
- ASI also mentioned in its report that they have found ruins of other eras also. These ruins could be the ruins of Buddhist or Jain temples.