Babri Masjid demolition
In January 1993, the federal government of India passed a law to take over 69 acres of land surrounding the masjid and other temples in its vicinity for construction of Ram Janambhomi-Babri Masjid complex. In view of the conflicting claims the government asked the Supreme Court to give its opinion on the title to the “disputed site” (occupied by the Babri Masjid since 1526) which, notwithstanding its own affidavit of 1951, it had renamed as Ram Janambhoomi-Babri Masjid site. In that affidavit, it had recognized that the structure had long been known as Babri Masjid and the Muslims had performed prayers there until Dec. 22, 1949.
A commission of inquiry was also set up under Justice M. S. Liberhan to report within 6 months on the circumstances leading to the demolition on Dec. 6, 1992. Its report came after 17 years, and I would like to add, no one has yet been punished for the act of vandalism and for organizing and inciting the demolition.
At this stage, the Muslim community, united under the leadership of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, decided to contest and fund the case. The board formed a committee of 15 with five representatives each of the BMMCC and AIBMAC and five others for the purpose.
In October 1994, the Supreme Court rejected the government’s request for the opinion and asked existing judges of the Special Bench of the Allahabad High Court (AHC) already in position to give priority to decide on the question of title. The Supreme Court also stated clearly that if the Muslim title to the disputed site was proved, the masjid will be rebuilt and if the title went in favor of the Hindus, they will be permitted to develop a mandir complex on the existing Ram Chabutra (in the outer courtyard of the Masjid) and the adjoining land outside, along with other accessories for pilgrims on the acquired area.
At the insistence of the Hindu side the Special Bench ordered the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) to excavate the disputed site to find out whether the masjid stood on the debris of a preexisting mandir. The ASI submitted its report in 2003. The Special Bench took expert evidence but deferred its ruling.
Anticipating a favorable decision, the Hindu side built a makeshift Ram Mandir on the central part of the debris of the masjid (corresponding to the Central dome) and placed it under a canopy which became a place of pilgrimage, thus keeping the story alive.
After long arguments by both sides, the Special Bench finally gave its judgment in October, 2011 and essentially divided the masjid site into three equal parts roughly giving the first dome to the Muslims, the central to the deity and the third to the adjoining mandir. This judgment did not satisfy any party. Neither Muslims could build a masjid in the small area allotted to them. Not even the Hindus, even if the two parts were joined. The exterior area of the masjid (including the inner courtyard) was only 130’x 80’.
The judgment was universally criticized as it went against the mandate of the Supreme Court to the Special Bench to decide the title to the disputed site and not to partition it among the claimants. Judgment also based itself on faith and belief of the Hindus and not on evidence or law or history.
All parties have decided to appeal to the Supreme Court. So far, 11 appeals have been filed, 8 by the Muslims including the UP Sunni Wakf Board, the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind and Hashim Ansari, the lone warrior, who has been waging the battle since 1949. He is now over 90. He has stood firm and has rejected all efforts by the Hindu side to purchase or coerce him. Though he is a poor man, he has refused to sell his conscience. He only prays to Allah to restore the Babri Masjid to Muslims before he dies.
The Supreme Court has admitted all the appeals but has not set a date for initiating the hearing. The Muslim side which had failed to secure the services of an advocate of national repute to argue their case before the Special Bench have now appointed two senior advocates of the Supreme Court to plead their case and incur any cost to save the honor of the community.
While admitting the appeals, the judges of the Supreme Court in informal observations pointed out the basic flaw in the judgment of the Special Bench which was asked to decide the title to and not to partition the disputed area! There is a ray of hope that the Supreme Court may not endorse the judgment and return the case to the Allahabad High Court for a fresh hearing.
It is worth recalling that right since 1986 when the Muslims woke up to the tragedy of the Babri Masjid demolition and made it a national issue, they have always taken a clear stand that the dispute must be settled peacefully through judicial means and committed themselves to accept the final judicial verdict, whatever it be, as the Will of Allah. Secondly, in all bilateral negotiations at various levels they have rejected coercion, political promises, persuasions and offers to build an alternative masjid (much bigger and more splendid than the Babri Masjid) outside the disputed area. They have taken the firm stand not to concede one square inch of the existing masjid which consists of the main prayer hall topped by the three domes and the adjoining open courtyard) to the Hindus. The Hindus claimed initially that Ram whom they regard as an incarnation had “manifested” himself and thus indicated the spot where he was born! In a country like ours many illiterate persons believe the theory of manifestation.
But a democracy based on the rule of law cannot let superstition and belief to overrule facts established by evidence, including expert opinion.
In the second half of the 19th century, after the British had taken over, they had agreed to permit a small platform to be built in the outer courtyard outside the masjid properties, the Hindus have regarded now for a century and a half as the birth site of Ram. Now they want to change the birth site to the masjid proper. In negotiations the Muslim at one stage agreed in a matter of accommodation to raise the existing wall between the masjid proper and the outer courtyard and permit the Hindus to build a temple on the Ram Chabutra and the adjoining land. They even offered that if Babri Masjid was built on the debris of a preexisting mandir after demolishing it, they would hand over the site to the Hindus, as no masjid can be built on usurped land. The ASI report, however, does not produce an iota of evidence, right down to the natural soil level, that there was ever a temple on the site, neither in excavations nor in the debris of the demolished masjid, any idols or fragments. No architectural parts of a preexisting mandir have been found.
So the last chapter is yet to be written. This year the Muslims will observe the 20th anniversary of the demolition of the masjid in 2012 and the centenary of the invasion of the masjid in 2049. It is doubtful that the case would be decided by then. Certainly it will not be reconstructed by 2026; five hundred after it was built.
(This is the second of a two-part column on Babri Masjid demolition.)
- The writer is a senior Indian diplomat, prominent Muslim politician and eminent columnist.
This article is exclusive to Arab News.