Ayodhya Dispute: Ram Lalla Or Babri Masjid – Whose Land Is It Anyway? Supreme Court To Decide On Saturday
“Here is a small piece of land — 1,500 square yards — where angels fear to tread. It is full of innumerable land mines... It is said that the greatest risk in life is not daring to take risk when occasion for the same arises.”
The Allahabad High Court had said this of the 135-year-old Ayodhya case back in 2010 as it directed equal division of the land between Sunni Waqf Board, the Nirmohi Akhara and Ram Lalla — Lord Ram in child form represented in court through the next friend.
Nine years later, the Supreme Court has been called upon to take the same risk — of determining the ownership of the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid land. The apex court reserved its verdict on Oct. 16 and the verdict will be delivered tomorrow, Nov. 9, just days the Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi retires (Nov. 17).
The legal dispute around the ownership of Ayodhya land started in 1950 when Gopal Singh Visharad filed the first petition in the case at a lower court in Faizabad. Subsequently, over the years, a number of petitions — claiming either ownership of the land or the right to pray at the disputed site — were filed in lower courts in Uttar Pradesh. Following the 1992 destruction of the Babri Mosque, which stood at the disputed site, all the petitions were transferred to the Allahabad High Court.
Post the high court verdict, the parties reached the apex court, which set up a Constitution bench comprising Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justices Dhananjay Chandrachud, Ashok Bhushan, SA Bobde and SA Nazeer, to hear the matter. After the Supreme Court-directed mediation talks failed between the parties, the hearings began in August.
Timeline Of The Case
1528: Babri Masjid built by Mir Baqi, commander of Mughal emperor Babur.
1885: Mahant Raghubir Das files plea in Faizabad district court seeking permission to build a canopy outside the disputed Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid structure. Court rejects plea.
1949: Idols of Ram Lalla placed under a central dome outside the disputed structure.
1950: Gopal Simla Visharad files suit in Faizabad district court for rights to worship the idols of Ram Lalla.
1950: Paramahansa Ramachandra Das files suit for continuation of worship and keeping the idols.
1959: Nirmohi Akhara files suit seeking possession of the site.
1981: UP Sunni Central Waqf Board files suit for possession of the site.
Aug. 14, 1989: Allahabad High Court orders maintenance of status quo in respect of the disputed structure.
Dec. 6, 1992: Babri Masjid structure demolished.
April 2002: High court begins hearings to determine who owns the disputed site.
Sept. 30, 2010: By a 2:1 majority, Allahabad High Court rules three-way division of disputed area between Sunni Waqf Board, the Nirmohi Akhara and Ram Lalla.
March 8, 2019: The Supreme Court refers the dispute for mediation by a panel headed by former apex court judge FMI Kallifulla.
Aug. 6, 2019: Five-judge Constitution bench of the Supreme Court begins final hearing in the case as mediation fails.
Oct. 16, 2019: Supreme Court reserves judgment in the Ayodhya land dispute case.
Nov. 9, 2019: Supreme Court to deliver verdict.
Nirmohi Akhara: ‘We Have Exclusive Possession of The Land’
The Nirmohi Akhara is one of the three main parties seeking right of possession and management of the disputed land. During the hearings at the apex court, the Akhara claimed that the land has been in their exclusive possession and Muslim parties had not been allowed to enter the disputed structure since 1934.
Senior advocate Sushil Jain, representing the Akhara, argued that it has been the owner of the land since time immemorial and should be given the rights to the management of the temple if the court decides to rule in favour of any of the Hindu parties, according to a report by news agency PTI.
Ram Lalla: ‘Evidence Shows Existence Of A Temple On The Disputed Site’
Ram Lalla — Lord Ram in child form — is the next party in the case whose petition has been filed by former high court judge Deoki Nandan Agrawal. The counsels for Ram Lalla Virajman have argued that even the Allahabad High Court judgment has acknowledged the existence of a temple before the mosque was built on its ruins.
The counsels also said the commissioner appointed by the court to inspect the disputed site in 1950 has described in his report the presence of pillars with images of Lord Shiva which cannot be found in a mosque.
To further their case, Ram Lalla submitted the inspection report of 1950, a map and an album containing photographs of deities inside the structure adding that for a number of years, the site has held religious sanctity for Hindus.
Sunni Waqf Board: ‘We Have Ownership Of The Land Since 1528’
The Muslim parties, through the Sunni Waqf Board, argued that their possession of the land is evident from the fact that they received grants for maintenance of the mosque dating back as far as 1528. Senior Advocate Rajeev Dhawan, representing the Muslim parties, argued that the Hindu side claimed ownership of the land only in 1989, according to a PTI report.
“We are concerned with the proposition of law and the archaeological evidence will not and cannot decide my title over the property,” PTI reported quoting Dhawan. “Why knock down one of the domes of the Babri mosque in the 1934 riots and trespass to install the idols of Lord Ram in 1949 if they already had the title... Why did they have to do all this.”
Questions Before The Supreme Court
The disputed land currently belongs to the government, as per the revenue records. Hindus and Muslims are the two main parties contesting for the land’s ownership but they do not have any ownership documents to support their claim.
The judgment is expected to answer the question that can courts decide ownership of a land purely on the basis of faith and belief?
Senior advocate Zafaryab Jilani, who is among the lawyers representing the Muslim side, told BloombergQuint that they do not contest the fact of the birth of Lord Ram and agree that he was born in Ayodhya. But their contention is whether it was at the exact spot where the mosque stood.
The Muslim side is contesting that the mosque was built by Mir Baqi and it is the property of the Waqf. Under Islamic law, property donated to the Waqf belongs to God and it is irrevocable. Mughal Emperor Babur was the sovereign when Barbi Masjid was built and the land belonged to him which he donated to the Waqf. The court will look into the legal validity of this decision of Babur.
“We are here to see if Babur followed the law on the secular use of property. Was he subject to any law?’’ PTI reported quoted Justice Ashok Bhushan as saying during the course of the hearing.
The Hindu parties have contested that the exact spot where Lord Ram was born was where the now demolished Babri Mosque stood. Senior advocate K Prasaran, appearing for deity “Ram Lalla”, told the apex court that Ram Janmabhoomi has itself become personification of the deity and an object of worship for the Hindus, PTI reported.
This case is the first case where the court will explore questions related to birth of a God. The courts will have to decide if it can accord status of a deity to a piece of land.
However, senior advocate Dhawan argued that granting status of deity to a piece of land will open a “pandora’s box of litigation”.
Options Before The Supreme Court
The Supreme Court has the option of giving total ownership of the land to either Ram Lalla or Nirmohi Akhara, which will mean a win for the Hindu side, or it can grant a similar judgment in favour of the Sunni Waqf Board, paving the way for re-construction of the mosque.
The court may also look at the possibility of following the Allahabad High Court’s judgment and divide the land between the three contesting parties — the Nirmohi Akhara, Ram Lalla and the Sunni Waqf Board.
Besides, the court can decide to hand over the title to the government, which owns the land in the current revenue records. This situation may arise if none of the parties can present sufficient evidence to support their claim.