Why Supreme Court Granted Ownership Of Disputed Ayodhya Land To Hindu Parties
The Supreme Court finally settled a long-drawn argument over construction of a temple on the site of a demolished mosque as it unanimously handed Hindu parties the complete ownership of a disputed land at Ayodhya.
The 1,500-square-yard, or 0.309-acre, disputed land will be handed over to a trust managed by the central government for now, ordered the apex court, which it said was “tasked with the resolution of a dispute whose origin is as old as the idea of India itself”. And a suitable alternative plot of land measuring 5 acres at Ayodhya will be given to Sunni Waqf Board for construction of a mosque, Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi said as he read out the 1,045-page order on Saturday.
The Supreme Court referred to a report by the Archaeological Survey of India that said the Babri mosque—built in Ayodhya by Mir Baki under the orders of Babur in 1528—was not constructed on vacant land. The report showed existence of an underlying structure.
The legal dispute around ownership of the disputed land in Ayodhya—the revered birthplace of Lord Ram—started in 1950 when Gopal Singh Visharad filed the first petition in the case at a lower court in Faizabad. Over the years, several petitions—claiming either ownership of the land or the right to pray at the disputed site—were filed in lower courts in Uttar Pradesh. In 1992, the Babri Masjid was razed in an act of mob violence. Following which, all the petitions were transferred to the Allahabad High Court.
Allahabad High Court Judgement Was Flawed
In 2010, the Allahabad High Court ruled that the land be equally divided between the three parties—Nirmohi Akhara, Ram Lalla (Lord Ram in child form) and Sunni Waqf Board. The high court had found joint possession of the three parties on the disputed land.
The Supreme Court, however, said the property in question was one composite entity and it could not have been divided into parts which is akin to a partition suit.
According to the apex court, the high court had dismissed the suits by Nirmohi Akhara and Sunni Waqf Board as it found them to be barred by the law of limitation but ended up granting them relief by awarding a part of the property. The top court said this approach is against the settled principles of the law and the contested property will be considered as one composite whole.
Besides, the division of the land won’t even serve the purpose of securing peace and tranquility in the area, the apex court said, adding the disputed land was claimed by Hindus and Muslims on basis of their faith.
Thus, the five-judge constitution bench clarified that it would hear and decide the case as a land dispute (title suit) and the parties must argue their case keeping that fact in mind.
“In the present case, this court is tasked with an adjudicatory task of a unique dimension. The dispute is over an immovable property. The court does not decide title on the basis of faith or belief but on the basis of evidence. The law provides us with parameters as clear but as profound as ownership and possession,” the Supreme Court said.
Where Did Muslim Parties Fall Short
The Muslim parties based their claim on grounds that the Babri mosque was built by Mir Baki who was the general of the then ruler of the region, Babur. They argued that under the Islamic law, property donated to the Waqf is irrevocable and therefore their claim on the disputed land cannot be extinguished. The Muslims argued that even if there was an existence of a temple, ownership of the land belongs to them because of the long and continued possession.
In examining the claim of continued possession, the Supreme Court said the Muslim side has no evidence to show their possession or that there was worship in the mosque between 1528 and 1857. There is also no documentary record of the land being given as a grant to the Waqf.
The year 1857 is important because one of the key evidences to establish the presence of both the parties on the land came into existence — construction of a railing by the Colonial administration to separate the inner and outer courtyard of the premises. This construction, the Supreme Court judgment said, was an expedient attempt to maintain law and order.
The Colonial administration opened an additional door to allow the entry of Hindus in the disputed land. The fact that Hindus were worshiping in the outer courtyard was open and in knowledge of the Muslims, the apex court said.
The Namaz, according to the judgment, then continued in the mosque till 1949 and the Muslim parties never gave up their claim on the mosque. But on the outer courtyard, the judgement said, “The portions of the property were admittedly not used for religious purposes by the members of the resident Muslim community and cannot be Waqf property by long use”.
The court therefore concludes that the Muslim side has failed to show their long and continued possession as Waqf by user on the property as a one composite whole.
Hindus Win On Balance Of Probabilities
The case of the Hindu parties was based on faith, the ASI report and travelogues.
To further their argument on faith, the Hindu side presented witnesses who were also cross-examined by the Muslim side.
The court concluded that the witnesses did have genuine faith that Lord Ram was born at the disputed site in Ayodhya. The judges then said once it is established that faith of the believers is genuine the court cannot go into the question that whether such belief is justified. And this is not a case “where the witness statements indicate that the belief or faith is a veneer or that it is being put-forth merely as a strategy in a litigation”.’
About the ASI report sought to be presented as evidence, the top court said though it revealed the existence of a “non-Islamic” structure, it rejected the argument that a temple was destroyed for construction of the mosque. And the ASI report alone couldn’t be the basis of deciding the title in favour of the Hindus, the top court said.
Then came the question of the outer possession. The top court concluded that the presence of Hindus is evident in the outer courtyard from instances such as opening of a door in 1877 for the entry of devotees and rejection of objection against it by the British government.
Ram Chabutra and Sita Rasoi was with the Hindus as was the Bhandar in the outer courtyard, the court judgement said, adding that the Hindus were in settled possession and actively practicing their faith in the outer courtyard.
On a balance of probabilities, the court said the evidence presented by the Hindu side in favour of their claim of possession stood on a better footing than the Muslim parties.
Why Alternative Land Was Granted To Muslims
The answer to this lies in two important years of this dispute—1949 and 1992.
In 1949, the access of Muslims to the inner courtyard was restricted after it was closed due to installation of an idol of Lord Ram inside the mosque. The inspector report of 1949 said the Muslims were being obstructed from accessing their place of worship and the last Namaz in the mosque took place on Dec. 16, 1949. Subsequently on Dec. 6,1992, the Babri mosque was demolished.
The placing of idols was “not through any lawful authority but through an act which was calculated to deprive them of their place of worship’’, the Supreme Court said. The Muslims were “excluded” from their place of worship, the top court said.
And even though the Hindus are on a better footing, the top court said the Muslims were denied access to their place of worship by acts which were against the rule of law.
Justice would not prevail if the court were to overlook the entitlement of the Muslims who have been deprived of the structure of the mosque through means which should not have been employed in a secular nation committed to the rule of law. The Constitution postulates the equality of all faiths. Tolerance and mutual co-existence nourish the secular commitment of our nation and its people.Supreme Court On Ayodhya Land Dispute
Hence, the Supreme Court exercised its extraordinary power under Article 142 of the Indian Constitution to grant a 5-acre land to the Sunni Waqf Board which shall be at a prominent location in Ayodhya.