In November 2019, NLIU Manthan, in collaboration with the NLIU Law Review, organised a discussion on the Supreme Court’s Ayodhya Verdict and its implications.
The discussion began by tracing the historical underpinnings of the dispute. In 1528, Mughal emperor, Babur constructed a mosque known as the Babri Masjid on the disputed land in question. Subsequently, in 1856-57, riots broke out between the Hindus and Muslims in the vicinity of the structure, which led to the division of the land by the British Government into two parts – the inner courtyard which was to be the place of worship for the Muslims and the outer courtyard which was to be used by the Hindus for worship. In 1934, another riot broke out between the two communities, which resulted in damage to the structure of the mosque but was later restored by the British Government. The dispute took a grave turn in 1949, when a group of people placed idols of Lord Ram under the Central Dome of the Babri Masjid. Lastly, on 6th December 1992, a large crowd demolished the mosque and constructed a makeshift structure of a temple under the erstwhile Central Dome.
The discussion then proceeded to analyze the Allahabad High Court decision in 2010, wherein the Court ruled in favour of an equal three-way division of the disputed land among the Sunni Waqf Board, Nirmohi Akhara and Ram Lalla Virajman. It was highlighted that this decision was subject to criticism on the ground that the Nirmohi Akhara had never asked for a share of the land, but rather for Shaibat or Mahantgiri rights of trusteeship. Furthermore, the decision was baffling as the High Court divided the land on the above lines despite observing that the suits filed by the Sunni Central Waqf Board and by the Nirmohi Akhara were barred by limitation.
On 8th March 2019, the Supreme Court referred the Ayodhya Dispute for mediation by a panel headed by former Supreme Court judge FMI Kallifulla. The mediation failed and the case was ultimately heard by a five-judge bench of the Supreme Court.
The discussion then analyzed the major findings of the Court along with its reasons for the same. The following points were made:
At the outset, it was clarified that in its final relief, the Court declared that the title of the disputed site (measuring 2.77 acres) vested with Shri Ram Lalla Virajman (the Hindu deity in question). In turn, the Court directed that the Central Government was to formulate a scheme that envisaged the setting up of a Trust with a Board of Trustees which would be responsible for the construction of a temple on the disputed site. Additionally, the Court held that the Sunni Central Waqf Board was to be allotted a plot of land measuring 5 acres for the construction of a mosque. The said 5 acres of land was to be allotted either by the Central Government out of the land acquired under Ayodhya Act 1993 or by the State Government at a suitable prominent place in Ayodhya.
In Paragraph 796 of the judgment, the Court explicitly noted that the dispute is over immovable property and title over the property could not be decided on the basis of faith or belief but on the basis of evidence.
On the balance of probabilities, the Hindus were able to establish unimpeded possession over the outer courtyard by relying on evidence in the form of Travelogues, Gazetteers, Land Documentary records, etc.
The inner courtyard was a contested site with conflicting claims of Hindus and Muslims. The Muslims had failed to establish exclusive possession of the inner courtyard as there was no account of possession, use or offer of Namaz in the mosque between the date of construction of the mosque in 1528 and 1856/57, when initial riots regarding the site broke out. However, this finding has become the main point of criticism for the verdict as the Court could have presumed that Muslims used the Babri Masjid for worship during the said period thereby shifting the burden of proof on the Hindus to show that the mosque was not being used for worship by the Muslims. Further, nowhere in its judgment does the Court arrive at the conclusion that the mosque was completely defunct from 1528 to 1857.
The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) report was discussed in context of the issue relating to the belief of the Hindus that there existed at the disputed site an ancient temple dedicated to Lord Ram, which was ultimately demolished by Babur to build the Babri Masjid. The ASI report revealed the existence of a pre-existing underlying structure dating back to the twelfth century, whose nature was deemed to be of Hindu religious origin. The ASI report also concluded that the mosque in dispute was constructed on the foundation of the pre-existing structure.
However, despite the findings of the ASI report, the Court on page 907 of the judgment held that “a finding of title cannot be based in law on the archaeological findings which have been arrived at by ASI”. This was because no evidence had been placed on record in relation to the course of human history between the discovered date of the underlying structure (12th century) and the construction of the mosque (16th century / 1528).
The Court noted that the desecration of the mosque in 1949 through the planting of idols and its ultimate destruction in 1992 constituted serious violations of the rule of law. Therefore, using its powers under Article 142 of the Constitution, the Court allotted 5 acres of land to the Sunni Central Waqf Board for the construction of a mosque in Ayodhya.
It was also highlighted that the judgment does not disclose the name of the judge who authored it, in clear deviation of standard judicial practice. However, it has been speculated that the author is Justice D.Y. Chandrachud based on the style of writing and formatting.
Lastly, senior Professor V.K. Dixit opined that Courts of law are not the ideal forum to decide on questions of spiritual needs and beliefs. He noted that the Ayodhya dispute had become more than just a property dispute as it involved the ego of both the communities. He further explained that judges often decide cases on the basis of extra-legal factors and the presence of factors like the strong beliefs and sentiments of the Hindus may have also played an implicit role in arriving at the final verdict in the instant case. He concluded by stating that society must be wary of such disputes as they are inherently regressive and are stirred up by political parties for the purposes of electoral gains and to divert the attention of the populace from more pressing issues in the country.