India court rules to hand historic Babri Mosque site to Hindus

ANADOLU AGENCY
NEW DELHI
Published 09.11.2019 13:15
Security personnel stand guard on a street in Ayodhya on Nov. 07, 2019, as part of a security measure ahead of a Supreme Court verdict (AFP Photo)
Security personnel stand guard on a street in Ayodhya on Nov. 07, 2019, as part of a security measure ahead of a Supreme Court verdict (AFP Photo)

The historical site of early 16th century Babri Mosque will be handed over to Hindus for construction of Ram temple, India's top court said Saturday in an outrageous ruling, as the Muslim side expressed surprise over the decision, noting that they possessed all the evidence under the law to prove that the site belongs to the masjid.

The Indian Supreme Court also ruled that a "suitable plot" of land measuring 5 acres would be allotted to Sunni Waqf Board either by the central government or provincial government to construct a mosque.

The Muslim side, represented by All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB), expressed dissatisfaction over the judgment signed by five judges of the apex court.

"We respect the [Supreme Court's] order but we are not satisfied with the verdict. We will decide further course of action," Zafaryab Jilani, a lawyer for the board, told a news conference in the capital New Delhi.

"The executive committee of the AIMPLB, after discussions with senior lawyer Rajiv Dhawan, will decide on whether to go for a review," he said.

Built in 1528 under the rule of first Mughal emperor Babur, the grand mosque along with a land of 2.77 acres in India's central province of Uttar Pradesh was demolished by a group of radical Hindus in 1992. Hindus claimed one of their gods, Lord Ram, was born at the site of the mosque.

The state government in northern Uttar Pradesh made elaborate security arrangements to meet any law and order situation in the wake of the judgment.

Ahead of the verdict, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi called for calm and said the verdict is neither victory nor loss for either party.

In the judgment, India's Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi directed the government to formulate a scheme envisaging setting up of Trust within three months to build the temple.

"Possession of inner and outer courtyards [of Babri Mosque] be handed over to the Trust," Gogoi said.

India's right-wing Hindu organization the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), or World Hindu Council, welcomed the court decision.

Speaking to Anadolu Agency, VHP spokesman Sharad Sharma said: "Truth has won in this case. We are happy with the decision."

"Most of the arguments of Hindus were accepted by the Supreme Court. We will now make [construct] a temple at the site," Sharma added.

The historic Indian court judgment coincided with the opening of Kartarpur corridor by Pakistan to celebrate the 550th birth anniversary of Baba Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikh religion.

Reacting to the Babri Mosque verdict, Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi dubbed the timing of the verdict "surprising."

Following the court's decision, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi took to Twitter to appreciate the court and hail the decision.

"This verdict shouldn't be seen as a win or loss for anybody," he said in a series of tweets.

"The halls of justice have amicably concluded a matter going on for decades. Every side, every point of view was given adequate time and opportunity to express differing points of view. This verdict will further increase people's faith in judicial processes," Modi added.

The historic mosque, widely known as Babri Masjid, was built in 1528 during the reign of the first Mughal emperor Zahir ud-Din Muhammad Babur in today's Ayodhya in the central Indian province of Uttar Pradesh (UP) and there was no claim of any Hindu deity having been born at the site, said lawyer Zafaryab Jilani.

"Never were Muslims stopped from offering prayers inside the Babri Masjid as there was no such claim of any idol being at the site where the Masjid was built," Jilani told Anadolu Agency in a telephone interview from New Delhi.

Jilani, a senior advocate, has been representing the Sunni Central Waqf Board and other Muslim litigants in the Babri Masjid case for the last 45 years since 1975.

The case, fought by All India Muslim Personal Law Board representing Muslims, is that of title suit. "Our plea is that the site has been used as a Masjid since 1528 so the ownership of the site be granted to Wakf [which runs the affairs of the mosque]."

"It was in December 1949 that there were some restrictions put on Muslims," he said. "It was in this month that idols [of Hindu gods] were found inside the Masjid. So, under Indian law, to defuse any communal tensions, some kind of restrictions were imposed."

Jilani said restrictions were imposed on Muslims from offering prayers inside the Masjid. "Besides, few Hindu saints were appointed to offer prayers and take care of idols according to Hindu customs. But Masjid was out of bounds for common people now," he added.

Jilani, who emerged as the "eyes and ears" to the Babri Masjid case said the then-central government pressed the provincial government to remove idols from the mosque.

"The District Magistrate of the district [where the mosque is located] did not get ready [to implement the order]; and under a conspiracy, a case was filed in the court that idols should not be removed," Jilani recalled the various cases filed in the title case of the Babri Mosque.

Jilani said the case shifted to Lucknow High Court in 1987 from the lower court. "There was tension after the locks of the Masjid were opened at the order of the court," he said.

This was the time when the Indian National Congress party lost general elections "because angry Muslims voted against it," he said.

"In 1990, BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party] President [LK] Advani started a Yatra [March] towards Babri Masjid to allow Hindus to build a gate near the Masjid but government disallowed it and a curfew was imposed for 90 days," he said.

In 1991, the BJP formed the provincial government in the state where the mosque is located.

"The government acquired land around the Masjid and we [Muslims] challenged it in court ... however, under a conspiracy and a decision was given against us. And on Dec. 6, 1992, Masjid was brought down."

Attack on Babri Mosque triggered tensions, crisis, riots across India

According to Jilani, the cases against land acquisition were withdrawn. "[In the 1990s] Prime Minister Narasimha Rao first promised that the Masjid will be rebuilt and thus cases were canceled but we challenged it in Supreme Court and asked it to revive the cases and our plea was accepted," he said.

Trial started in 1995

Jilani said that the report of an excavation of the land around the mosque first came in 2003. Arguments were filed against the report in Allahabad High Court which finally gave its verdict in 2010.

"The court said: 'because Muslims and Hindus are offering prayers jointly at the site, so the land is distributed on 1/3 measurement'," he quoted the Allahabad court's judgment.

Jilani, however, said the Muslim side challenged the judgment in Supreme Court that that only Muslims prayed inside the mosque. "The court verdict was baseless and was not based on any evidence that Hindus also offered prayers at the same site," Jilani claimed.

"Muslims had furnished all evidence that they have been praying at the site since 1528," he said.

The Muslim side went to the Supreme Court of India and appealed against the verdict that was filed in 2011. The trial in the case started in August the same year.

Jilani said that the main argument by the Muslim side is "why the site has been accepted as a joint place of worship for Hindus as well".

"There is no evidence that Hindus also prayed at the site of the contention," he said.

"Under Evidence Act [of Indian law], there is a requirement of either paper or verbal evidence for such a claim," he added. "In this case, the verbal witness is not possible because the case is historic. Muslims have submitted paper evidence."

To support the claim of Muslims that the temple was not at the site of the mosque, Jilani said Hindus had earlier specified two places, also found in revenue records, that in 1862 a place outside the mosque was considered as the birthsite of Hindu god Ram.

It is also mentioned in a report filed by the then-British government (1862-65). "We submitted these documents to court as well."

But in 1885 Hindus again claimed that another place near the mosque called Chabootra was the birthplace of Ram.

"Though this second claim of Hindus was not accepted it was added to records which showed the Masjid was located in the west of the Chabootra," Jilani said.

Then in 1941, Jilani said, Hindus again said Masjid was in the west of the Chabootra. "The records show that in 1950, the government of UP and police also accepted that it was just a Masjid, not a temple."

In all documents, Jilani asserted, the place is shown as a mosque. "Babri Masjid would even get grants of [Indian currency] Rs 302 before the British came to India. There are documents for it, too."

Besides, he said that there is an inscription inside the mosque that it was built on the orders of Mughal emperor Babur.

"Our plea is simple: when documents never showed it was a temple before 1949, how is acceptable after that year. How is it acceptable that in 1989, Hindus started saying it was the birthplace of Ram? What is the documentary evidence?"

"There is no evidence nor witness for it [that there was a temple]," he said.

"According to us, this claim [of the temple] was developed only after 1949," he said.

Jilani said that evidence of Muslims "is very strong". "They [Hindus] do not have any evidence... We believe the decision will come in our favor under the Indian constitution."

Whether or not to remove the idols which were found in the mosque after 1949, Jilani said: "It could be the consequences of the Supreme Court decision ... It depends on the judgment."

Following are the main arguments from Muslim parties presented by senior advocates Rajeev Dhavan, Shekhar Naphade and Meenakshi Arora.

1. Mere belief of devotees cannot confer title over the disputed land. References in ancient scriptures will also not give title.

2. Hindus' claim is barred as the suit filed by Mahant Raghubar Das in 1855 was dismissed.

3. Hindus were worshiping only in the outer courtyard. The idols were placed under the central dome of the mosque only in December 1949.

4. The claim of possession by Hindu parties is based on a wrongful act of trespass committed on Dec. 23, 1949, when idols were placed inside the mosque. Right of possession cannot be based on trespass.

5. It is not possible to assess the legality of Mughal Emperor Babur's acts after several centuries.

6. The Archaeological Survey of India report has several contradictions. It is only an opinion. It does not conclusively state that the mosque was built over a temple.

7. 'Once a mosque always a mosque' - there is no concept of abandoning of mosque. Muslims stopped offering prayers at the mosque only after 1950 when the property was attacked by the District Magistrate.

8. The law of limitations set by the British and then adopted by India in 1963, stipulates a maximum period of 30 years to claim immovable properties from adverse possession.

Hindu parties

The main Hindu parties in the case were Ramlalla Virajman (the deity), Nirmohi Akhara and the legal representatives of Gopal Singh Vish, a believer who filed a suit in 1950 seeking right of worship in the mosque.

Following are the key arguments from Hindu parties presented by senior advocates K Parasaran and C S Vaidyanathan.

1. The entire disputed area of 2.77 acres is the Janmasthan, the birthplace of Lord Ram.

2. It is the centuries-old belief of millions of Hindus that Lord Ram's spirit resides in the Janmasthan. The faith of the devotees is itself the evidence that the Janmasthan is the birthplace of Lord Ram.

3. There cannot be an adverse possession against, or joint possession of Janmasthan, which by itself is a juridical personality. Janmasthan is indivisible.

4. The Archaeological Survey of India report shows that the mosque was built on a land over a massive structure which dated back to 2nd century BC.

5. Babri mosque cannot be regarded as a mosque built in line with the tenets of Islamic law, which prohibits construction of mosque by demolishing other structures.

6. Ancient texts and scriptures refer to Ayodhya as the birthplace of Lord Ram. There is unshakeable faith of devotees that it is the Janmasthan. That itself is the greatest evidence.

7. Ayodhya, being the birthplace of Lord Ram, holds particular significance for Hindus.

8. Babri mosque ceased to be a mosque as Muslims had stopped offering prayers there.

9. The decree in 1855 suit does not operate as res judicata as the plaintiff Mahant Raghubar Das did not represent entire Hindus. Also, the claim in that suit was confined to the outer courtyard and chabuthara, a raised platform.

Here is the timeline of historic Babri Mosque in India:

1528

Mir Baqi, a military officer of the first Mughal Emperor Zahir ud-Din Muhammad Babur, orders construction of mosque in Ayodhya, city in the Faizabad district of northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh.

1853

For the first time, Hindus claim site was birthplace of Lord Rama and that the mosque was constructed after demolition of a temple. This claim leads to communal riots in the city during reign of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah of Awadh. Platform known as Ram Chabootra is erected outside the mosque for Hindus to worship.

1856

British annexed the state of Awadh and deposes its ruler, Nawab Wajid Ali Shah.

1859

British build a fence separating the platform from mosque, with inner court to be used by Muslims and outer court by Hindus.

1885

Hindus approach court to claim property. Mahant Raghubir Das also asks for building of canopy on Ram Chabootra. British district judge rejects the claim.

1949

In dead of night, some Hindus scale the wall and place idol of Ram inside the mosque. Hindus spread the message that idols "miraculously" appeared inside the mosque. Jawaharlal Nehru, India's first prime minister, takes firm stand against the illegal installation of idols, insisting they be removed. Local official K.K.K. Nair (known for Hindu nationalist connections) refuses to carry out orders, claiming that they would lead to communal riots. He instead locks mosque. Hashim Ansari, local Muslim, approaches the court for removal of idols and restoration of prayers.

1950

Hindu man Gopal Singh Visharad files suit seeking permission for the right to worship the idols installed at "Asthan Janmabhoomi." Court allows the worship and does not remove the idols.

1959

Hindu group Nirmohi Akhara files suit for possession of the site, claiming they are custodians of the spot where Ram was supposedly born.

1961

Sunni Waqfs Board joins court battle against forceful idol installation and seeks possession of mosque and adjoining land.

1986

On basis of Hari Shankar Dubey's plea, district court orders gate unlocked for Hindu community.

1989

Deoki Nandan Agarwala, vice president of right-wing Hindu group Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), files suit for title and possession of the land, at Lucknow bench of Allahabad High Court.

1989

High court appoints special bench to hear dispute.

1989

VHP launches movement to reclaim the land and birthplace of Lord Ram. Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) -- later India's ruling party -- lends support, making this a poll plank. VHP puts foundation stone on land adjacent to disputed mosque.

1990

VHP activists partially damage mosque. Police fire on and kill many of its activists.

Dec. 6, 1992

Mosque razed to the ground by a frenzied mob. Riots break out all over the country.

Dec. 16, 1992

Central government appoints Librahan Commission (Librahan Ayodhya Commission for Inquiry) under retired High Court Judge M. S. Liberhan to investigate destruction of Babri Mosque. Case filed against top BJP leaders L K Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, Uma Bharti and others for conspiring in demolition

1996

Allahabad High Court combines all civil suits under a single table.

2001

Special court drops criminal conspiracy charges against L.K. Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi and Uma Bharti and others for their role in demolition.

2002

High Court directs Archaeological Survey of India to see if there is any evidence of claimed temple beneath mosque.

High Court starts hearing to determine real owner of Babri Mosque site.

2003

After excavation to find evidence of temple beneath Babri Mosque site, Archaeological Survey of India submits report claiming evidence of stone columns and pillars.

2009

Librahan Commission submits report accusing BJP politicians of playing role in 1992 demolition of mosque.

2010

Lucknow bench of Allahabad High Court reserves its order and suggests all parties resolve issue through friendly discussion, but little interest is shown.

2010

Allahabad High Court rules that disputed land be divided in three: one-third going to Ram Lalla (under the representation of Hindu Mahasabha); one-third to the Muslim Waqf Board; and remaining third to Nirmohi Akhara.

2010

All parties challenge Allahabad High Court ruling at Supreme Court.

2011

Supreme Court stays Allahabad High Court ruling on splitting disputed land and restores the status quo.

2015

Vishwa Hindu Parishad declares nationwide movement to collect stones for construction of Ram Mandir at site of Babri Mosque.

2017

On basis of Babri Mosque demolition case, Supreme Court says charges against Advani and other leaders cannot be dropped and the case must be revived. It reinstates conspiracy case against politicians like L.K. Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, and Uma Bharti. The apex court also orders Allahabad Court's bench of Lucknow to complete hearing within two years.

2017

Supreme Court decides to start final hearing. The court directs Uttar Pradesh government to translate case documents of 9,000-plus pages (523 documentary exhibits) within 12 weeks. Documents include scripts and records written in various languages, including Pali, Arabic, Persian, Gurumukhi, and Urdu.

2018

Supreme Court starts hearing civil appeals.

2019

Supreme Court sets up a five-judge Constitution Bench to hear land dispute case headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, with Justices S.A. Bobde, N.V. Ramana, U.U. Lalit, and D.Y. Chandrachud.

Lalit recuses himself, prompting the Supreme Court to reschedule hearing before the new bench.

Supreme Court reconstitutes the five-member Constitution Bench to hear the case: Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justices S.A. Bobde, D.Y. Chandrachud, Ashok Bhushan, and S.A. Nazeer.

March 2019

Supreme Court favors mediation, refers dispute for mediation by panel headed by former Supreme Court judge F.M.I. Kallifulla.

May 2019

The mediation team submits the final report to the Supreme Court. Court decides to go ahead with day-to-day hearing.

Aug. 2019

Supreme Court starts day to day hearing of the case.

Oct. 16, 2019

After 40 days of marathon arguments, Supreme Court concludes hearing and reserves judgment.

Nov. 9, 2019

Indian Supreme Court decides to hand over the historic site of Babri Mosque to Hindus for the construction of a temple. The court also says Muslims be given an alternate piece of land for building a mosque.

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