Ayodhya in Supreme Court: Understanding the Ram Mandir-Babri Masjid conflict

Who are the litigants? What were some of the arguments made? What to expect today?

SC to hear Ram-Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid land dispute case today

The Supreme Court is expected to pronounce its verdict on the vexed Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid today. The demolition of the Babri Masjid at the disputed Ram Janmabhoomi site in Ayodhya on December 6, 1992, had sparked communal riots across the country. Here is a short primer:

ALSO READ: A chronology of events in the Ayodhya dispute

Who are the litigants?

Fourteen appeals were filed in the apex court against the 2010 Allahabad High Court judgment, delivered in four civil suits, that the 2.77-acre land in Ayodhya be partitioned equally among the three parties—the Sunni Waqf Board, the Nirmohi Akhara and Ram Lalla.

On the Hindu side, Nirmohi Akhara—a denomination of Ram-worshipping sadhus—claim historical worship rights over the shrine. Ram Lalla (infant Ram) was represented in court (deities can appear as minors by law) by Devaki Nandan Agarwal, a retired High Court judge, in 1989; Now, Trilok Nath Pandey is Ram Lalla's "friend". Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas, also a litigant on the Hindu side, is a VHP-backed organisation that has been aggressively pushing for the construction of a temple at the site.

Hashim Ansari, a Muslim man who lived in Ayodhya, was the oldest litigant in the Babri mosque case, and his son Iqbal Ansari has since taken over the helm. Sunni Waqf Board is the major litigant on the Muslim side, arguing that they have full possession of the title.

What were some of the arguments made?

The five-judge Constitution bench, headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, hearing the Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi dispute, on the penultimate day, asked former attorney general and senior advocate K. Parasaran, who appeared for the Hindu party: "They say, once a mosque always a mosque, do you support this?" "No. I do not support it. I will say once a temple always a temple," Parasaran replied. In essence, this statement summed up the impasse on the sensitive issue.  Rajeev Dhavan, appearing for the Muslim parties, argued that Muslims had title over the land since 1528 when mosque was built and there have been evidence that Mughals, Nawab of Awadh and then Britishers gave grants.

Moreover, Hindu parties, from 1885 to 1989, did not claim title. Dhavan said he was "cautioning" the bench against re-writing history as lawsuits cannot be decided on the basis of archeological evidence and by deciding whether Babur created a wakf. Cases have to be decided under legal parameters and courts cannot be persuaded to decide that 500 mosques, built by conquering emperors, be dug up to establish that temples were existing before the mosques, he said.

Conflicting archaeological reports—especially one in the 1990s which claimed there was no temple structure underneath the mosque—had figured in the hearings. He said that Quran, Hadith and other Islamic law cannot be used in "bits and pieces" to establish that the place was not a valid mosque in view of the fact that Islamic law is "very complex" and has evolved in last 1500 years.

Parasaran, appearing for the Hindu parties, argued that there were several mosques in Ayodhya where Muslims can pray but Hindus cannot change the birth place of Lord Ram. "Please do the reparation of a historical wrong committed by foreign ruler Babur who came here and said that I am the emperor and my fiat is the law," the senior lawyer, appearing for Mahant Suresh Das, who is a defendant in a law suit filed by Sunni Waqf Board and others in 1961. "Muslims can pray in any other mosque in Ayodhya. There are 55-60 mosques in Ayodhya alone. But, for Hindus, this is the birth place of Lord Ram...which we cannot change," he said.

Hindus have been fighting for centuries for the birthplace of Ram which cannot be changed and for Muslims all mosques are equal, Parasaran said, adding that foreigners like Mughals, Portuguese, French and Britishers came to rich India and plundered it which led this country to poverty. Parasaran said it has been said that "ancient mosque" was built by Babur more than 433 years ago after his conquest of India and hence the title of the mosque is "traceable to the conquest and occupation of Emperor Babur" but it has not been proved by the Muslim parties. He then referred to the findings of a Faizabad court in 1886 on a lawsuit filed by Mahant Raghubar Das and said it was held the mosque was built on the land held sacred by Hindus.

What to expect today?

Though all parties—Hindu and Muslim—have called for peace ahead of the verdict, security measures across the country are at an all-time high. Elaborate security arrangements have been made across the country ahead of the Supreme Court judgement in the communally sensitive Ayodhya land dispute case on Saturday, while the temple town remained on the edge and political leaders, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and religious leaders urged people to maintain peace and respect the verdict.

Authorities said social media posts will be monitored to ensure that no attempt is made to vitiate the atmosphere by spreading fake or inflammatory content. Arrangements have also been made to ensure the safety and security of religious places across the country.

The Uttar Pradesh government ordered closure of all educational and training institutes till Monday. 

The demolition of the Babri Masjid at the disputed site on December 6, 1992, had sparked communal riots. On Friday morning, Chief Justice Gogoi held an hour-long meeting with Uttar Pradesh Chief Secretary Rajendra Kumar Tiwari and Director General of Police Om Prakash Singh, who apprised him about the security arrangements made to maintain law and order in the state.

A multi-layered security has been put in place in the temple town of Ayodhya, turning it into a fortress with deployment of 60 companies (90-125 personnel each) of PAC and paramilitary forces. Vehicle checking has been intensified near the Ramjanmabhoomi police station, "karyashala" of Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas and other parts of the town.

The Delhi government has advised all private schools to remain closed on November 9 as a precautionary measure. The Madhya Pradesh government has declared a holiday for all educational institutes in the state on Saturday. Police have been put on alert in Mumbai and the rest of Maharashtra. In Mumbai, police have issued prohibitory orders against gathering of five or more persons till November 18.

Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot directed senior police officers to ensure law and order in the state. He asked the officers to make additional deployment in sensitive areas. In the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir, prohibitory orders under Section 144 of the CrPC have been issued, banning assembly of more than four people, DGP J&K, Dilbag Singh told PTI.

Schools and colleges in the UT have been ordered shut on Saturday and all examinations scheduled for November 9 have been postponed. The Karnataka government on Friday declared that all schools and colleges in the state will remain closed on November 9 in view of the Supreme Court verdict in the Ayodhya land dispute case.

A cross-section of people in Ayodhya said they want to move on and leave the past behind. Shiv Sakal, who lives near Badhi Devkali bypass in Ayodhya, said, "I sincerely pray to Lord Ram that this dispute be resolved at earliest, so that the element of uncertainty is gone from our minds once and for all.

"Many of my relatives who live in Bundelkhand are sceptical of coming to Ayodhya and say that they will come here only after the Supreme Court judgement is delivered," he said.

-Inputs from PTI