Wednesday, September 29, 2010

125 years after first Babri verdict, it's judgment time again

A special Full Bench of Justices S.U. Khan, Sudhir Agarwal and D.V. Sharma of the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court will pronounce its verdict on the Ayodhya title suits on Thursday. The final hearing began on July 23, 1996, and verdict was reserved on July 26 this year.

On one side are a number of Hindu plaintiffs, who claim that the disputed site belongs to them and is the spot where a Ram temple once existed. On the other is the Uttar Pradesh Sunni Central Wakf Board, which maintains that the site, where the Babri Masjid stood for five centuries before being demolished by mobs on December 6, 1992, is a Muslim place of worship.

The present legal battle over title has gone on for nearly 60 years. On Thursday, the court is expected to rule on that and also perhaps answer several questions framed by itself in the course of the suit. These include whether the disputed site is the birthplace of Lord Ram and whether the Babri Masjid was built after demolishing a temple there. According to the Wakf Board, the Muslims offered prayers at the mosque from 1528, when it was built by Mughal emperor Babur, up to 1949, when the gates were locked by the local administration after some miscreants  with the connivance of officials  surreptitiously placed Ram idols inside the mosque.

The mosque was razed by kar sevaks brought to the site by leaders from various parts of the country. In their submissions, the Hindu plaintiffs said their right to worship the deity of Ram Lalla, or the infant Ram, at the disputed site must be recognised by the court as “millions of Hindus” have for “several centuries” believed it to be the Lord's birthplace. Their lawyers adduced historical accounts by foreign travellers suggesting that not only before 1528, but even thereafter, Hindus have held the place itself in great reverence.

The case timeline

Idols of Rama Lalla were placed surreptitiously in the middle of the floor space under the central dome on December 23, 1949. Soon thereafter, devotees assembled there to worship. On December 29, 1949, the city magistrate exercised control over the whole area.

The first suit was filed on January 16, 1950 by Gopal Simla Visharad in the Faizabad civil court for exclusive rights to perform pooja to Ram Lalla. He sought a restraint order on removal of the idols and a temporary injunction was issued. This order was later confirmed by the civil judge and later by a Division Bench of the Allahabad High Court.

On December 5, 1950, Paramahansa Ramachandra Das also filed a suit for continuation of the pooja and keeping the idols in the Babri structure. This was pending till August 1990, when out of sheer frustration he withdrew the case.

The third suit was filed in 1959 by the Nirmohi Akhara, seeking a direction to hand over charge of the disputed site from the receiver. The fourth suit was filed in 1961 by the U.P. Sunni Central Wakf Board for a declaration and possession. The fifth suit was filed on July 1, 1989 in the name of Bhagwan Shree Ram Lalla Virajman for a declaration and possession.

On February 1, 1986, a district judge ordered the locks on the mosque removed and the site was opened for Hindu worshippers. Two years earlier, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad had begun a campaign to “liberate” the so-called birthplace of Lord Rama, and the 1986 decision was widely seen at the time as an attempt by the Congress — then in power at the Centre and in U.P. — to upstage the VHP and the Bharatiya Janata Party.

In 1989, the four suits pending in the Faizabad civil court were transferred to the High Court on an application moved by the U.P. Advocate-General.

On October 10, 1991, the U.P. government acquired the 2.77-acre of land around the disputed structure for the convenience of devotees who attend Ram Lalla darshan. On January 7, 1993, the Government of India, with the consent of Parliament, took over some 67 acres of land all around the disputed area and sought the Supreme Court's opinion on whether there existed a Hindu place of worship before the disputed structure was built. But it declined to answer the question. On October 24, 1994, it turned the case back to the Lucknow Bench of the High Court and the suits were heard again from 1996.

Long legal history

In fact, the first suit was filed in 1885, when the Faizabad Deputy Commissioner refused to let Mahant Raghubar Das build a temple on land adjoining the mosque. Das then filed a title suit in a Faizabad court against the Secretary of State for India, seeking permission to build a temple on the Chabutra on the outer courtyard of the Babri Masjid.

His suit was dismissed on grounds that the alleged demolition of an original Ram temple in 1528 had occurred over 350 years earlier, and so it was “too late now” to remedy the grievance. “Maintain status quo. Any innovation may cause more harm than any benefit,” the court said. This suit was revived in 1950.

In August 2002, the High Court ordered a survey by the Archaeological Survey of India to find out whether a temple existed below the mosque or not.

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