Treading a fine line at Ayodhya to deliver justice

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Published: November 12, 2019 2:01:12 AM

SC negotiates between faith and evidence, and gave the best possible judgment under the circumstances.

The Supreme Court has done well to finally deliver a verdict on the issue, and a unanimous one at that

Given the construction of a Ram temple at Ayodhya should always have been settled politically, by involving both Hindu and Muslim religious leaders, the Supreme Court (SC) has done well to finally deliver a verdict on the issue, and a unanimous one at that; had there been dissenting views, both Hindu and Muslim leaders would have cited this to point to the flaws in the judgment. Matters were complicated by some prominent historians arguing that there was, in fact, no evidence that a temple had been destroyed to build the Babri Masjid; if archaeological evidence were to be used as a clincher, many other Muslim monuments could get threatened. In the event, SC negotiated faith and evidence—nor was the evidence of the type courts normally deal with—and came up with a solution that seems fairly balanced.

SC accepted the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) finding that there was a Hindu temple—made in the 12th century AD—upon which the mosque was constructed. Possibly, since such a finding could fan movements to demolish other Muslim monuments that are built on Hindu temples—though the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act of 1991 prohibits this—the SC said there was no ASI evidence on whether that temple was, in fact, destroyed solely to build the Babri masjid; indeed, SC said that there was a gap of 400 years between the construction of the two. While this could be challenged on grounds that ASI had talked of when the temple was built and not when it was demolished, the SC wisely ended the discussion by saying “a finding of title cannot be based in law on the archaeological findings which have been arrived at by ASI”.

Having taken note of a non-Islamic structure underneath the Babri Masjid, the SC then looked at whether the Hindus or the Muslims were in continuous possession of the site, and whether they prayed there. The Hindu side’s argument that the Babri Masjid “did not accord with Islamic tenets” was rejected, as was the plea that no namaaz was ever offered in it; the namaaz ended, the court says, when Hindu idols were put into the Masjid in 1949, and desecrated the mosque—the court comes down heavily on this. SC then noted that the Hindus had “exclusive and unimpeded possession of the outer courtyard where they have continued worship” while the inner courtyard was used by both communities; the Muslims, the court said, “have offered no evidence to indicate that they were in exclusive possession of the inner structure prior to 1857 since the date of the construction in the sixteenth century”. The setting up of the Ramchabutra, in or around 1857, the court said “must be seen in the historical context as an expression or assertion of the Hindu right to worship at the birth-place of Lord Ram”

Given this, the court ruled that a Ram temple was to be constructed on the disputed side, and since the Muslims had been deprived of a functioning mosque, the Sunni Waqf Board was to be allotted five acres of land in Ayodhya to build a mosque. While it is possible for both communities to argue against some of the SC’s individual findings, the judgment uses Article 142 of the Constitution, which allows it to deliver ‘complete justice’ in a creative manner to offer a solution to a burning issue that has polarised India for decades. While the government has done well to try and dampen passions after the verdict, and to reach out to Muslim groups, the Sunni Waqf Board’s offer to give up its claims, made before the judgment was pronounced, indicates a desire to move on. Having won a big victory, Hindu groups need to accept that every historical wrong cannot be righted, and should give up their claims for other temples.

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