The verdict in the Ayodhya dispute was announced on Saturday, finally drawing the curtains on an issue that has spanned decades. The verdict pronounced by a bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, and will comprise Justices SA Bobde, DY Chandrachud, Ashok Bhushan and SA Nazeer stated that a temple would be built at the site, and the Sunni Muslim Waqf Board would be given an alternate land of 5 acres.
The Centre, which is in possession of the disputed land, will formulate a scheme for a Board of Trustees for the construction of the temple at the disputed site. The disputed 2.77 acre land, which includes the inner and outer courtyards, will be handed over by the Centre to the trustees. The Centre will also hand over the rest of the land to the trustees.
The history of the dispute
The 2.77 acre land at the centre of the dispute is considered by Hindus to be the birthplace of the Hindu god, Ram. In the 16th century, the Babri Masjid is believed to have been built at the contested spot by one of the generals of the Mughal king Babar and it stood there until it was destroyed in 1992.
The case in the courts of India however started much before – and there are several parties to the dispute, including ‘Ramlalla’ – baby Ram – the deity. Here’s everything you need to know about the case, and the history of the dispute.
Bhagwan Ramlalla Virajman: Led by the Hindu Mahasabha, they represent baby Ram, the deity – a statue which was placed inside the Babri Masjid, but we’ll get to that later.
Nirmohi Akhara: A group of Hindu ascetics who worship Ram, and want a temple to be built at the location.
The Sunni Central Wakf Board: The Muslim body which wants control of the body to build a mosque at the site. The party is central to the case and not the Shia Wakf Board, as, in 1945, a Faizabad judge held that the Babri Masjid is a Sunni property.
How it all unfolded
It goes all the way back to the 19th century. In 1885, a member of the Nirmohi Akhara filed a suit seeking a temple be allowed to be built in the outer courtyard of the Babri Masjid, as they believed that the spot was the real birthplace of Ram. That suit, however, was turned down, over the fact that the construction of a temple may cause communal disharmony.
A full six-and-a-half decades later – and just two years after India’s independence from the British – in 1949, idols of Ram and his brother, Laxman, were placed inside the mosque by a group of Hindus who broke into the mosque.
This led to both Hindus and Muslims filing cases, and the site was locked as a disputed one. From 1950 to around 1961, several suits were filed in court – including ones by present parties Nirmohi Akhara and the Sunni Waqf Board – claiming ownership of the land.
The 1980s was when a political campaign over the disputed land began. In 1984, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), an organisation formed in order to ‘safeguard Hindu interests’ declared a campaign for a Ram temple to be built at the Janmabhoomi site. The Bharatiya Janata Party became the political face of the campaign.
In 1986, following a court case, then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi ordered that the main doors on the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid be unlocked. Until that point of time, a priest had been allowed to offer ritual prayers to the idols that had been installed in 1949, and a side door could be accessed by others. But once the main doors of the mosques were opened, Hindus were allowed to offer prayers there. By then, the political campaign had gathered full steam. In 1990, BJP leader LK Advani announced a rath yatra across north India to culminate in Ayodhya. The yatra was marked with communal clashes and Advani was detained in Bihar. However, the flames had been fanned and two years later, on December 6, 1992, a mob of kar sevaks – volunteers of the Sangh Parivar – attacked the Babri Masjid and demolished it. The demolition triggered communal clashes and riots in major cities like Mumbai, Hyderabad, Delhi and Bhopal, and several people were killed.
The case in court
A title dispute filed in 2002 culminated in an Allahabad court, in September 2010, dividing the 2.77 acres of land into three parts – one-third to Ram Lalla; one-third to the Sunni Waqf Board; and the remaining one-third to the Nirmohi Akhara.
All the three parties approached the Supreme Court and in 2011, the Supreme Court stayed the 2010 Allahabad HC judgment. Fourteen appeals were filed in the apex court against the 2010 Allahabad High Court judgment.
What each party wants
After the verdict of the Allahabad High Court, the appeals were taken up by the Supreme Court in 2019.
Those representing Ram Lalla, or baby Ram, claimed the right to ownership of the land to build a temple. The reason that the Hindu deity is represented is that it's a ‘juristic entity’, which has the right to sue and be sued. And since this is baby Ram – a minor in front of the law – the deity is represented by a ‘friend’. And since he is a minor, under Section 11 of the Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act of 1956, there is an embargo against selling the property of a minor.
The Sunni Muslim Waqf Board wants the masjid to be built at the location, and also wants the court to put in place the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act of 1991. This Act contains provisions to “prohibit conversion of any place of worship and to provide for the maintenance of the religious character of any place of worship as it existed on the 15th day of August, 1947". The Waqf Board claimed that they always were in possession of the Babri Mosque.
The Nirmohi Akhara, a sect, claimed that they were devotees of Lord Ram for many centuries, and wanted shebait rights over the land — the one in whom the property of the temple is vested, (regarded as vested with the deity) and has rights in the capacity of a manager of the deity’s property.
What happened in the Supreme Court
On the last day of the hearing, the Hindu parties urged the court to take into consideration faith of the millions of people attached with the birthplace of Lord Ram, and the Muslim parties pleaded to restore the Babri Masjid, as it was, before the demolition in 1992. Both sides were involved in intense arguments in the last phase of the hearing, and high-pitched arguments had led to chaos in the courtroom.
The court began the daily hearing after the court-appointed mediation panel headed by former Supreme Court Justice FMI Kalifulla and comprising spiritual guru Sri Sri Ravishankar along with senior advocate Sriram Panchu, failed to develop a consensus among the parties to arrive at an amicable solution.
On the last day hearing the Muslim parties urged the court to allow the matter to be settled between parties without passing a judgment. A faction in the Sunni Waqf Board, Uttar Pradesh, had apparently conceded title of the dispute to the Hindu side on terms and conditions. A representative of this faction told the media that the nature of dispute requires settlement and not judgment, which is essential to maintain peace in the country.
During the hearing, the judges had asked piercing questions, specifically focussed at the complexity involved in faith and its legal outcome, to both parties. Senior advocate Rajiv Dhavan, representing the Muslim parties, had objected to this line of questioning specifically targeting them but later, he apologised to the court on the same.
Dhavan also shot to the headlines, after shredding a pictorial map, submitted by one of the Hindu parties associated with the disputed site. Dhavan had objected to this submission. He was also the only lawyer who argued for two weeks, establishing the possession of Muslim parties on the disputed site, before the court.