The Ayodhya judgement: A tapestry of wisdom

It is easy to cynically dismiss the monumental thousand-page unanimous judgment of the Supreme Court on the Ram Mandir - Babri Masjid case by saying that the Supreme Court must be right because it is final. But, any discerning analysis of this Judgment must restore one’s confidence in the scholarliness and erudition in relation to history and archeology, commitment to constitutional values, sensitivity to issues of faith and belief among religious communities in India and above all an adherence to the rule of law and evidence as displayed by the Court in putting to rest one of the most vexed issues of immense public importance that has loomed large for over a 150 years in India.

The facts before the Court were that a Mosque-like structure occupied 1500 Sq. Yards in Ayodhya since 1528 over a pre-existing structure believed to be a Temple dedicated to Lord Ram and built in the 12th Century to commemorate His birthplace. Since 1858, communal tensions resulting in riots and loss of human life on both sides prevailed and with a view to restore some semblance of peace, the British Government fenced the site with a brick wall and divided the precincts into inner and outer courtyards. The outer area, thereafter, was used by Hindus as a place of worship but without forsaking their claim to the inner courtyard, whilst the inner one was used by the Muslims till 16th December 1949. Two Hindu devotees each filed suits in 1950 claiming right of worship at the site which was followed by another suit in 1959 by Nirmohi Akhara, claiming absolute right of managing the affairs of the Janmasthan and the Temple. In 1961, Sunni Central Waqf Board filed a declaratory suit claiming that the Babri Masjid was a public Mosque and sought possession thereof. In 1989, another suit was brought in the name of Lord Ram and the Birthplace as plaintiffs through a next friend claiming title to the disputed site. The Allahabad High Court subsumed these various suits unto itself and passed an order of status quo on 14th August, 1989 till the issue was finally decided. The status quo order however was violated by a large crowd resulting in the destruction of the Mosque.

Rival claims by both communities were made, each one claiming exclusive right of worship and possession of this hallowed site. The Muslims originally said that the structure was a Mosque built during Emperor Babur’s reign over a vacant land, while the Hindus asserted that Lord Ram’s Temple pre-existed the Mosque and was desecrated to make way for that shrine. An abundance of evidence was adduced by both the communities in the nature of archeological survey reports, history books and travelogues, chronicles of government officials maintained during sovereign regimes like the Mughals and the British, documents of grants by sovereign authorities and accounts of usage and custom prevalent centuries ago. This entire voluminous evidence forms the basis of the judgment and has been analysed meticulously to sift fact from fiction and to slot them into legally acceptable principles by generally applying rules of evidence to ascertain whose version is more cogent, consistent and probable. It is this remarkable approach of the Court which gives the conclusion arrived at a solid legal foundation and removes from the emotionally charged controversy the element of any communal slant or bias. By keeping emotions and sentiments isolated from facts and evidence the Court has rendered a judgment that will afford any religious leader worth his salt the means to assuage the passions of his followers by prevailing upon them to accept the lawful findings of an impartial and wise judicial authority.

In a nutshell, the Court found the following to be established on a preponderance of probability, which is a salutary rule of evidence applicable to civil proceedings, namely i) that the Mosque was not built on vacant land; ii) that the Mosque was built on an underlying structure of non-Islamic origin; iii) no evidence was supplied by Muslims to show that they were in exclusive possession of the inner structure prior to 1857; iv) there was sufficient evidence to show that Hindus worshipped at the inner structure prior to 1857; v) clear evidence that Hindus uninterruptedly had always worshipped in the outer courtyard; vi) the demolition of Mosque was illegal being in violation of the status quo order; vii) faith and belief of the Hindus that the site was the birthplace of Lord Ram was genuine and this finding was supported by evidence.

In arriving at its conclusions, the Court has interestingly invoked principles of law, both mundane and esoteric, and has woven together a fascinating fabric of history, sentiment, faith, archeology and evidence which envelopes and puts to rest the entire controversy and dispute between the two largest religious communities. For instance, the Court was not pre-occupied with whether Lord Ram was actually born at the site but attaches immense importance to the fact that Hindus genuinely believed that that was Lord Ram’s Birthplace. To quote, “Matters of faith and belief lie in the personal realm of the believer. That which sustains solace to the soul is inscrutable. Whether a belief is justified lies beyond ken of judicial inquiry… Scriptural interpretations are susceptible to a multitude of inferences. The court would do well not to step into the pulpit by adjudging which, if any, of competing interpretations should be accepted. Faith is a matter for the individual believer. Once the court has intrinsic material to accept that the faith or the belief is genuine and not a pretence, it must defer to the belief of the worshipper. This, we must do well to recognise, applies across the spectrum of religions and their texts, Hinduism and Islam being among them. The value of a secular constitution lies in a tradition of equal deference.”

Flowing from recognising “genuine faith” as a legal tool for grant of relief, the Court held that Lord Ram qualified in His deified form as a plaintiff possessing a juristic personality, but, the same faith would neither elevate ‘His Birthplace’ (nor the ‘Waqf by user’) to the same legal status. To quote “The court cannot adopt a position that accords primacy to the faith and belief of a single religion as a basis to confer both judicial insulation as well as primacy over the legal system as a whole.” Other legal principles that adorn the judgment and are crucial in deciding the case are the impact of sovereign regimes from kingdoms prior to 1525 till now; grants and recognition, if any, of the structure by different regimes; the doctrine of adverse possession and lost grant; and the invocation of Article 142 to do complete justice (grant of 5 acres to Muslims as compensation for the demolition of the Mosque).

The judgment transcends the dispute that it set out to resolve and by pegging its reasons and conclusions on time-honoured and salutary principles of law, manifests a rare sagacity that religious communities divided by faith can find common ground to live together in peace. The unanimous declaration is only this, that the ultimate religion for co-existence in a pluralistic society like ours is the Rule of Law.

Haresh M. Jagtiani heads the law practice of Oasis Counsel & Advisory and Suprabh Jain is Associate Partner thereof. Syndicate: The Billion Press