A J Philip
ALL is well that ends well. If one goes by this saying, which is derived from the title of a play by William Shakespeare, there is every reason to rejoice over the verdict of the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court on the Ramjanambhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute on September 30.
In New Delhi’s Dwarka where I live, the markets had more or less been closed for a couple of days with the police blocking all the access points for vehicles. And on the day the verdict was finally delivered on Thursday afternoon, roads in the Capital wore a deserted look and offices registered thin attendance.
Most school managements also declared a holiday for their establishments. Police presence was everywhere. Fear and anxiety overtook most people, particularly the minorities. I was in Kandhamal in Orissa for a few days last fortnight and I saw how scared the Christians there were about the impending verdict.
One of the Christians — a retired government employee whose house was plundered and demolished by the Hindutvavadis on the pretext of avenging the murder of a Hindu sanyasi by the Maoists in August 2008 — had this comment to make: "Our days are numbered if the Hindus lose the Ayodhya case and the Muslims are allowed to rebuild the Babri Masjid on the same land where it stood".
Fortunately, his fears were out of place as the court took a more practical, rather than legal, approach. The very fact that the court could deliver the verdict is in itself a commendable achievement as the case has been pending for the last 60 years, first in the Faizabad district court and then in the High Court.
Any further delay could have derailed the verdict as one of the judges — Justice Dharam Veer Sharma — was due for retirement on October 1. It would have necessitated hearing the case afresh.
Of course, the court did not go into the legalities of the demolition of the Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992. All the great heroes of the demolition, including Mr Lal Krishna Advani and Mr Murli Manohar Joshi, who were present at Ayodhya on that dark day in the history of independent India, have hailed the verdict as a leg up for "national integration". What is overlooked is that the verdict is actually a condemnation of what these leaders did to the nation.
As mentioned, the case had been pending in the Faizabad district court when following the stunning defeat of the Bharatiya Janata Party in the 1984 Lok Sabha election when its stalwarts like Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee had to eat humble pie in Gwalior and the party’s representation was reduced to just two seats in the Lok Sabha, Mr Advani took the leadership of the Ayodhya movement and went on a Rath Yatra that spelt bloodshed and doom for the country.
At that time, the government and many well-meaning people had suggested that the hearing in the case could be expedited to obviate the need for an agitation. But the Sangh Parivar did not listen. How could matters of faith be decided by the court, they asked, and went ahead with their programme causing the death of over 2,000 people, mostly Muslims, and searing the image of India as a nation founded on secularism.
In retrospect, the Sangh Parivar leaders like Mr Murli Manohar Joshi, who sang the chorus, "Ek Dhakka de do, Babri Masjid thod do" (Give one push and bring down the Masjid), when thousands of frenzied karsevaks were busy tearing apart the mosque look utterly foolish. What did they gain by their movement if the case was to be decided by a court of law? Of course, the party gained politically and could taste power at the Centre. They also knew that the Babri issue was an overused trump card which failed them in the last two general elections.
Besides, the India of 1992 when the growth rate was 3.2 per cent is not the India of 2010 when the growth rate is over 9 per cent. It was the time when national prestige was at its rock bottom forcing the Government of India to transport India’s gold reserves to London as demanded by the Bank of England. The picture of that Air-India aircraft carrying the gold bars is still etched in the memory of all Indians who felt ashamed.
The youth had little to hope for. It was then that the Sangh Parivar gave them the hope of a "magnificent temple" at Ayodhya, to be built on the same spot where the Babri Masjid stood for over four centuries. The mosque was described as a "sign of India’s shame". Today’s youths can utilise their time for better purposes than carrying "consecrated" bricks all the way to Ayodhya. Job opportunities are plenty for those who want to work.
It is this realisation that forced the Sangh Parivar leaders to finally find virtue in the judicial process. The Ayodhya Bench had to surmount innumerable obstacles, the latest being an appeal to the Supreme Court for deferment of the verdict, before it could pronounce its judgement, awaited with bated breath all over the country, nay the world.
What is most satisfying about the verdict, which runs into thousands of typed pages, is that it has, by and large, been well-received by all sections of the people, cutting across religious and political divides. And even when the disputants contest the judgement and claim that it would be challenged in the Supreme Court, there is no rancour and bitterness. Nor is there any professed ill-feeling towards each other. It reveals not just the "maturity" of the people but the fact that much water has flowed down the Saryu since 1992 when the four-century-old shrine was demolished in a rash act of religious fervour.
For the three-member Ayodhya Bench consisting of Justice Dharam Veer Sharma, Justice S.U. Khan and Justice Sudhir Agarwal, who heard the case, the issues to be settled were, among others, whether the disputed site was the birthplace of Lord Ram and whether the Babri Masjid was constructed on the site of a demolished Ram temple or not. Also, to be decided was who should get the contentious plot of land on which the Babri Masjid stood before December 6, 1992.
What is clear from the verdict is that the court has ruled that the land where the idol of Ram is now worshipped and which was directly under the central dome of the demolished structure is, indeed, the birthplace of Lord Ram. On this point, all the three judges seem to have reached the same conclusion. This has baffled many people.
Lord Ram is believed to have lived in the "Thretha Yuga", which ended 13 lakh years ago. In comparison, Adam and Eve are believed to have lived 5,000 to 10,000 years ago. He is one of the several ‘avatars’ (incarnations) of Lord Vishnu. By no stretch of the imagination could anyone claim that the Lord was born at that spot. It was Tulsi Das’ epic poem "Ramacharitamanas" which popularised the belief that Lord Ram was born in Ayodhya. But that great poet and worshipper of the Lord did not mention anything about a temple that existed on the spot where He was born!
Why go that far? At the height of the Ayodhya controversy, I asked my mother whether she could identify the exact spot where I was born long after the Babri Masjid title suit was filed in 1949. She could name the place but not pinpoint the spot. My elder son was born at Pushpagiri hospital in Thiruvalla but neither my wife nor I remember the room number where the birth took place. Does anyone attach any importance to the spot where one is born? Readers, ask yourself whether there is any sanctity to the labour room in your own house, which is usually in one corner of the house.
So how could the court decide where Lord Ram was born 13 lakh years ago? Under no law of the land could this issue be determined. Ideally, the court should have clearly expressed its inability to adjudicate on an issue of "contrived", let me repeat, "contrived" faith. Yet, it ruled that the spot where the Ram Lalla is installed is the "Ram Janmasthan".
Not only that, the court also held "that the place of birth that is Ram Janambhoomi is a juristic person. The deity also attained the divinity like Agni, Vayu, Kedarnath. Asthan is personified as the spirit of divine worshipped as the birth place of Ram Lalla or Lord Ram as a child. Spirit of divine ever remains present everywhere at all times for anyone to invoke at any shape or form in accordance with his own aspirations and it can be shapeless and formless also".
Yes, there are temples like the famous "Parabhram" temple at Ochira in Kerala where there is no idol. "Parabhram" is believed to exist under an ageless banyan tree in the "temple-less temple" compound. In a famous case, the Supreme Court had ruled that the Guru Granth Sahib, the sacred text of the Sikhs, can possess land in its name. So why can’t Ram Lalla possess land?
But in doing so the court relied heavily on "contrived faith", rather than reason. It is true that Hindus believe that Lord Ram was born in Ayodhya but it is not true that they believe that he was born exactly on the spot where the Masjid stood. The court has decided on the basis of the evidence produced, essentially, by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), that the mosque was built on the remains of an ancient temple.
The court paid scant regard to the fact that the ASI’s findings were not all that scientific and many archaeologists of repute had questioned it at that time. In fact, the court refers to the "grand structure" that pre-existed the mosque. Not only that, the Bench also ruled that the mosque was not built, according to the tenets of Islam. In reaching this conclusion of far-reaching significance, the judges went by the well-known Islamic injunction against building any mosque on such a disputed land.
What the court relies on is the Sharia, the sacred law of Islam, when it says that the mosque was not built according to the tenets of Islam. One is curious to know since when Indian courts have started relying on the Shariah to adjudicate questions of civil law. Needless to say, this has dangerous implications. If today the courts can quote the Shariah, tomorrow the Muslims can demand that it be implemented in the country. And taking a cue from both, the Sangh Parivar can demand that Manu’s laws be accepted as the law of the land!
The court also went by the so-called Hindu belief that the land where the idol of Ram was placed on the intervening night of December 22-23, 1949, was the "garbh griha" or the sanctum sanctorum of the Ramjanambhoomi temple. It did not take into account the dubious role played by the then District Magistrate of Faizabad, a Malayali by the name of K.K. Nair.
On that night, someone broke into the mosque and placed idols of Ram Lalla and others which the Hindus regarded as a miracle and the Muslims as an act of sacrilege. It was all part of a ploy. Next morning, i.e., on December 23, thousands of Hindus assembled in front of the temple and chanted kirtans. They also abused Mahatma Gandhi. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru conveyed his decision to restore status quo to the District Magistrate through the head of the United Province government, Gobind Ballabh Pant.
But Nair refused to obey the orders of the government. For the great service he did, the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, the precursor of the BJP, got him elected to the UP Assembly, first, in 1965 and, then, in 1967 to the Lok Sabha from the Bahraich constituency. Today wherever Nair’s soul may be, it would be rejoicing over the success of his ploy that ultimately helped the court to decide that the spot was indeed "Ram Janmasthan". I wish the court had gone into the question of whether the Ram Lalla was installed, according to the tenets of Hinduism or not. Then the verdict would have been slightly different.
According to the majority verdict, the disputed land should be divided into three equal parts and given to the Nirmohi Akhara, Sunni Waqf Board and "Ram Lalla" on whose behalf one of the suits (No. 5) was filed with the proviso that the portion containing the "garbh griha" should go to the body that represents Lord Ram.
It is not known on what basis the court came to this conclusion. If it was indeed the "Ram Janmasthan" and the Babri Mosque was not a mosque at all because it was not built according to the tenets of Islam, the whole land should have logically gone to the Hindus. So why did the court order the division of land?
The only reason I can think of is that Justice Khan and Justice Agarwal wanted to assuage the Muslim feelings. None of the parties concerned demanded that the land be divided into three equal parts. It’s the court’s own idea under which 66.66 per cent of land would go to the Hindus and the rest to the Muslims.
The solution has a lot to commend itself, though it is a negation of the court’s own finding that it was "Ram Janmasthan" and the Babri Mosque was built fraudulently at the site of a Hindu temple. In fact, the division of land was one of the suggestions mooted at the time the controversy erupted in the eighties.
The court has ordered that status quo about the ownership of the land should be maintained for the next three months. Since there are well-established legal procedures to divide land among the disputants, none of the parties concerned foresee any problem on that account. However, the same cannot be said about the fact that the title suits filed by the Nirmohi Akhara and Sunni Waqf Board in 1959 and 1961 respectively were dismissed for the reason that they were time-barred. The suits should
have been filed within six years of the filing of the first title suit in 1949.
As was only to be expected, two of the parties involved in the dispute — the Sunni Waqf Board and the Hindu Mahasabha — have already announced their intention to challenge the verdict in the Supreme Court, the former because its title suit was rejected and the latter because it is not ready to part with even one-third of the land to the Waqf Board.
Of course, nobody can question them as the law allows the two entities to go in for an appeal against the High Court’s verdict. Unlike in the past when it was argued that matters of faith could not be adjudicated, there is now greater acceptance of the fact that whatever the Supreme Court would eventually decide would be final and binding on all the parties concerned.
Significantly enough, there is no visible gloating over the verdict by any party concerned. Nor is there any shedding of tears over the verdict, either. While the Sangh Parivar is happy that its contention about the "Ram Janmasthan" has been accepted by the court, the Muslims are not unhappy because they have been given a share of the contentious plot, which measures roughly two acres. Interestingly, no party is in a hurry to challenge the verdict. All this is of great importance, for it bodes well for peace and tranquillity in the country.
There is also hope that once the people concerned read the judgement in its entirety, there would be a greater realisation of the need for an amicable settlement. After all, the test of India’s secular soul is not so much in the judgement as in the reaction of the common people to it.
Much will depend on how things shape up in the coming months. Will the parties concerned let bygones be bygones and accept the verdict in all humility and not contest it in the Supreme Court? Or will, they patiently wait for the Supreme Court to give its verdict once their appeals are filed? For the average Indian, the judgement on September 30 was an occasion for a sigh of relief. (Courtesy: Indian Currents)