The much-anticipated verdict is out. The one-and-a-half-century-old epic legal battle over Mandir-Masjid controversy in Ayodhya has come to an end. The five-judge Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi has handed over the 2.77 acres of disputed land to Hindus to construct Ram temple. The verdict was pronounced on appeals against the 2010 Allahabad High Court judgment that had partitioned the land equally among three parties – Sunni Waqf Board, the Nirmohi Akhara and Ram Lalla. The Bench has also ordered the government to locate five acres of land for construction of a mosque in place of the demolished one.
The order makes it clear that the disputed property will continue to remain with the receiver under the Central Government and it will be handed over to a Trust formed within three months. Importantly, it will be this Trust that will be entrusted with the task of constructing the temple. It means that no existing body or claimant will enjoy the right to construct the temple. On the allotment of land for the mosque, the court has given two choices: Either it can be curved out of the land acquired under the Ayodhya Act 1993 or the State Government can find suitable land at a prominent place in Ayodhya. If the government decides to opt for the first choice, the mosque will come up in the vicinity of the temple.
The Bench has marshalled evidences from Archeological Survey of India (ASI) and other agencies on a pre-existing underlying structure (below the demolished Babri Masjid) dating back to the twelfth century. The Bench further stated that the archaeological findings point to the probability of the underlying structure of Hindu religious origin. It observed that the report of the ASI indicated the mosque in dispute was constructed upon the foundation of a pre-existing structure. Interestingly, the judges added that the ASI finding must be read with a caveat that it does not provide answer to whether the earlier structure was demolished for the purpose of the construction of the mosque.
Among other evidences, the judgment points to historical records of travellers which indicate the existence of faith and belief of the Hindus that the disputed site was the birth-place of Lord Ram. Other evidences referred to travellers’ writings are the offering of worship by Hindus including Sita Rasoi and the Bedi (cradle) symbolising the birth of Lord Ram in and around the disputed site. It is further stated that despite the existence of a mosque at the site, Hindu worship at the place was not restricted.
Even as the court has handed over the disputed land for construction of temple, one cannot ignore its observation on the destruction of the 16th century mosque by the kar sevaks. The Constitution Bench stated that the destruction of the mosque took place in breach of the order of status quo and an assurance given to Supreme Court and hence it was ‘an egregious violation of the rule of law’. The Bench also felt that placing an idol in the mosque in 1949 was illegal. In a nutshell, the 1045-page verdict seems to have brought a sense of finality to an issue that had polarized the country.
(Published on 11th November 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 46)