As efforts to mediate a final settlement between the Hindu and Muslim parties in the Ayodhya title dispute case fell through, the appeals posted before the Supreme Court came up for hearing on August 6, 2019. The day-to-day hearing ended on October 16.
The parties in the case are — Gopal Singh Visharad, an individual who claims he has the right to worship Lord Ram at Ayodhya; the Nirmohi Akhara, one of the three parties who was offered a portion of the ownership as part of the Allahabad High Court verdict; the Sunni Waqf Board, also offered a portion; and Ram Lalla, the deity, who through a shebait claims full ownership of the place.
Here is a breakdown of how the hearing has proceeded:
A five-judge Constitution Bench led by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi began hearing the cross-appeals filed by the Hindu and Muslim sides
The Nirmohi Akhara said it was a religious establishment of a public character to which the Ramjanmabhoomi had “always belonged”. It had been managing the Ramjanmabhumi and receiving offerings from worshippers. It submitted that the “Asthan of Janam Bhumi was of ancient antiquity.”
“Whether Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem… Has such a question ever arisen in any court?” Supreme Court judge, Justice S.A. Bobde, asked senior advocate K. Parasaran, the lawyer for Ram Lalla.
Mr. Parasaran submitted that references of disputed land is there in Valmiki Ramayana. He said the usual strict codes of evidence should relaxed in this case as worshippers believe the spirit of Sri Ram resides in the Asthan.
Can birthplace be considered a ‘juristic person’, asks Supreme Court.
Senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan, appearing for a Muslim party, said he will “not be able to assist” the court if the hearing is “rushed through”.
Chief Justice Gogoi said the Supreme Court is not in a hurry. Lawyers need not feel constrained and can argue to their heart’s content.
The top judge said arguing lawyers on both the sides of the religious divide can raise their arguments as and how they like, no matter how long they take.
The Hindu parties involved in the Ayodhya title appeals received a barrage of questions from the Constitution Bench, including whether there is any evidence on record to show that the first Mughal emperor, Babur, ordered the building of the Babri Masjid.
While Justice Bobde asked about when the structure, demolished by kar sevaks on December 6, 1992, began to be called ‘Babri Masjid’, Justice D.Y. Chandrachud reflected on historical texts to point out that Ayodhyaand the disputed area seemed to have been a confluence of several religions, including Buddhism, Jainism and even Islam.
The Supreme Court asked the Hindu parties to present proof of their claim that Babri Masjid was built on the remains of an ancient temple or Hindu religious structure.
“Over the past two millennia we have seen civilisations settle and resettle on river banks. They have built upon pre-existing structures. But prove that the alleged ruins or demolished building (on which Babri Masjid was built) was religious in nature,” Justice D.Y. Chandrachud asked senior advocate C.S. Vaidyanathan, who is appearing for the deity.
Mr. Vaidyanathan told the Supreme Court that a stone slab, which fell out of the western wall of the disputed Babri Masjid structure, had Sanskrit inscriptions dating back to the 12th century about a Lord Vishnu temple.
Mr. Vaidynathan said the slab and the inscriptions give credence to the version that the Babri mosque was built on the disputed land where a massive structure supported by several pillars once stood. He said it is believed by devotees that Lord Vishnu took human form as Ram.
Mr. Vaidynathan said there are enough artefacts and materials to support the belief of devotees that Ram Janmabhoomi is the birthplace of Lord Ram.
Present evidence on temple claim, Supreme Court tells lawyers.
Gopal Singh Visharad, one of the appellants in the Ayodhyacase, said Hindus have an “unfettered”right to worship at a site believed for centuries to be the birthplace of Lord Ram.
Senior advocate Ranjit Kumar, for Visharad, claimed there were affidavits from the Muslim side saying a temple was demolished to build the Babri mosque in the 16th century.
Mr. Kumar said the faith of the Hindus survived despite the construction of the mosque in the Ramjanmabhoomi.
The Supreme Court asked Nirmohi Akhara whether it can have rights on the Ramjanmabhoomi at variance with or independent of the rights of Ayodhya’s infant deity. The Bench said the Akhara has no independent claim. If the suit of the deity for the land is dismissed, the shebait’s claim also does not survive.
“Claim of the shebait can never be adverse to the deity. But if you are contesting suit five (suit filed by the deity for title), then you are going against the title of the deity. So, as a shebait, you are asking to dismiss the suit of the deity?” Justice Chandrachud asked.
Nirmohi Akhara drops objection to a separate suit for title filed by the Ayodhya deity.
The Constitution Bench was told that the first Mughal Emperor, Babur, may not have built the ‘Babri Masjid’ structure in Ayodhya.
In fact, the court was told by senior advocate P.N. Mishra, who appears for Ram Janmabhumi Punaruddhar Samiti, that Babur may not have even visited Ayodhya.
Mr. Mishra referred to three works —Ain-i-Akbari written by court historian Abu’l Fazl, Humayun Nama and Tuzuk-i-Jahangiri or Memoirs of Jahangir — to argue his claim. He said none of them mention that Babur built the disputed structure.
The installation of Ayodhyaidols inside the Babri Masjid in the intervening night of December 22-23 of 1949, which marked the beginning of heightened tensions and legal battle, “was a surreptitious attack”, senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan, appearing for the Sunni Waqf Board, claimed.
He referred to documents saying how then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru had expressed grave concern about the incident.
A worshipper’s unflinching faith in the Ramjanmabhoomi cannot be questioned, it has to be accepted, the Supreme Court addressed Mr. Dhavan.
“What are the features involved to conclude that an idol or even the janmasthan is a juristic person? Cull that out and address us,” Justice Chandrachud told Mr. Dhavan.
The court’s remarks was in response to Mr. Dhavan’s contention that there was hardly any evidence to back the faith of the Hindus in the janmasthan from “time immemorial”.
The Supreme Court asked its Registry by what time it could make a system for live-streaming of Ayodhya appeals operational if the court gives permission.
“The Registry to inform as to if this court orders for livestreaming of the Ayodhyamatter, what time would be taken to make the system operational,” a three-judge Bench led by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi recorded in a short order.
On the same day, mediation committee filed a short memorandum informing the court that parties across the Hindu-Muslim religious divide have approached it with a request to resume talks.
The memorandum said the parties have suggested that the mediation could continue even as the Supreme Court continues to hear the appeals.
The parties have suggested to the mediators — former Supreme Court judge F.M.I Kalifulla, spiritual guru Sri Sri Ravishankar and senior advocate Sriram Panchi — that talks should resume from the point where it was abruptly dropped off at the last minute on July 29.
Lotus carvings on Kasauti pillars, figurines, Garuda flanked by two lions and a Dwarapal are not typical features of a mosque, the Supreme Court confronted the Muslim side.
Justice Chandrachud said it is probable that Hindu worshippers flocked to Ram Chabutra to set their eyes beyond the railing barricading them and pray to the space under the central dome of Babri mosque, which they believed to be the exact place of birth of Lord Ram.
The court also allowed the Ayodhya mediation committee to resume talks with disputing Hindu and Muslim parties even as it indicated that the ongoing court hearings of the appeals before a Constitution Bench is likely to finish by October 18.
After urging lawyers to finish arguments by October 18, Chief Justice Gogoi took the first step in the sprint to the finish line for the marathon Ayodhya appeals’ hearings by deciding to sit back after regular court hours on September 23.
Though the Bench wrapped up hearing by noon, the CJI informed lawyers that the judges would hear the case till 5 p.m. on the next date of hearing.
The Supreme Court said the faith of the Hindus in the Ramjanmabhoomi has been a constant and it would be hard to rebut their belief.
The discussion also touched on the aspect whether a physical manifestation of the deity is necessary to recognise it as a juristic personality.
The Muslim side in the Ayodhya title dispute case said Lord Ram was born in Ayodhya and accepted that Ram Chabutra is his exact birth spot. Senior advocate Zafaryab Jilani clarified repeatedly to Justice Bobde that Ram Chabutra, in the outer courtyard, was worshipped by the Hindus as Lord Ram’s birthplace. Mr. Jilani said his case was specifically that the inside of Babri Masjid was never the birth spot.
“My case is that Hindus never worshipped the space inside the Babri Masjid as the birthplace of Lord Ram. But they worshipped the Ram Chhabutra as the birthplace. The Ram Chhabutra was hardly 50 to 80 feet from the mosque,” Mr. Jilani said.
The Muslim parties argued that the Archaeological Study of India (ASI) report on the excavations at the Babri Masjid site in 2003 is filled with “palpable and inherent” infirmities and inconsistencies.
But the Constitution Bench said it was too late in the day for the Muslim parties to object to the ASI report.
The Bench asked why the Muslims have chosen to question the report in the Supreme Court and not earlier in the Allahabad High Court, which had commissioned the excavations.
The court said the Muslims cannot object in the Supreme Court what they did not object before the Allahabad High Court.
Justice Bobde, said the court cannot be expected to re-construct the history of the Babri Masjid site from ruins, and dropped the penny that the ASI findings may not be “authoritative”.
Senior advocate Meenakshi Arora, for the Sunni Wakf Board, pointed to how the ASI report even inferred there was a circular shrine, believed to be of the sixth century and dedicated to Lord Shiva at the site. “We are inferring so much… conjecturing so much,” she rued about the nature of the court hearings which reached its 32nd consecutive day.
“We cannot reconstruct what happened from the ruins, that is why we want expert opinions,” Justice Bobde reacted.
The Supreme Court asked the Ayodhya deity’s lawyer why the Hindus insist the disputed land is divine.
The court questioned why the Hindu parties want the disputed land to be recognised not only as a separate juristic person but also as a divinity.
“Why do you insist on divinity (to Ramjanmabhumi) to establish juristic personality to the land. A ship is a juristic person, but not divine…” Justice Bobde asked Mr. Parasaran.
“Ordinary people need tangible forms of God to concentrate while worshipping unlike those in higher state of devotion,” Mr. Parasaran replied.
Sheer belief that Lord Ram was born exactly under the central dome of Babri Masjid, demolished in 1992 by kar sevaks, does not give the Hindus the title or ownership of the disputed land, Mr. Dhavan submitted before the Bench.
Mr. Dhavan said what was definite was the Hindus were given (prescriptive rights) to enter the mosque premises and pray. The senior lawyer said there was no evidence of any titlethey held over the land.
The Ayodhya mediation committee filed a settlement document in the Supreme Court.
A source said the settlement reached in talks have been filed in the apex court. The filing of the settlement coincides with the last day of court hearing by the Ayodhya Bench.
Details of the settlement are confidential and not known.