The Supreme Court’s final judgment in the Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhumi dispute has cleared the way for the construction of a Ram temple in Ayodhya.
This was made possible by the direction that a scheme be evolved by the Centre and a trust be formed to build the temple. As compensation of sorts for the destruction of the mosque in 1992, the Muslim parties are set to get a five-acre plot elsewhere. This amounts to the eviction of the Muslim side from the 2.77-acre premises under dispute for over a century and a half.
How did the court decide that the land, comprising an inner and an outer courtyard, be earmarked for the temple? Being a set of title suits, it may appear that the deity, Ram Lalla, has won the title, and that the proponents of the mosque lost.
A close reading of the 1,045-page judgment reveals that an exclusive right to the entire property has not been declared in favour of the Hindus, even though they have been awarded exclusive possession.
A question then arises as to the basis of the court awarding the whole land to one side, and offering the other only an alternative location elsewhere.
The basis seems to be that the deity had an exclusive right over the outer courtyard, given the long history of worship and Hindu festivals held there, and a contested right in the inner courtyard.
On the other hand, the court held that the Muslims had failed to prove an exclusive right even in the inner courtyard, where the mosque was located, and that there were frequent complaints of interference by Hindus, and instances of contestation and disputes. At the same time, the judgement holds that there is no evidence to establish that Muslims abandoned the mosque or ceased to perform namaaz in spite of the “contestation” over their possession of the inner courtyard after 1858.
In other words, nowhere in the verdict is there a finding that Hindus had exclusive right of worship or possession on the entire premises.
What tipped the scales in favour of the Hindu parties seems to be the prevalence of worship by Hindu pilgrims from a much earlier era, whereas, the offering of namaaz has been established only from around 1856-57.
Instances given by the court indicate that there were attempts by Hindus to set up idols and perform pooja within the inner courtyard. With Hindus constantly trying to worship inside the precincts of the mosque, the British administration set up a railing in 1857 to bring about peace. “The existence of an Islamic structure at a place considered sacrosanct by the Hindus did not stop them from continuing their worship at the disputed site and within the precincts of the structure prior to the incidents of 1856-7,” the court observes.
A platform, Ramchabutra, was set up within 100 feet of the inner dome, the court notes, and goes on to say: “[It] must be seen as an expression or assertion of the Hindu right to worship at the birthplace of Lord Ram ”. Even after the railing was put up, they stood on the divide between the inner and outer courtyards to pay obeisance to the garb-grih (sanctum sanctorum) .
This could only mean that the spot was recognised as belonging to Muslims, and that the administration tried to keep away Hindus. But the court considers it evidence for the assertion by Hindus of their right of worship.
In 1934, the domes of the mosque were damaged in a riot, and the British administration renovated them at its own expense. There were complaints that the azaan (call to prayer) from mosques were sought to be drowned by the blowing of conch shells by Hindu residents in the vicinity.
In the ultimate analysis, the non-interference by Muslims in Hindu patterns of worship in Hindu shrines such as the Ramchabutra and Sita Rasoi worked against their cause, with the Supreme Court now holding that it proved that the Muslim claim was “non-exclusionary”.
On the other hand, by repeatedly challenging the Muslim mode of worship, Hindus managed to come across as those with unimpeded possession in the outer courtyard, and with a partial stake in the inner courtyard too.