Fundamental issue in Ayodhya case

T.R. Andhyarujina is a highly respected and accomplished lawyer who is very skilled in court craft. His major point in his Op-Ed [“A Verdict that legitimises the Masjid demolition,” The Hindu, Oct.5, 2010] is that the 8,700-plus pages judgment of the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court on the Ayodhya dispute implicitly condones the 1992 demolition of the Babri Mosque structure because the Court did not take judicial notice and draw adverse inference [in fact no reference] against the directly or de facto affiliated parties (in the litigation before the Bench) in that destruction.

I do not dismiss this point because the structure was indeed unauthorisedly demolished and therefore the culprits and the planners of this demolition, whoever they are, have to be brought to book to uphold the rule of law. For this purpose, there is an ongoing criminal case in a special CBI-designated Sessions Court.

In this context, the question is whether every court will have to take judicial notice of this alleged illegal violent event even after the Supreme Court of India has taken such notice. Mr. Andhyarujina himself quotes the Supreme Court judgment [reported in (1994) 6SCC376] in which the court, while absolving the Hindus as a community of the blame, nevertheless held that “Hindus must bear the Cross for it.” This was an extraordinary judicial observation and has profound implications for all communities whenever religious premises are destroyed.

The fact nevertheless remains that throughout the last several centuries, Hindus have deeply held as sacred as Ram's birthplace that exact spot where the Babri Masjid once stood. This is recorded in many official and judicial proceedings.

In 1885, for example, Mahant Raghubar Das, in a Suit No. 61/280 of 1885 filed in the Court of the Faizabad Sub Judge against the Secretary of State for India (who was based in London), prayed for permission to build a temple inside the perimeter of the mosque. His suit was dismissed on March 18, 1886, but in his Order the Sub-Judge, an Englishman, stated: “It is most unfortunate that a Masjid should have been built on land specially held sacred by the Hindus. But as the event occurred 358 years ago, it is too late now to remedy the grievance.” Since the British as policy never sought to disturb the communal and social status quo in India as evidenced, for example, on the ‘Sati question,' the judge took the easy way out and dismissed the suit.

Temple did exist

It is now well established by GPRS-directed excavations, done under the Allahabad High Court monitoring and verification in 2002-03, that a large temple did exist below where that Babri Masjid structure once stood. Inscriptions found during excavations describe it as a temple of Vishnu Hari who had killed the demon king Dasanan [Ravana]. The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) confirmed these findings on investigations that were directed by the High Court.

A fundamental question arises: Can a temple and a masjid be considered on a par as far as sacredness is concerned? Relying on two important apex judgments that hold the field today, the answer is: No. A masjid is not an essential part of Islam religion, according to a majority judgment of a Constitution Bench of India's Supreme Court (op.cit. 1994), whereas according to the House of Lords, U.K. (1991), the temple is always a temple even if in disuse or ruins.

In the famous Ismail Farooqui vs Union of India case [reported in (1994) 6 SCC 376], the Supreme Court of India observed: “It has been contended that a mosque enjoys a particular position in Muslim law and once a mosque is established and prayers are offered in such a mosque, the same remains for all time to come a property of Allah … and any person professing Islamic faith can offer prayer in such a mosque, and even if the structure is demolished, the place remains the same where namaz can be offered “ [para 80].

The Constitution Bench then rejected this contention, stating: “The correct position may be summarised thus. Under Mohammedan law applicable in India, title to a mosque can be lost by adverse possession. A mosque is not an essential part of the practice of the religion of Islam and namaz (prayer) can be offered anywhere, even in the open. Accordingly, its acquisition is not prohibited by the provisions in the Constitution of India”(para 82).

Thus what was wrong with the demolition of the Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992 was that it was unauthorised by law and hence a criminal offence. Otherwise any government can deprive Muslims of the Babri Masjid, which would be lawful if the government decides to do so in the interest of public order, public health and morality (Article 25 of the Constitution). This is the position in Islamic law as well since in Saudi Arabia the authorities demolish mosques to lay roads. Even the mosque where Prophet Mohammed used to pray was demolished.

Nataraja statue case

A temple however is not in the same category as a mosque in law. When I was Union Law and Justice Minister, this question of the status of a temple – even if in ruins or without worship – came up before me in November 1990 in a case of a smuggled-out bronze Nataraja statue that was up for sale in London. The Government of India under Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi had decided to file a case in the London trial court in 1986 for recovery. The Nataraja statue had by then been traced to a temple in ruins in Pathur, Thanjavur district. A farmer named Ramamoorthi had unearthed it in 1976 while digging mud with a spade near his hut.

When the news spread, touts of an antique dealer reached Ramamoorthi, paid a small sum, and smuggled it out to London, where in 1982 it was sold to a private company. In turn, the buyer sent it to the British Museum for appraisal and possible purchase. By then the Government of India was on to it and asked the British government to take action. The Nataraja idol was seized by the London Metropolitan Police, the company sued the police in court for recovery, but lost the case. An appeal was filed in the Queens Bench, which was dismissed on April 17, 1989. The buyer company went to the House of Lords.

On February 13, 1991, when I was Union Law Minister, the landmark judgment dismissing the buyer's final appeal [see (1991) 4 All ER 638] was delivered. The Bench consisting of Justices Purchas, Nourse, and Leggatt concluded: “We therefore hold that the temple is acceptable as party to these proceedings and that it is as such entitled to sue for the recovery of the Nataraja” [page 648 para g]. Thus a disused temple in ruins became a party, and we as Siva bhaktas as de facto trustees thus recovered the Nataraja idol.

No such ruling anywhere in any court exists for a mosque for the simple reason that a mosque in Islam is just a facilitation centre for reading namaz, and has no essentiality for Islam as a religion.

It can therefore be demolished and/or shifted in India under the Constitution as any building can — but of course authorisedly for a public purpose such as public health, public order or morality. The Union Government is committed by virtue of its affidavit filed in the Supreme Court in 1994 to do so if it is found that a temple structure exists below the mosque site. It must hence perform now and deliver on its commitment on oath sworn in the Supreme Court.

This is the fundamental truth in the Ayodhya dispute that is being constantly evaded by those criticising the Allahabad High Court Judgment.

( The writer is a former Union Law Minister and the Convenor of the Legal and Parliamentary Cells of the Hindu Dharma Acharya Sabha.)

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