PRAKASH KARAT | 15 NOVEMBER, 2019
Ayodhya Verdict, A Problematic Paradox
Not facts but display of faith and belief
The Supreme Court verdict has provided a final resolution to the Ayodhya dispute. This judicial route was the only way to settle the matter in a secular Republic governed by the rule of law as there was no possibility of a negotiated settlement. That is why the verdict has been generally accepted even though there may be serious reservations, or, even objections to it.
The judicial process by which the dispute went through since independence resulted in a judgment by the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court on September 30, 2010. At that time, the Polit Bureau of the CPI(M) had criticized the judgment as follows: “The verdict for a three way division of the land is, however, based on `faith and belief’. This aspect of the set of judgments is disturbing as it accords primacy to religious belief and faith over and above the facts and the record of evidence.”
The Supreme Court judgment, however, declares the secular principle as the bedrock for resolving the dispute. It states that: “Under our Constitution, citizens of all faiths, beliefs and creeds seeking divine provenance are both subject to the law and equal before the law.
The Constitution does not make a distinction between the faith and belief of one religion and another. All forms of belief, worship and prayer are equal”. It further states: “The adjudication of civil claims over private property must remain within the domain of the secular if the commitment to constitutional values is to be upheld” and that “The title cannot be established on the basis of faith and belief above”.
There is, however, a paradox at the heart of the judgment. Though the judgment is replete with declarations about the necessity to settle the dispute not on the basis of faith but on evidence and facts; though it asserts that secularism enjoins treating all religions and faiths equally, the end result has been giving faith a greater weightage and, more disturbingly, giving precedence to the beliefs of one community.
The judgment correctly discards the claim that the Babri Masjid was built after destroying a temple that existed there. The Archaeological Survey of India findings, the court says, do not provide any evidence that such an event occurred, nor does the archaeological evidence prove that there was a Ram temple at the site. The court further disavowed any historical wrong being corrected by a judicial decision.
The paradox further manifests itself in the manner in which the evidence of possession and use of the disputed place has been evaluated and conclusions drawn. The judgment has concluded that: “On a balance of probabilities, the evidence in respect of the possessory claim of the Hindus to the composite whole of the disputed property stands on a better footing than the evidence adduced by the Muslims”.
The court curiously treats both the inner and outer courtyards as a composite whole, but when sifting through the evidence and depositions, the inner and outer courtyards are considered separately.
The judgment concludes that the Hindus could prove that they were in exclusive and unimpeded possession of the outer courtyard. In 1857, the colonial administration had built a brick wall between the outer and inner courtyard. Even after that, as per the judgment, the Hindus continued to make efforts to pray inside the precincts of the mosque.
In assessing the Hindu claims, the court has not gone strictly by facts, but seems to have taken into account the display of faith and belief: “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 assertion by the Hindus of their right to worship is interpreted as a failure of the Muslims to have exclusive possession of the inner courtyard.
The judgment claims that between 1528 when the mosque was built and 1856 when the region in which Ayodhya falls was annexed by the British, “Muslims have offered no evidence to indicate that they were in exclusive possession of the inner structure prior to 1857, since the date of the construction in the sixteenth century.” This is a far-fetched assumption since, for more than three centuries after 1528, the entire region was under Muslim rule – first under the Mughals and after that under the Nawabs of Awadh.
The mosque built at the beginning of the Mughal rule would obviously have been used for prayers uninterruptedly. The fact that there was no evidence of any dispute at that time cannot be proof to the contrary. There seems to have been different standards in judging the proof of continued worship in the outer and inner courtyards with the display of faith and belief in the Ramjanmsthan of the Hindus being given greater credence.
The paradox continues in that the judgment holds the desecration of the mosque by the illegal placing of idols within the mosque in December 1949 and the demolition of the mosque in December 1992 as “serious violation of law”, but ends up handing over the site to the very forces responsible for this criminal assault. It should be noted that the representative of Ram Lalla – the “next friend” of the deity, on whose behalf a suit was filed in 1989 – is a leader of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, the organisation that led the agitation that resulted in the demolition of the mosque.
The case against those responsible for the demolition has been languishing in a special court in Lucknow and is expected to be decided sometime next year, i.e., 28 years after the deed. The impact of the Supreme Court verdict, which has rewarded the conspirators of the demolition, on the case can be imagined.
The Supreme Court has cited the Places of Worship Act 1991 as a law, which enforces the Constitutional obligations to uphold the equality of all religions and secularism. However, it would have been better, if the court had invoked Article 142 of the Constitution to decree that no other religious place can be subject to a dispute and alteration.
This is all the more important since the Ayodhya verdict should not become a template for raising demands regarding Kashi, Mathura and other religious sites. The RSS chief, Mohan Bhagwat, has said that the claims regarding Kashi and Mathura are not on the agenda “for now”.
The judgment seems to give priority to maintenance of peace and tranquility rather than seeing that justice is rendered. Among the reasons given for reversing the Allahabad High Court judgment is that it would not “restore a lasting sense of peace and tranquility”.
This is where it appears political considerations have come in for reckoning. The prevailing dominance of the Hindutva regime, the dire prospects, if the judicial verdict went against the majority sentiment – all seem to have weighed on the decision to hand over the entire 2.77 acres of disputed land to the juridical person of Ram Lalla.
The prevailing sentiment that somehow the dispute has to be resolved and it is time to move on seems to have influenced the response of many of the secular parties and organisations to welcome the verdict. It is one thing to convey acceptance of the verdict of the highest judicial body of the land, but that should not blind us to the compromise with majoritarianism and its possible deleterious consequences.