OPINION: The Curious Case of Babri Masjid : Civil Dispute or Religious Epiphany ?
The awakening call for all the applicants in the “Ram Janma Bhoomi” matter came when the Chief Justice Dipak Mishra stated on record that the bench is going to consider the matter only on the grounds of a “land dispute” and refuted the social, religious or any other ancillary merits of the dispute. “Mandir Wahin Banega” which is the religious call since 1857 for the residents of Ayodhya became a national phenomenon after prominent leaders of the Janata Dal laid the foundation for the Kar Sevak ideology in 1993. The legal claims which later transformed into social and religious colour in what was essentially a land dispute which was filed by Pandit Raghubar Das, the chief priest of Ramjanmasthan. He filed a civil suit before Sub-Judge at Faizabad . The civil suit filed by Raghubar Das claimed a chabutra which was located in the outer enclosure of the disputed mosque.
The moot point of whether this issue is a land dispute or religious dispute gained momentum in May 2011 when Justice R.M. Lodha expressed his concern over the 2010 Allahabad High Court judgment. Justice Lodha remarked that the verdict was “strange” and directed the authorities to maintain status quo in accordance with the 2002 order. Justice Lodha was of the view that when none of the parties have demanded partition of the land, the premises of such land cannot be divided. A staggering number of 13 appeals have been filed against the 2010 judgment of the Allahabad High Court of which four civil suits by Sunni Waqf Board , Nirmohi Akhara , “Ram Lalla” (Infant Lord Ram) and Shia Board are prominent ones.
Shiv Shankar Lal in May 1950 had prepared two maps under the direction of Civil Judge, Faizabad which was described in the form of letters. In 2010, the majority of the 3-judge bench of Allahabad High Court ruled that the 2.7 acre land should be equitably divided between the 3 applicants. Our views in this regard will be restricted to land acquisition of certain areas in Ayodhya, right of deities to claim the property and the nature of the dispute before the apex court.
Firstly, in the year 1993, following the demolition of Babri Masjid, the Acquisition of Certain Areas at Ayodhya Act, 1993 was passed by the Parliament. This Act made it very clear that the Central Government shall provide the property to those parties who successfully establish that they have a right to enjoy the said property. Subsequently, there was an important aspect- whether this disputed property has been attached beyond the period of limitation. Under the paradigm of Ancient Monument Archeological Site and Remains Act, 1958 the sites which come under the scope of such act are to be maintained as national monuments which is clearly a difficult task at hand, moreover this aspect was not dealt with in an adhesive manner by the Allahabad High Court. The issue of locus standi is well established because Muthawali of the Babri Masjid is authorized to initiate legal action in this matter and his right regarding the same has been recognized by the Sunni Waqf Board. The role of ethics and reasoning in this partition has been used absurdly and this needs to be overturned considering the public outrage over the matter. Justice Aggarwal has rightly pointed out that Ismail Farooqi’s judgment and directions passed by the Apex court should be a blue print for dealing with such a sensitive and complex issue.
Secondly, the right of deities to represent themselves as juristic persons should be analyzed in consideration with the pre-historic and Common law principles in mind. The admission of all the applications and suits in the matter represented by various deities like Sita Rasoi , Ram Lalla and Muthwalis of various Masjid makes it very clear that the deities have a right to possess the property under civil law. The landmark apex court judgments of Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam and Kesavananda Bharati act as a precedent for such claims and indeed religious deities in India do possess the right to hold, lease and exercise other ancillary rights over a property.
The debate that the CJI has started is obviously scandalous to various religious and social organizations who are claiming high stakes in this very matter but he has rightly cleared the air by not accepting various Intervention Applications by social organizations as it would attract more political attention to such a sensitive issue. The twenty eight issues framed by the apex court revolve around the issue of possession and exercise of property rights in Ayodhya, whereas the issue needs an holistic approach rather than confining it to mere land dispute as the stakes are really high. The legal fraternity is hopeful that before the end of this CJI’s tenure, this judgment will be pronounced and the 150 year battle of ‘blood and religion’ will be resolved amicably.
Co-authored by Shailendra Singh. The authors are advocates practising at the Supreme Court of India. Views expressed are personal of the author. The Indian Jurist does not take responsibility for the views expressed or facts stated.