The Ayodhya Dispute is a long-standing communal contention between Hindus and Muslims over a plot of land in the city of Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh. Ayodhya is regarded in Hindu mythology as the “Ram Janmabhoomi” (Lord Rama’s birthplace) and is thus considered sacred, however during Mughal Emperor Babur’s reign in the 1500s, the Babri Masjid was erected at the site igniting a century long dispute between Hindus and Muslims.
The dispute resulted in Hindu-Muslim communal riots that spread like wildfire across the country in 1992. The riots caused the government to seize control of the land until the courts reach a judgment, and have made Ayodhya an integral issue in almost every election since.
Timeline of Events
1528 - Mir Baqi, one of the generals of Mughal Emperor Babur, allegedly demolishes an existing temple of Rama and constructs a mosque at the site.
1853 - The first recorded incidents of religious violence between Hindus and Muslims allegedly take place over a nearby mosque at Hanuman Garhi.
1859 - The British colonial administration builds fences, separating the places of worship so that the inner court can be used by Muslims and the outer court can be used by Hindus.
1885 - A resident of Ayodhya - Mahant Raghubir Das, files a plea at the Faizabad district court seeking permission to build a canopy over the Ram Chabootra (platform) outside the disputed site. This is the first-ever petition signed pertaining to the Ayodhya dispute. The court rejects the plea.
1949 - New idols of Ram Lalla are placed under a central dome outside the main disputed area so that Hindus can file a plea to worship them.
1950 - 1959 - 3 lawsuits are filed, 2 by Hindu individuals, which later get absorbed into 1 large suit by a Hindu group known as Nirmohi Akhara, seeking possession of the site and rights to worship idols at the site.
1981 - UP Sunni Central Waqf Board files a suit for possession of the site. There are 3 parties seeking possession of the site by this time- The Nirmohi Akhara (Hindu), Ram Leela (Hindu) and the Sunni Waqf Board.
1984 - Vishwa Hindu Parishad Party (VHP), spearheaded by L.K. Advani, organizes a committee to “liberate” the alleged birthplace of Lord Rama and build a temple in the disputed location.
1989 - Allahabad High Court orders maintenance of the status quo in respect to the disputed structure.
1991 - The BJP comes into power in Uttar Pradesh following which prominent BJP leaders like L.K. Advani instigate the Karsevaks (VHP supporters) to demolish the Masjid through powerful speeches and rallies.
1992 - The Hindu Karsevaks, the Shiv Sena, and the BJP demolished the Babri Masjid leading to nationwide riots between Hindus and Muslims. Two FIRs are filed following the demolition of the Masjid- Crime no. 197 against the people responsible for the actual demolition of the Babri Masjid, and Crime no. 198 against L.K. Advani, Kalyan Singh, Murli Manohar Joshi and 13 other prominent members of the BJP for inciting riots by giving “communal” speeches before the demolition. The VHP was thereafter permanently banned.
1993 - On April 3rd the Congress run central government passes a bill acquiring 67 acres of the disputed land until the dispute is resolved. The CBI files a composite charge sheet and accuses Advani and other leaders of the conspiracy. Moreover, in retaliation to the demolition of the Masjid, underworld don- Dawood Ibrahim carries out bomb blasts in Mumbai.
1994 - As the government passes a bill acquiring the land of the disputed site, Ismail Faruqui files a case against the acquisition. In response to this case, the Supreme Court in a historic verdict says that the mosque is not integral to Islam and Muslims can offer prayer anywhere, in the open.
2001- Special Judge S.K. Shukla drops the conspiracy charge against the 13 accused, including Mr. Advani and Kalyan Singh.
2002 - The Allahabad High Court begins its hearings to determine who owns the disputed site. In February, the burning of a train in Godhra which was carrying Karsevaks returning from Ayodhya ignited the infamous Gujarat riots.
2003 - The Supreme Court passes an order stating that no religious activity of any kind is allowed on the acquired land until the civil lawsuits are settled in the Allahabad High Court.
2010 - On 30th September, a three-member bench in the High Court of Allahabad, comprising of Justices S. U. Khan, Sudhir Agarwal and D. V. Sharma, rule that the disputed land should be split into three parts, with the site of the Ram Lalla idol going to the Ram Leela, the Sita Rasoi and Ram Chabootara going to Nirmohi Akhara, and the rest going to the Sunni Wakf Board.
2011 - All three parties file appeals against splitting of the land three ways to the Allahabad High Court, following which The Supreme Court stays the High Court verdict on the Ayodhya land dispute.
2014 -Mohammad Faroukh, the oldest litigant of Babri Masjid case passes away, he was one of the first seven litigants that defended the Muslims when the first cases were filed in 1950.
In 2017, Chief Justice of India JS Khehar suggested an out of court settlement between the three different parties. The UP Shia Central Waqf Board said then that they were fine with a temple being built in Ayodhya, as long as a mosque could be built in Lucknow. However, this was not accepted. The year culminated with 32 civil rights activists from both sides filing a plea to the Supreme Court challenging the Allahabad High Court’s 2010 verdict.
Thus, the Supreme Court began the hearings for civil pleas in January 2018 and rejected all interim pleas by requesting them to intervene as parties in the case (As the court already began hearing civil pleas, they requested all interim pleas to be included in the current case). The Supreme Court-appointed a five-judge bench that consisted of India's most senior supreme court judges.
In March 2019, the Supreme Court ordered a court-monitored mediation that was chaired by Justice F M I Kalifulla, spiritual leader Sri Sri Ravishankar and senior advocate Sriram Panchu. The mediation report was submitted in May but failed to come up with a solution that was acceptable to all parties. And hence the final trial for the case began on the 6th August 2019.
Politics of the Ayodhya Case
The rise of the BJP in the late 1980s is critical in understanding the politics that surround the Ayodhya case. The party which held only two seats in the 8th Lok Sabha, increased its tally to 119 in the 9th Lok Sabha with 19.9% of the vote share. This triumph was built on their unapologetic identity based on nationalism and exploitation of Hindu sentiments. In its own sentimental version of liberation theology, the BJP decided to liberate the birthplace of Ram from the dispute of the Babri Masjid.
L.K. Advani who was the leader of the party in 1990, spearheaded this movement by appealing to the Hindu Karsevaks. He engaged in a 10,000 km ratha yatra (chariot journey) from Gujarat to Ayodhya and called upon people to demonstrate “Ram Bhakti” (Ram Worship) and “Lok Shakti” (People Power). The slogan opted by the party during this journey was “Mandir wahi banayenge” and effectively culminated with 100,000 karsevaks storming the masjid in October 1990 in a failed attempt to demolish the site, due to the timely interference of the police.
Though after coming to power in Uttar Pradesh in 1991, the BJP government managed to provoke a Hindu-Muslim polarization, to the extent of a much more successful demolition attempt in 1992. By 1991, politicians of both communities realized that they could gather the masses in the name of religion. Though few Indian Muslims knew about the Babri Masjid until the 1990s, in the decade that followed, that mosque became a symbol of Muslim identity in India.
Abdullah Bukhari- the Shahi Imam of Delhi’s Jama Masjid along with Syed Shahabuddin ignited the fire from the Muslim side, by asking Indian Muslims to boycott India’s Republic Day celebrations and even burst firecrackers when Pakistans cricket team wins. Finally, when the mosque was demolished by the Karsevaks in 1992, the BJP was rightfully blamed for its inaction in preventing the catastrophe that hit the nation.
The then Prime Minister Narsimha Rao’s Congress government was criticized not just for its inaction, but also for dismissing the BJP state governments in Uttar Pradesh as well as Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, and Rajasthan by declaring President’s Rule due to the breakdown of law and order in lights of the riots.
Before the dismissal of the BJP government in these states, the party had taken an apologetic stance, but after their state governments were dismissed they went on the offensive, ridiculing the central government for its lack of intel and authority. They blamed Rao for being confused and blamed the central government for being too flustered to react to the demolition of the mosque.
The decline of the Congress and the rise of the BJP thus began after the demolition, with a series of blasts in Mumbai and Calcutta further weakening the Congress’s position. The Congress lost the support of even its loyal Muslim voter base, due to their inability to rebuild the Babri mosque in a Hindu majority region. This led to the BJP coming to power in the center, and culminated with Attal Bihari Vajpayee, who had ironically participated in a rally with the Hindu Karsevaks, coming to power in 1998. As Prime Minister, Vajpayee was said to have a team that dealt with the Ayodhya issue, as he was directly involved as a catalyst in the demolition.
While all prominent leaders were absolved of all charges of conspiracy, the Supreme Court revived the charges of conspiracy in 2017. On May 30th, 2017, L.K. Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, Uma Bharti, and Vinay Katiyar were charged with criminal conspiracy in the Babri Masjid Demolition case.
The Ayodhya title suit hearings commenced before the Supreme Court on August 6th, 2019, with the five-judge panel hearing the arguments on behalf of the Hindu parties first followed by the Muslim parties. The trial began with the panel asking the Hindu parties to prove that Lord Ram was actually born in Ayodhya, to which they responded that the “unshakeable faith” of Hindus was enough proof. The trial has also been marred with controversy as Rajeev Dhavan, Sunni Waqf Board’s counsel has received death threats for representing Muslims in the trial.
Interestingly, while the Hindu’s and Muslim’s have staked their claim in court, the Supreme Court has also permitted a petition from a Buddhist lawyer named Maurya, who claims the site was a Buddhist shrine before the Masjid was built. Furthermore, this past week a man named KN Govindacharya petitioned for live streaming/audio recording of the hearings, which is a matter which will be taken up by the court on September 16. As this long-standing dispute is about to reach its climax, it is clear that the Supreme Court decision, regardless of what it is, will have far-reaching consequences not just on history but also the future.
- Khrish Shahani
Image Source: The TruePicture