The destruction of the 16th-century mosque in the holy town of Ayodhya in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh was a seminal event in the relationship between Muslims and Hindus in India, who say the site where the mosque stood is the birthplace of Lord Ram.
Nearly 70 years after the first court case was filed, Supreme Court has suggested that the dispute over the Babri Masjid-Ram Janambhoomi land was best resolved through negotiations and not a judicial verdict. The dispute that has dominated the country’s political discourse has seen many twists and turns. The matter has been pending since 2010, when the top court stayed the verdict of the Allahabad High Court. The High Court had said Lord Ram was born under the central dome of the makeshift temple in Ayodhya and Hindus have the right to worship there.
Babri Masjid-Ramjanmabhumi issue is the most complicated and tension provoking in India, as whole of the country was in the grip of communal tension and hatred for the last three decades. It was a matter of grief that Ramjanmabhumi i.e. the birth place of Ram (according to Hindu community), which ought to be a sacred place of worship, took the shape of battle-field for both, the Hindus and the Muslims. The communal fire lit from here spread to the whole country. Ayodhya is now in every one’s mind, not due to its affiliation with Ram the God, but due to the fact that communal forces in various political parties made it their main political agenda for obvious electoral gains. This dispute, in recent years has become the most important reason for a deep deterioration of inter-communal relationship and communalisation of Indian political process. This dispute, undoubtedly one of the most sensitive communal issues after partition and biggest controversy after the Shah Bano case. In the year 1986, the doors of the disputed shrine (Babri Masjid) were opened for the Hindus, so that they may be enabled to perform worship of deities, enshrined there, on the order of Faizabad court, emotions were aroused on both the sides.
During the year 1992, the dispute took the form of a national crisis, when the Masjid was demolished with an intention to build a temple at that very site. Still it did not conclude the controversy, whether the mosque was constructed first or the temple was already present there. The identification of present Ayodhya (Uttar Pradesh) with Ramjanmabhumi is based upon the faith of the Hindu community and has no solid evidence. There is no conclusive proof that the mosque build at the time of Babar, was on a temple site or that a temple had been destroyed to build it. Outwardly, it was a dispute fought for mere ownership of a piece of land, but in a deeper sense, it was related with the right to freedom of religion, guaranteed in Article-25 of the constitution. Compared to Shah Bano case, and the discussion on Uniform or separate Civil Codes, this controversy is not a clear cut matter of legislation on the minority rights, rather, it deals with the legal practices of supposedly secular state India and the need to practically secure the minority rights. Because the Ramjanmabhumi movement lays emphasis on myths and beliefs, rather than facts and democratic decisions, the issue also includes confrontation between religious and secular ideals within politics.
CONTROVERSY OVER HISTORICAL AND MYTHOLOGICAL BACKGROUND OF DISPUTE
The referred mosque was constructed in 1528, by the nobleman Mir Baqi, at the request of Babar, the first Moghul Emperor, hence the name Babri Masjid.
The under mentioned inscriptions in Persian script were written on the gate of the mosque:
Ba formuda-i-shah Babur Ki adilash
Banaist ta Kakh-i-gardun mulaqi.
Bana Kard in Muhbit-i-qudsiyam ra
Amir-i-Saadat-nishan Mir Baqi.
Buvad khair baqi Chu sal-i-banaish
Iyan shud Ki guftam-Buvad Khair Baqi. (935)
The English version of these lines are :
By the command of Emperor Babar, whose justice is an edifice reaching up to the very height of the heaven; the good-hearted Mir Baqi built this alighting-place of angles Buvad Khair Baqi ! (may this goodness last forever) the year of building made clear likewise, when I said Buwad khair Baqi (935 A.H) (i.e. 1528)
The statement revealed in the above inscriptions does not clarify the mosque was built by demolishing the Ram Temple. Undoubtedly, there were some pillars which had non-Islamic symptoms. For that it can be possible that there were some Hindu craftsmen employed in the construction work or some material from the vicinal or derelict Hindu building might have been brought in use.
Some people retrace the history of Ayodhya from the very ancient time. They think that King Vikramaditya had renovated the temple during the reign of Gupta dynasty in the fifth century. It means that the temple itself was constructed much earlier. The proponents of this theory state the existence of Ramjanmabhumi shrine at Ramkot, which was believed to be the birth place of Ram, the holiest spot on earth in 12th-13th centuries and it is well attested by its description in the Ayodhya Mahatmya, of Vaishnava Khanda of Skanda Purana, narrating the glory of this shrine. They also hold that Babar instructed his Minister Mir Baqi to alter/replace the temple by a mosque in 1528 A.D on the advice of Sufi Sant Jalal Shah. Since that very time, the Hindus had desired to have a glance at the site which they considered sacred in their religion and some others recount history of Ayodhya from 1528.
The history of Ramjanmabhumi was originally based on Valmiki’s Ramayana, which revolves around several myths; the myth of Ayodhya’s sacredness and its prehistoric character, the myth of rediscovery of Ayodhya to the myth of destruction of temple and construction of a mosque in its place. Actually, Ramayana also known as Ramkatha, consists of multiple versions and each of these versions carry a different story and the narratives have also contradictions with each other and these narratives or meanings make it impossible to give a coherent religious expression.
British government to ‘divide’ the Hindus and the Muslims
It was only in the nineteenth century or during the British period when the legend of demolition of temple and construction of mosque begins to get into the records. We know fully that the British government to ‘divide’ the Hindus and the Muslims made many tricks under the policy of divide and rule and it was also the same conspiracy of the Britishers over Ayodhya. The administrators in pursuance of this policy, assiduously invented history, to keep the Hindu-Muslims both permanently divided.
The British officer, H.R Nevill, was the first man who fabricated the story about the Babri Masjid and said:
In 1528 AD, Babar came to Ayodhya (Aud) and halted for a week. He destroyed the ancient temple (marking the birth place of Rama) and on its site built a mosque, still known as Babar’s mosque…… It has two inscriptions, one on the outside, one on the pulpit; both are Persian, and bear the date 935 AH.
The legal history of Babri Masjid shows that in the beginning, the chabutra (Platform) constituted on 23 February 1857, inside the boundary wall of the Babri Masjid, was known as the Janamsthan (birth place). In 1857 the Nawab of Avadh proclaimed that namaz in the mosque by the Muslims and the worship on the chabutra by the Hindus, be performed at different times or hours. The legal dispute emerged in 1885 during the British rule, when Mahant (the chief priest), Raghubar Das of Ramjanmsthan, filed a civil suit in the court of Sub-Judge, of Faizabad on 15 January 1885, seeking permission to build a temple on chabutra (area of 17 feet by 21 feet situated on the outer enclosure of disputed mosque). Their request for restoration was denied by the court on the grounds that the plaintiff had been unable to substantiate the claim.
But the battle was not yet over. After India’s independence from British colonial rule in the late 1940s, the district magistrate of Faizabad (where this structure is located) informed higher authorities in December 1949 that “a few Hindus entered Babri Masjid at night when the Masjid was deserted and installed a deity there…Police picket of fifteen persons was on duty at night but did not apparently act.”
The district magistrate of Faizabad, Mr. Nayar, admitted his responsibility and was asked to resign.
For the first time, the property dispute went to court in 1949 after idols of Lord Ram were placed put inside the mosque. In 1984, Hindu groups formed a committee to spearhead the construction of a Ram temple. Three years later, a district court ordered the gates of the mosque to be opened after almost five decades and allowed Hindus to worship inside the “disputed structure.” A Babri Mosque Action Committee was formed by Muslim groups.
In 1989, foundations of a temple were laid on land adjacent to the “disputed structure”.
In 1990, the then BJP president LK Advani took out a cross-country rath yatra to garner support to build a Ram temple at the site. VHP volunteers partially damaged the Babri mosque.
On December 6, 1992, the mosque was demolished by Kar Sevaks. Communal riots across India followed. Ten days after the demolition, the Liberhan Commission was set to probe the incident. The Commission submitted its report on June 2009 – naming LK Advani, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and other BJP leaders — almost 17 years after it began its inquiry.
In September 2003, a court ruled that seven Hindu leaders, including some prominent BJP leaders, should stand trial for inciting the destruction of the Babri Mosque. But no charges were brought against Mr Advani who was then the Deputy Prime Minister. But a year later, an Uttar Pradesh court ruled that the order which exonerated him should be reviewed.
On February 27 that year, at least 58 people were killed in Godhra, Gujarat, in an attack on a train believed to be carrying Hindu volunteers from Ayodhya. Riots followed in the state, in which over 1000 people were reported to have died.
In April 2002, a 3-judge Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court began hearings on determining who owned the site.
In September 2010, the Allahabad High Court pronounced the verdict. The verdict said the site of Babri mosque is to be divided into three parts, each going to Nirmohi Akhara, Ram Lalla and the Sunni Central Waqf Board of Uttar Pradesh. Within months, Hindu groups and Muslim groups moved Supreme Court challenging the High Court verdict.
In 2011, the Supreme Court stayed the Allahabad High Court order. Not long before, the top court had said the Allahabad High Court verdict was strange and surprising.
In its 2017 UP election manifesto, the BJP said it “will explore all possibilities within the purview of the Constitution to construct a Ram Mandir in Ayodhya”. The BJP returned to power in UP after 15 years. Newly appointed Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath asked his officials to begin work on implementation of the poll promise.
March 21, 2017: The Supreme Court says the matter is sensitive and should be settled out of court.
Politicization of Babr Masjid – Ram Janmabhumi Dispute
The Babri-Masjid-Ramjanmabhumi dispute, since its emergence has been closely linked with the Indian politics. After the independence, for a long time it had been undertaken in legal strategies and politics has crept in it, from time to time in different ways and with various motives. But politics is mere politics, especially in India, where for politicians, every issue social, religious, economic and spiritual is a political game and a significant means of gaining votes and power. The dispute emerged as a religious matter and later on took the shape of a legal controversy. When judiciary failed to settle the issue for a long period of time and could not resolve it, then this legal issue turned into a political. After independence, till seventh decade of last century, it did not attain much political ground among the major political parties. It has attracted the political parties to make it a source for getting votes since the beginning of eighties. It is also a notable fact that the Mandir-Masjid issue proved a cause of downfall of the two ruling parties at the centre (V.P Singh and Chandra Shekhar’s government).
That’s not to say that all India’s citizens have equal access to economic, educational or political opportunities. The country has learned so much, it has gone so beyond these emotions that there will be nothing very serious. Actually, it is not a religious problem and not a conflict of faiths. Both communities were using the site to perform their prayers, one on the Ram chabutra and the other in the mosque. But political parties turned the matter towards communal lines and aroused the feelings and sentiments of the Hindus and the Muslims for political power. Sushma Swaraj said on April 14, 2000, that Ramjanmabhumi was “purely political in nature and had nothing to do with religion”. Undoubtedly, it was a major event, which seriously denied our commitment to secularism. It will be the country which will win; it will be the country which will lose, if at all.
Sankar Ray, Senior Faculty, NorthEast IAS
- Centre for Historical Studies (CHS) | Jawaharlal Nehru University Library
- Constructing Collective Memory and Identity for Mobilization The role of the Hindu-nationalist BJP in the Ayodhya Dispute. Conclusion of Specialisation Political History and International Relations Utrecht University
- Ashish Nandy and et.al, Creating a Nationality: The Ramjanmabhumi Movement and Fear of the Self, Delhi: Oxford University Press
- See the judgment of District Judge, Faizabad, Shri K.M.Pandey, 1 February 1986 in Asghar Ali Engineer (ed.), Babri Masjid-Ramjanmabhumi Controversy, Delhi: Ajanta Publications, 1990
- Nilofar Ahmed, Babri Mosque-Ram Janam Temple
- Servapalli Gopal and et.al, The Political Abuse of History: Babri Masjid – Ramjanmabhumi Dispute
- Indian Electronic Theses and Dissertations