Making sense of the Ayodhya judgment and its message
The Supreme Court, while interpreting the Hindu litigants' claim to the disputed land as stronger, tried to balance things by offering Muslims an alternative plot of land. The judgment was more than a mere title suit verdict; it sought a closure to a long-standing dispute.
The Supreme Court's Ayodhya title suit ruling in support of the Hindu litigants' claim to possession of the disputed land has a few significant takeaways.
One, the court has sought to assess the competing historical claims to possession of the site. As the Hindu litigants' claimed that a Ram temple existed on the site before the construction of the Babri mosque, purportedly by Mughal emperor Babur's general Mir Baqi, the court studied the report of the Archaeological Survey of India. The report, as per the ruling, shows the presence of a non-Islamic structure below the mosque. This structure was as large or even larger, but there is no conclusive evidence that it was a Ram temple. However, the Hindu claim is bolstered in the eyes of the Bench by the presence of this non-Islamic -- Hindu or maybe Buddhist or Jain structure -- because it pre-dates the Islamic structure.
Much after the Babri mosque came into being, the outer and inner courtyard of the site were partitioned after the British annexed Awadh in 1857. The judgment states that Hindus were able to prove worship in the outer courtyard before and after 1857. However, the Muslim side was unable to prove exclusive use of the inner courtyard even after 1857. The court, thus, found the evidence on the Hindu side stronger.
The court says that idols were installed in 1948-49 in violation of the rule of law and the mosque was, thus, desecrated. Hindus continued to offer worship to what they believe was Lord Ram's birthplace but namaz stopped.
The court then says the mosque was illegally demolished in 1992, an act that the bench condemned. Legal experts, however, say that the demolition of the superstructure on the land does not take away the the claim to the land.
In other words, while not saying that there was certainly a Ram temple at the site before the Babri mosque was built -- or indeed that the structure underneath was demolished to build the mosque -- the Bench found the claims of the Hindu litigants on the land stronger than the competing claims of the Sunni Waqf Board. The Bench, however, found the earlier verdict of the Allahabad High Court dividing the disputed land between the Hindu and Muslim litigants as wrong on two grounds: one, the site was a composite whole and, two, division was not feasible.
The second takeaway comes from a reading between the lines to understand how the Bench read the Hindu claim to the purported birthplace of Ram. The court has condemned the demolition of the mosque by the Kar Sevaks but has taken the Hindu claims to the birthplace of Ram as a general matter of faith distinct from the Ram temple movement of the Hindu Right. In this, it has acknowledged the faith of common Hindus and refused to see the Ram temple campaign as simply a campaign of some right-wing organisations. In this, the approach of the Bench is different from that of some left and liberal voices, which see the Ram temple campaign as a campaign of Hindutva organisations and not as one of common Hindus. The court, however, has held that common Hindus have faith in the spot being the birthplace of Lord Ram. However, the Bench condemned the demolition of the Babri mosque as patently wrong, thus disagreeing with the Hindutva campaign of 1990-92. This reading between the lines to see the nuances of the Court's approach to the issue is independent of a separate case pertaining to the demolition of the Babri mosque that is being heard by a special CBI court at Lucknow. It is that verdict that will fix responsibility for the demolition.
The third takeaway is that while the Sunni Waqf Board lost the case, the Muslim sense of hurt was indirectly acknowledged by ordering that they be given a separate plot of land, measuring five acres, to build a mosque in Ayodhya. Rarely is the one who loses a title suit offered an alternative piece of land. The judgment thus seeks to balance community aspirations even as it offers the disputed land to the Hindus, who may interpret this as a victory. It compensates the Muslim side, thus tacitly agreeing that this is a sensitive matter for the country and not a routine title suit.
The fourth aspect of the judgment is that while it seems to be a victory for Hindu litigants, the Sunni Waqf Board accepted it and decided not to file a review petition. In this, the Muslim leadership is sending a larger message to Indian society: let us bring closure to a vexed cultural dispute and move on. This is what some political statements soon after the judgment -- including those of Nitish Kumar and Arvind Kejriwal -- have sought to push for.
Perhaps what is required is closure and a hope that we as a society see no such disputes in future.