The Supreme Court’s verdict in the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute is expected soon. It will be on appeals against a verdict by a three-judge Bench of the Allahabad High Court in 2010. Justice Sibghat Ullah Khan, Justice Sudhir Agarwal and Justice Dharam Veer Sharma had held that the three parties — Bhagwan Ramlalla Virajman, Nirmohi Akhara and Uttar Pradesh Sunni Central Waqf Board — were in joint possession of the disputed 2.77 acres of land in Ayodhya in the absence of a better title, and had directed a three-way partition.
In doing so, the Allahabad High Court had broadly dealt with eight significant issues that involve over 30 questions in connection with the civil suit. A look at how the High Court had ruled on these eight issues, which are central to the appeal in the Supreme Court:
Is the claim made by the Hindu side in 1989, particularly by the deity Ramlalla Virajman, time-barred?
While the law of limitation extinguishes a party’s right to property if they do not file a claim within six years, all three judges on the Allahabad Bench agreed that the suit filed on behalf of Ram Lalla is not barred by limitation. They agreed that even if the suits were time-barred, the Code of Civil Procedure requires that the court pronounce judgment on all issues, irrespective of its finding on a preliminary issue. The two suits filed by Nirmohi Akhara and Sunni Waqf Board were held to be time-barred.
Does a suit filed in 1885 settle the question of land possession?
In 1885, Mahant Raghubar Das had filed a suit seeking permission to build a temple in the Ram Chabutara area. Mohammad Ashgar, who claimed to be the Mutawali of the Babri mosque, opposed the suit. While he did object to demarcation of the land by a few inches, he did not raise substantial objections. The suit was dismissed; the court was of the opinion that granting permission to build a temple would amount to laying the foundation of a riot between the two communities.
On behalf of Ram Lalla, the argument was that the 1885 suit operated as res judicata — or a settled point of law which cannot be adjudicated again. In 2010, Justice Khan held that the order had been essentially a status quo order and did not decide on any legal issues, and hence cannot bind the Muslim side. Justice Sharma held that since the Mahant and the Mutawali could not be said to have contested on behalf of all parties who have an interest in the dispute, it cannot be binding on the parties.
When was the structure built, by whom, and who was in possession of the land?
The Hindu side argued that it was always in possession of the land, and was displaced only in 1949 when the premises were sealed and attached by the district magistrate of Faizabad. They argued that a mosque was built by emperor Babur. The Muslim side argued that the mosque was built in 1528 by Babur’s commander Mir Baqi, who dedicated it as Sunni waqf property, and that they were in possession since then.
Justice Khan and Justice Agarwal held that there is no conclusive evidence to support either claim. Justice Khan relied on a 1786 account by Joseph Tiefenthaler, a European geographer, to say that the structure was built before 1786 but that there is no reliable historical evidence to conclude that it was built in 1528. Justice Sharma held that the structure was built by Mir Baqi at Babur’s command but it cannot be held conclusively that this was in 1528.
Was the mosque built on the site of an ancient Hindu temple?
The three judges had different views on this. Justice Khan held that no temple was demolished for building the mosque, but that it was constructed over the ruins of temples that had been lying there for a very long time, and that some of that material was used in the construction. He held that Hindus earlier believed that in a very large area of the disputed premises is a very small part that is believed to be the birthplace of Lord Ram, and subsequently Hindus started identifying the disputed premises as the exact birthplace, or as a place wherein the exact birthplace was situated. Justice Khan held that Ram Chabutra and Sita Rasoi were in existence before 1855, and Hindu worshippers offered prayers there. This formed the basis of the court’s decision to grant joint possession of the land.
Justice Agarwal held that the building was not exclusively used by members of the Muslim community, and that, after 1856-57, the outer courtyard was exclusively used by Hindus while the inner courtyard was visited for worship by members of both communities.
Justice Sharma conclusively held that the masjid was built on the ruins of a Hindu temple. He relied on Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) findings that 265 inscriptions found on December 6, 1992, after demolition of the structure, and other architectural remains leave no room for doubt that the inscription is written in the Devanagari script of the 11th and 12th centuries. He also relied on the report and testimony of Dr Rakesh Tiwari, former director-general of the ASI, that an old temple had been demolished and the masjid was constructed there.
Were idols and objects of worship placed on the night of December 22-23, 1949, or were these already there?
Justice Khan and Justice Sharma agreed that these were placed on the pulpit inside the mosque for the first time that night, while Justice Agarwal held that it cannot be proved that these were placed that exact day. Justice Agarwal cited evidence that even before December 22, 1949, there were idols and objects of worship at Ram Chabutra, on the outer courtyard.
Did the outer courtyard include Ram Chabutra, Bhandar and Sita Rasoi? Were these demolished in 1992?
Based on maps of 1885 and 1950, all three judges agreed that these structures existed on the outer courtyard. The parties agreed that these were demolished on December 6, 1992.
Justice Khan referred to Tiefenthaler, the geographer who had visited the area between 1766 and 1771 and had noted the existence of Ram Chabutra. Justice Khan held that it must have been there before that time. Its existence is noticed in several subsequent gazetteers’ reports etc. On the other hand it is inconceivable, Justice Khan held, that at the time of construction of the mosque, a worshiping place of Hindus would have been either permitted to remain inside the boundary wall or permitted to be constructed. He held that the only thing that can be said is that it came into existence before Tiefenthaler’s visit but after construction of the mosque.
Who had possession and title of the property?
Justice Agarwal held that the inner courtyard did not remain in possession of any of the parties exclusively. On the outer courtyard, he held that the right of prayer had been perfected by Hindus, having continued exclusively for more than a century; however, this would not apply to the inner courtyard.
Justice Sharma held that on the basis of revenue waqf records, it was not proved that Muslims remained in exclusive possession of the property. He said there were several figures of Hindu gods and goddesses on the pillars inside the mosque, which show that the property was open and not in exclusive possession of Muslims. He said Muslims cannot claim adverse possession against the property because it was an open place and everybody was visiting it, including Muslims. He concluded that Hindus have proved that they were worshiping even after the structure was constructed, and that they were in exclusive possession of the outer courtyard.
Justice Khan held that while Muslims have not been able to prove that the land belonged to Babur under whose orders the mosque was constructed, Hindus have not been able to prove that there was any existing temple at the place where the mosque was built after demolishing the temple. He concluded that both parties were/are joint title-holders in possession of the disputed premises.
Is the Babri Masjid a valid mosque?
Justice Agarwal held that for the last more than two-and-a-half centuries and at least about 200 years before the present dispute arose in 1950, the building has always been known as a “mosque”. He observed that whenever Hindu parties contested a case, they have throughout called it a mosque and there has not been any change to this stand until at least 1950.
Justice Sharma said that on historical account, it was established that the mosque was built after demolishing a temple. He concluded that the recovery of 265 artifacts fully establish that damaged parts of the old Hindu temple in the form of building material were reused in construction of the mosque, against the tenets of Islam.
Justice Khan held that it cannot be said that the mosque was not a valid mosque having been constructed over the land of someone else. He concluded that while use of the material of the ruined temple cannot be said to be desirable, it is not such that it renders the mosque to be not a mosque in the eyes of the law.
Drawing of site is indicative and not to scale. Drawing of plot (not to scale) where Babri Masjid stood is based on a plan prepared in 1950 in the court of Civil Judge, Faizabad, and reproduced in the order of the Allahabad High Court.
Tomorrow: How the two sides contested the High Court verdict in the Supreme Court