Ahead of the Supreme Court’s verdict in the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute, which is expected soon, Part-1 of this series looked at the Allahabad High Court verdict of 2010 that had directed a three-way partition of the disputed land among Bhagwan Ramlalla Virajman, Nirmohi Akhara and Uttar Pradesh Sunni Central Waqf Board. In doing so, the Allahabad Bench had broadly dealt with eight key issues that involve over 30 questions.
In Part-2, a look at how the two sides subsequently argued before the five-judge Supreme Court Bench — Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, Justice S A Bobde, Justice D Y Chandrachud, Justice Ashok Bhushan, Justice S Abdul Nazeer — over the same eight issues:
Is the claim made by the Hindu side in 1989, particularly by the deity Ram Virajman, time-barred?
Hindu parties: While defending the High Court’s finding that the claim filed by Bhagwan Ramlalla Virajman was not time-barred, they argued that the High Court was correct in holding that the Nirmohi Akhara and UP Sunni Central Waqf Board had delayed filing their claims and would not be entitled to seeking possession after the period of limitation.
Muslim parties: The Muslim side argued that the period of limitation of 12 years began in 1949 when the idols appeared under the central dome, and the claim was filed in December 1961, and not six years as the High Court had held. The High Court had decided the period of limitation began to be applicable in 1950 when the first two suits were filed.
Does a suit filed in 1885 settle the question of land possession?
Hindu parties: They have argued that the civil suit, in which a district court in Faizabad had remarked (in 1886) that the mosque was built on land considered holy by the Hindus in Ayodhya although he did not grant permission to build a temple, settles the question of land possession and it was for the Muslim side to show that this finding was wrong.
Muslim parties: They have argued that the 1885 suit cannot be agreed as settled law on the issue since it only dealt with a portion of land — the Chabutra on the outer courtyard — and that the subsequent claims involved the entire disputed site.
When was the structure built, by whom, and who was in possession of the land?
Hindu parties: The Hindu side stuck to its claim that the structure in question was built by Babur in 1528. However, since the Janmasthan is divine and is a deity in itself even without an idol, they argued that the land always belonged to Hindus and even a mosque on the premises subsequently would not alter its divinity. The court has to adjudicate whether Janmasthan can be considered a legal entity. The Akhara claimed possession of the land saying it had shebait rights and is entrusted with maintenance and preserving the idol and its property.
Muslim parties: The Muslims had possession of the area since 1528 when the mosque was built and the land was never claimed by Hindus till 1989. “If they had possession, why was one dome of the Babri Masjid knocked down in the 1934 riots and trespass to instal the idols in 1949 if they already had the title,” senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan had asked.
Was the mosque built on the site of an ancient Hindu temple?
Hindu parties: They have relied on reports of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) submitted as evidence that Babri Masjid was on land on which stood a “massive structure” dating back to at least the second century BC, and not on vacant or agricultural land. Another contention percolating throughout the arguments was that the mosque was built on a Hindu temple site based on “unshakeable faith” of Hindus that Lord Ram was born in Ayodhya. During the course of the arguments, the judges had put questions to senior advocate C S Vaidyanathan to prove that the mosque was built over a temple.
Muslim parties: They have argued that ASI reports are at best expert “opinions” and “cannot be accepted as evidence” to decide the case. They also highlighted inconsistencies in successive reports and statements made by ASI officials in depositions and argued that the court should not accept it as evidence. Additionally, they argued that gazetteers and books relied on by the Hindu side cannot be considered verified accounts of history.
Were idols and objects of worship placed on the night of December 22-23, 1949, or were they already there?
Hindu parties: The Allahabad High Court had held that the idols were placed under the central dome in 1949, while the Hindu side argued that they had existed previously. During the arguments, Justice Bhushan referred to oral evidence of individuals who had testified and made references to idols and a garb grih before 1935.
Muslim parties: They continued the argument that placing the idols under the central dome was a planned, surreptitious attack and an trespass.
Did the outer courtyard include Ram Chabutra, Bhandar and Sita Rasoi?
Hindu parties: Since all three judges in the Allahabad High Court ruling had agreed that Ram Chabutra, Bhandar and Sita Rasoi existed before 1855, this was not a point of contention before the Supreme Court.
Muslim parties: The Muslim side agree that there were idols of Hindu deities in the Ram Chabutra before 1949 too, but they argued that the Hindus did not hold the title over the place and only had the right to pray.
Who had possession and title of the property?
Hindu parties: The Hindu side sought declaration of title of not only the 2.77 acres of disputed land but also the adjoining land acquired by the government. Lawyers appearing on behalf of the deity argued that the Nirmohi Akhara had “disentitled itself” from filing claims adverse to the deity.
Muslim parties: The Uttar Pradesh Sunni Central Waqf Board also argued that the Nirmohi Akhara and the Board were original litigants over the property until a claim was made in 1989 on behalf of the deity Ramlalla Virajman as the sole and exclusive owner of the site. However, the Board argued against the Nirmohi Akhara’s claim for title on the ground that shebait rights cannot transfer to ownership. The Akhara has no duties and no rights, the Board argued. The Muslim side said they have only sought title over the area of dispute and not the land acquired, and that it would allow Hindus to worship in the outer courtyard in Ram Chabutra. They have argued that they are entitled to restoration of the mosque as it stood before its demolition on December 6, 1992.
Is the Babri Masjid a valid mosque?
Hindu parties: Quoting the ASI reports that noted that inscriptions in the Devanagari script were found on the pillars of the mosque, the Hindu side argued that the structure was not a valid mosque according to the tenets of Islam. They also argued that every place where prayers are offered cannot be treated as a mosque, countering the claims of the Muslim side that prayers were offered in the mosque.
Muslim parties: The disputed structure has been a mosque since the day it was constructed, the Muslim side claimed. They argued that even after the riots of 1934, namaz was offered and the Babri Masjid had an imam who led the prayers and a muezzin who recited the azaan. However, the parties agreed that construction of the mosque cannot be questioned on the basis of theology but on historical facts.