The Supreme Court on Thursday said that oral evidence had come on record that there was an idol at the “garbh grih” (sanctum sanctorum) believed to be the birthplace of Ram below the central dome of the Babri Masjid even prior to 1949 and that Hindus had prayed to it.
According to the Muslim side, idols were placed inside the central dome for the first time on the night of December 22-23, 1949, by trespassers.
Justice Ashok Bhushan, who is part of the five-judge Constitution bench hearing appeals against the September 30, 2010 judgment of Allahabad High Court, referred to the statement of one Hausila Prasad Tripathi, who said he had seen “one niche-placed idol” and “one photograph” in the sanctum sanctorum when he first visited Ayodhya in 1935 when he was 12-13 years old.
Tripathi said he had gone to Ayodhya first in December 1935 with his uncle Mata Prasad Tripathi and had since been a regular visitor. He stated that pilgrims, after praying at the Chabutra, used to pray to the garbh griha from the “wall with bars” — after the 1855 communal riots, the British had installed railings at the disputed site to demarcate the area into two zones for Hindus and Muslims to pray separately.
Justice Bhushan’s rejoinder came as Senior Advocate Rajeev Dhavan insisted that there was no evidence of Hindus praying to the central dome and it was the Ram Chabutra in the outer courtyard, which they believed was where Ram was born, where the idols were kept and worshipped. “So it may not be correct when you say there is no evidence. How we appreciate it is different,” said Justice Bhushan.
The bench headed by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi is hearing arguments against the Allahabad High Court verdict dividing the disputed 2.77 acres into three equal portions.
Justice Bhushan also referred to statements of other witnesses who visited the place and spoke about pilgrims praying to the sanctum santorum inside the dome through the iron grill and offering flowers, etc. He cited the testimony of Ram Surat Tiwari, who said he visited the place in 1942 with his brother Ram Keval Tiwari “who was in service of the Raja Saheb Ayodhya”.
Dhavan countered this saying it was “not plausible evidence”. The senior counsel tried to blow holes in Tripathi’s testimony and said he was stating what his uncle explained to him. Turning to Justice Bhushan, Dhavan remarked, “I note some aggression in your Lordship’s stand.” Senior Advocate C S Vaidyanathan, appearing for Ramlalla, said “it is unfortunate” that such comments were being made.
Justice D Y Chandrachud too intervened, after which Dhavan tendered an apology to the bench and Vaidyanathan.
He then took the court through a cross-examination of witnesses and said their testimonies were an afterthought and could not be considered evidence. The Ramjanmabhoomi question had already become an issue when these witnesses recorded their statements, he added.
On Wednesday, the bench had pointed to the “close proximity” of the ‘Ram Chabutra’ —located in the courtyard of the disputed site — to the railings and wondered whether Hindus, by praying at the railings, were actually praying to something beyond, to their deity whom they believed existed in the central dome of the mosque.
On Thursday, Dhavan said “before 1989, there was no claim by Hindu parties that their prayer in the outer courtyard was to the alleged deity in the central dome”. He submitted that “there was the danger that in cases like this, conjecture or suspicion may take the place of legal proof”.
The Board’s counsel said that Ramjanmabhoomi was a post-1980 phenomenon.