The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) report, which was submitted in the Supreme Court after excavations at the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid site in 2003, will be brought out in the public domain in the form of a book, announced Union Culture Minister Prahlad Patel on Saturday.
Speaking to reporters at his residence, Patel also congratulated the ASI team which led the excavation. “I am grateful to all the experts who worked on the report,” he said.
The ASI had carried out excavations at the disputed site in 2003 on the directions of the Allahabad High Court, and found features of a 10th-century temple beneath the site where the 16th-century Babri Masjid stood until its demolition in 1992.
In its verdict Saturday, the Supreme Court said the ASI’s findings could not be dismissed as conjectural and weak evidence, as prayed for by the Muslim side. “The report which has been submitted by the ASI is an opinion; an opinion nevertheless of an expert governmental agency… The process of drawing inferences from data is an essential element of archaeology as a discipline but to reject this exercise as conjectural and hypothetical would be a dis-service both to the discipline and to the underlying process,” the five-judge bench ruled.
However, while agreeing with the ASI that there was an underlying 12th-century structure of “Hindu religious origin” at the disputed site and that the mosque was constructed upon “the foundation of the pre-existing structure”, the court stressed that there is “no specific finding” in the ASI report that that this was “a temple dedicated to Lord Ram”. It also underlined that the ASI had not given any finding on whether any temple was demolished to make way for the mosque.
The judgment also noted that there was a gap of four centuries “between the twelfth century to which the underlying structure is dated and the construction of the mosque in the sixteenth century” and that “no evidence has been placed on the record in relation to the course of human history” for this period.
The court rejected the Uttar Pradesh Sunni Central Wakf Board’s contention that a structure unearthed during the ASI excavation was part of an Idgah. “Initially, the defence that was urged… was that there was no underlying structure which was demolished for the construction of the mosque. Confronted with the findings in the ASI report, the Sunni Central Waqf Board altered the stance and sought to claim that among the structures that came to be revealed… was an Idgah or Kanati Masjid,” the judgment said.
The Muslim side had argued that the presence of lime-surkhi plaster on this wall was proof that the structure dated back to the Islamic period as lime surkhi was introduced by Mughal rulers. But the court referred to evidence that lime water was used in the 3rd century during the Kushana period in Takshshila and Pakistan.
The court also took into account travelogues and gazetteers. These included William Finch, an Englishman who visited Ayodhya in 1608-1611 and wrote that he did not find any building of importance of Islamic origin there, Jesuist missionary Joseph Tieffenthaler whose writings make a reference to the place of birth of Ram, and to the demolition of village Ramkot by Aurangzeb.
On scriptural evidence, the court said this is “susceptible to a multitude of inferences”. “The court would do well not to step into the pulpit by adjudging which, if any, of competing interpretations should be accepted. Faith is a matter for the individual believer… The value of a secular constitution lies in a tradition of equal deference.”
Speaking to The Sunday Express, Buddha Rashmi Mani, who led the team that carried out the ASI excavation, said, “Once the report is accessible to all, any doubts whatsoever in the minds of people will be cleared”. “There is clinching evidence in the report about the existence of not one but three temple below the disputed site,” he added.
While Mani’s report had been hailed by those affiliated with the Sangh Parivar, the Muslim groups had criticised it. The Sunni Central Waqf Board had accused the ASI of being partisan in its excavation work.
Earlier too, in 1975-76 and 1979, the ASI had conducted excavations in Ayodhya. However, these digs, led by B B Lal, had been outside the disputed area. Though the results were not published in that period, between 1975 and 1985 an archaeological project was carried out in Ayodhya to examine 14 sites referenced to in the Ramayana, including the Babri site. In October 1990, an article in RSS magazine Manthan by Lal claimed that they found pillar-bases of what may have been a temple at the site.