Ayodhya Verdict: Beliefs Do Matter
The Supreme Court ignored its own ‘essentiality doctrine’ in the Ayodhya verdict, write NALSAR’s Faizan Mustafa & Aymen Mohammed.
“Absent the faith and belief of the devotees, the land holds no distinguishing features that could be recognised by this court as evidence of a manifestation of God at the disputed site. It is true that in matters of faith and belief, the absence of evidence may not be evidence of absence”, ruled the Supreme Court in the Ayodhya verdict.
This statement was made by the court in the context of Suit No. 5’s Plaintiff No. 2 i.e. Janamsthan or the birthplace of Lord Ram. The court refused to accept this party as the juridical person and said that belief and faith are far more crucial. In the ultimate analysis, this historic judgment heavily relied on the belief and faith of the majority community to decide the case in favour of Hindus even in the absence of any evidence of demolition of a Ram temple to construct a mosque and any evidence of peaceful, continuous and uninterrupted Hindu prayers in the inner courtyard or under the three domes between 1528 to 1949.
Strangely, although Lord Ram is a pre-historic figure, only 18th- and 19th-century British travellers’ records were considered enough in evidence to prove the existence of glorious and ancient Hindu religion.
Muslim parties neither denied the divinity of Lord Ram nor fact of his birth in Ayodhya but the fact that he was born exactly under the central dome of Babri mosque - as no Sanskrit text of inscription made such an assertion
Evidence Of Birthplace
The judgment in Para 554 states the evidence of a major Hindu party’s witness, i.e. Satya Narain Tripathi (DW3/3), who stated that in Ramacharitmanas that was written by Tulsidas within decades of the construction of Babri Mosque, there is no mention of any special place regarding the birth of Ramachandraji, but only a mention about Ayodhya.
Mahant Ramji Das (DW3/7) was asked during cross-examination whether there is a reference in Sri Ramacharitmanas to the birthplace of Lord Ram. The question posed to and the answer of the witness was extracted in the judgment:
Question: Is there mention of praise of Ramachandraji in 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th ,7th, 8th chopayees after above couplet No.71(b) in Uttarkand of ― Shri Ramcharit Manas and no mention about the birthplace of Ramachandraji made in them?
Answer: There is no mention of the birthplace of Ramachandraji in the above chopayees, it is only about taking birth of Ramachandraji.
Interestingly, a little known traveler Tieffenthaler, was called ‘an intellectual giant’ by the Allahabad High Court which heavily relied on his inaccurate description of events including the assertion that the Babri mosque was constructed by Aurangzeb rather than Babur.
The apex court at least accepted that there are many things in his account that are based on mere hearsay and are not to be accepted without further corroboration. Yet, in the end, it too did rely on him as to the worship by Hindus and Muslims in the Babri mosque. Whether in the inner or outer courtyard was not asked.
The court said what Tieffenthaler observed himself is very important but then is it not a fact that famous traveler Marco Polo could not observe the Great Wall of China? Does that mean that China did not have the Great Wall till 1290?
Tieffenthaler similarly did not see inscriptions in the Babri mosque. Interestingly, Teffenthaler is so bad in observations that he failed to notice inscriptions even in Allahabad fort. FS Growse, in his 1882 work, severally criticised Teffenthaler’s description of Mathura, including about the Vrindavan temples. Of course, he was not a historian but just a linguist.
Proof Of Possession
The court was also not right in saying that Muslims could not prove exclusive use of mosque between 1528 to 1855. There should be no doubt in anyone’s mind that during the powerful Mughal empire, local police officials would not have permitted the use of any mosque for Hindu prayers. During later Mughals, powerful Muslim Nawabs ruled Awadh with Faizabad as their capital from 1722.
It defies common sense to think that during this period, a historic and prominent mosque was not used by Muslims exclusively for their prayers.
In fact, Hindus’ mere assertion of right was considered as sufficient proof of possession. The court said that “Hindus continued to assert their right to pray inside the three domed structure.”
The Weight Given To Belief
The Supreme Court gave importance to belief over other concerns. The court, even while observing that faith is limited to the individual believer, and that it cannot determine a land dispute based on people’s beliefs, eventually gave the disputed land for the construction of a Hindu temple because of some people’s beliefs.
The court, ignoring its earlier judgments under the freedom of religion, said that it cannot scrutinise any religious belief or examine its rationality. The court, in fact, ignored its own ‘essentiality doctrine’.
The court has been consistently observing that all religious beliefs cannot be permitted under freedom of religion but only those that constitute the very core of the concerned religion as per its original scriptures. It had also refused to uphold mere superstitious beliefs. In fact, only original religious beliefs alone are to be considered as essential. When did belief about the birth of Lord Ram at the disputed site start, was thus a crucial question.
The court admitted that idols were illegally installed in the mosque on the night of Dec. 22-23, 1949, when a few people trespassed into the mosque and placed Lord Ram’s idol under the central dome of the Babri Masjid. Thus, Ram Lalla who became a party four decades later in 1989 entered the mosque through an illegal act, yet eventually, the land was given to him.
The principle of equity is one who seeks equity must come with clean hands.
It is not our case that Lord Ram is to be blamed for the illegal actions of his followers.
In fact, a hawan was organised at the chabutara in November-December 1949, with the declaration that at the end of the hawan a miracle will happen and Ram Lalla’s idol on his own will go inside the mosque. Since this miracle did not happen, it shows that, in fact, Ram Lalla did not voluntarily go inside the mosque.
In Para 799, the court explicitly said that “even as a matter of maintaining public peace and tranquility, the solution which commended itself to the High Court (division in three parts) is not feasible. The disputed site measures all of 1,500 square yards. Dividing the land will not sub-serve the interest of either of the parties or secure a lasting sense of peace and tranquility.” Thus the court based its final reliefs keeping in view ground realities as the major concern. Had a mosque been given to Muslims, it would have created a huge law and order challenge. Pragmatism and necessity were rightly given due weightage.
Faizan Mustafa is the Vice-Chancellor at NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad, and a constitutional law expert. Aymen Mohammad is a Research Scholar at NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad.
The views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of BloombergQuint or its editorial team.