By Amritananda Chakravorty
On 8th November, 2019, around 8.30pm news came out that the much awaited decision of the Supreme Court in the title dispute relating to a plot of 2.77 acres of land in Ayodhya on which Babri Masjid once stood, before it was dastardly brought down by Hindutva goons on 6th December, 1992 was to be delivered next day, i.e., on 9th November, 2019. Being a Saturday (9th November), when the Supreme Court is usually shut, it was an unusual event that a judgment of this magnitude would be given. The knowledge of the impending judgment made me feel utterly scared that our worst fears would come true. This article is not a legal analysis of the 1045 pages of judgment written by, in fact, NO ONE, since the judgment is silent on its author(s), even though 5 judges of the Supreme Court led by the CJI, Ranjan Gogoi, and our ostensibly liberal ‘woke’ judge, Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, heard the case on an urgent basis for 40 days.
Touted as an unanimous decision of 5 Judges, not one Judge thought it fit to lend their name to one of the most significant judgments of India’s constitutional history. It’s like an abandoned child, with none of the parents wanting to take responsibility for what the child would turn into; similarly, none of the 5 Judges want to take responsibility for this judgment is going to be used in the present and future political and democratic discourse. What was illegally done 27 years back on 6th December, 1992 was, in fact, done legally by a Constitutional Court in India by dispossessing the Sunni Wakf Board and All India Muslim Personal Law Board from their own place of worship and identity, and providing them an alternate land of 5 acres. Sometime charity hurts more than the violence.
I was a child of 10 years in December, 1992, oblivious to the mayhem that L.K. Advani’s rath yatra was causing to the country, when I saw the grainy visuals on Doordarshan of ‘some people breaking the dome of a structure, looking like a mosque’. To my young mind, the visuals were highly disturbing, and was exacerbated by the complete shock of my parents and elder brother. For the next few days, the schools were shut in Delhi, and I would hear snippets of conversation of ‘demolition’, ‘riots in Bombay’, etc, and I knew something really terrible happened. I finally learnt about what actually happened that fateful day in my high school, and it was in my college I understood the full gravity of the demolition. My first brush with political demonstration was to participate in a protest against the demolition of Babri Masjid in North Campus, Delhi University on 6th December, 2000. It felt like a deep wound in the psyche of the Indian consciousness, with no healing initiated.
I participated in these protests for next few years, with trauma of Gujarat genocide in 2002 added to the collective shame of all of us who believed in the idea of India as a pluralistic and secular country. As idealist students, we did believe that both the perpetrators of the heinous crimes of Babri Masjid demolition, and the Gujarat pogrom would be punished one day, in accordance with the law. Sans toxic social media and fake news, the discourse was still civil, and even hopeful.
On 24th July, 2010, when the Allahabad High Court decision was awaited, suddenly the details of the title dispute on the land claimed by all parties came in public domain, including the claim of ‘Ram Lalla’, a deity in perpetual infancy and deemed to be a juristic person in law. That day also, I remember that the NGO I was working in had shut early, and we were all very anxious of the judgment and its aftermath. To my naïve mind, it was still very simple. If a masjid had stood on that land for 500 years, and it was illegally demolished, while the title suit was going on, then how could any other decision be possible, except rebuilding the masjid, and compensating those who were affected or even killed by the Kar Sevaks? The judgment of the High Court of dividing the land equally between three parties, i.e., Sunni Wakf Board, Ram Lalla, and Nimrohi Akhara seemed unfair, though trying to be fair. In hindsight, it seems so much better, fairer, and humane.
As I said before, I am refraining from commenting on the legal basis of the judgment, which put the entire burden of proving exclusive possession of the inner courtyard of the masjid on the Muslim parties, without casting the same burden on the so-called ‘Hindu’ parties. Even this nomenclature of ‘Muslim’ and ‘Hindu’ parties used in the judgment is highly problematic, and divisive, since not all ‘Hindus’ are dying to build a Ram Mandir on the land of demolished masjid. How can one analyse a decision of a Constitutional Court, which recognises that the idols were unauthorisedly brought in the mosque in 1949, thereby desecrating the mosque, but still gives the land to the ‘Hindu’ parties? How can one comment on a decision, which categorically states that the demolition of Babri Masjid on 6th December, 1992 was illegal, and unlawful, and in contempt of the court, but still awards the land to the ‘Hindu’ parties, whose affiliate organisations demolished the mosque? How can one accept a decision, where the Court states that issues of title/property ought to be decided on evidence, and not on faith, but still went ahead and permitted the construction of a temple based on the ‘faith’ of a certain section of community?
As others have pointed out, this title dispute was not merely a title dispute, it was the test of India’s secularism and administration of justice, and we have spectacularly failed in that. The Indian State, including its Constitutional Court, categorically has told the minority communities, especially the Muslims, that the rule of law enshrined in the Constitution is only for the majority community. Muslims should not expect justice and fairness from any of its institutions. The majoritarian transformation of India’s political and judicial framework is almost complete, with shlokas being quoted in Supreme Court’s decision as evidence of the existence of a mythical figure.
Much has been said about media personalities wanting ‘closure’ or need to ‘move on’ after the decision. These are the same people who sought ‘closure’ on demand of justice for Gujarat pogrom victims and how we should move on and forgive the current Prime Minister’s role as Gujarat Chief Minister in the 2002 riots in the run up to the 2014 elections. We all know how the regime and the country has turned out to be in the last 5.5 years.
One really struggles to find hope these days. The judicial decisions are more of a cause for distress and despair than even the Executive acts, since there is only expectation of the worst from the Government. But one found hope in the utter dignified way in which the lawyers for Sunni Wakf Board and AIMPB conducted themselves after the verdict. One found hope that the parties still had faith in the judicial system, and were considering whether to file a review of the verdict.
The demolition of Babri Masjid was a blot on India’s fabric, and no justice is possible without punishing the perpetrators of the horrific crime, and rebuilding the mosque on the same plot. No handwringing by the Apex Court can change this simple truth. (IPA Service)
The writer is a Delhi based lawyer