By Barun Das Gupta
The most significant aspect of the Supreme Court verdict on Ram Janambhoomu-Babri Masjid dispute is that for the first time a court of law has given recognition to a mythological figure as a juridical person by tacitly accepting that what is believed to be the birthplace of Lord Rama is, indeed, his birthplace. This has serious implications for the future. Law has always differentiated between belief and evidence – evidence that is admissible in a court of law under the Indian Evidence Act. Recognizing belief as evidence opens a Pandora’s box. There is no evidence to show that Lord Rama was a person of flesh and blood and not a mythological figure who was born at a certain place.
A juridical person is defined as “a non-human legal entity, in other words any organization that is not a single natural person but is authorized by law with duties and rights and is recognized as a legal person and as having a distinct identity.” A recent example of granting “juridical person” status to a river is the Whanganui River of New Zealand which was granted legal personality in March, 2017, under that country’s law because the Maori tribe believes that the river is their ancestor.
Those who had demolished the Babri Masjid have all along insisted that the birthplace of Lord Rama is a matter of faith and not fact; and that faith is something that cannot be adjudicated upon or settled or altered by any court of law. In other words, what is believed by the millions to be true must be accepted as truth. This obliterates the dividing line between mythology and archaeology; between mythology and history; between mythology and science.
If Ram is a real personage, so must be all the characters in the Ramayana, including Hanuman, the Monkey-God. It must also be true that Hanuman, long before Mao Zedong, gave a “big leap forward” and crossed the sea to land in Sri Lanka where Sita had been kept a captive of Ravana. Someday, believers may demand that the Ashok Vana, where Sita was kept captive, must be declared a holy place and a suitable Sita Mandir be built there. Once you accept mythology as historical fact, there is no end to the absurdities you accept as true.
The Ramayana also tells us that when Lord Rama wanted to go to Sri Lanka to kill Ravana for abduction of his wife Sita, god Indra sent his “Rath” or chariot for Rama to fly to Sri Lanka. This is mythology but if you believe that Lord Rama was a “person” you will also have to believe this parable as true. Implicitly, you accept what spokesmen of the Sangh Parivar claims, viz: that our ancestors had built aircraft that made space travel possible.
Peter Fitzpatrick in his book The Mythology of Modern Law argues, that law has contradictory existences: as will and as order, as autonomous and as organic, as transcendent and as real. It is myth that holds these contradictions together and the myth is the denial of its own mythological character. Modem law in western societies is claimed, by its celebrants, to be universal, objective and impartial: to be an embodiment of that form of reason which works, hand in glove with scientific knowledge, to establish European cultural pre-eminence over all other places and peoples of the Earth.”
By what canon of modern law can one reconcile the antitheticality of the Supreme Court’s holding that the installation of Ram Lala idols in the disputed site in 1949 was illegal and that the demolition of the Babri Masjid was an “egregious violation of law” but giving the disputed land to those who had violated the law? Instead of penalizing the perpetrators of such a blatantly criminal act and a sacrilege, the apex court in its wisdom chose to reward the offenders.
The substantive issues involved in the Babri Masjid case is, one, recognizing a mythological figure as a real historical personage and two, giving primacy to faith over evidence. When Afzal Guru was sentenced to death, the Supreme Court talked about the “collective conscience of the people” which was an extraneous factor as far as law and evidence were concerned. Accepting a mythological personage as a historical one is again an extraneous factor that ignores the primacy of evidence of the existence or otherwise of the person concerned.
India is a going through a critical period when obscurantism is seeking to supplant science with superstition and majoritarian politics is seeking to destroy the secular fabric of our plural polity. Pursuit of majoritarianism which is intrinsically divisive will inflict deadly injuries on our social and political life. The Preamble to our Constitutions says that ours is a secular republic. The Supreme Court is a creature of the Constitution. Its verdict on the Babri Masjid case, is in dissonance with the spirit of secularism. (IPA Service)