By Amritananda Chakravorty
On 6th December, 1992, I was barely 10 years old growing up in a Doordarshan era in a middle class family in Delhi, where television was perceived as almost an ‘enemy’ of a child’s education. Still, I managed to catch a glimpse of the infamous photo of Babri Masjid being demolished by Kar sevaks and BJP goons, which left an indelible impression on me. To a child’s mind, it was the sheer violence of an old structure being broken down that was most troubling and disturbing. Then I experienced the schools being shut in Delhi, and riots happening in North India, including Delhi and Mumbai, with incredulity and fear, as if the entire world I had known till then was being demolished.
Years later, when I finally read about the horror of the babri masjid being deliberately demolished by the RSS/BJP, led by the now ‘margdarshak mandal’, i.e., L.K. Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and Uma Bharti, and foot soldiers including the current Prime Minister, who learnt the tropes of disgusting divisive politics of hatred and bigotry from there, I had hoped that justice would be done one day by rebuilding the mosque. It was a wound, which now has spread to the whole country. Last few months, the BJP has upped the ante on the so-called Ram Mandir ‘movement’ in the build up to the 2019 elections, both inside and outside the Court.
Since 2017, whenever the case had come up before the Supreme Court, there has been immense pressure created on the Court by the Centre to hear the matter urgently, in order to cynically use the case to viciously polarise voters, and whip up ‘communal hysteria’. The pro-government channels would run the most hateful campaigns of “Hindus’ patience running thin, while waiting for the Apex Court’s judgment”, so as to pressurise the Court. This ploy reached its crescendo when a Constitution Bench was set up by the Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi to hear the matter in January, 2019.
On 26th February, 2019, the Constitution Bench of 5 Judges of the Supreme Court observed that “we have suggested to the parties that during the interregnum, a Court appointed and court monitored mediation with utmost confidentiality could be initiated to bring a permanent solution to the issues raised in the cases.”
This was reiterated by the Apex Court on 8th March, 2019 when it gave a detailed order of mediation, stating that “we do not find any legal impediment to making a reference to mediation for a possible settlement of the dispute(s) arising out of the appeals.” The Court then appointed a panel of mediators, including Justice F. M. I. Khalifullah (Retd.), Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and Senior Advocate Sri Ram Panchu.
The proceedings will be held in Faizabad, UP and the State government has been ordered to provide the requisite facilities. The panel has been given eight weeks to resolve the dispute, the time which the parties have been given to check the official translations done by the UP government. Further, the media has been asked not to report any details of the proceedings and the proceedings will also be held in camera. The Court suggested that the parties arrive at a compromise, which would be recorded by the Court. Admittedly, the Court recorded that the parties had not consented for mediation, but it noted that the law allowed for mediation.
It is noted that this Babri Masjid dispute is not just a title dispute, though in legal terms, it is a civil suit pertaining to the title of the land. As opposed to the Hindu groups saying that it is ostensibly a matter of ‘faith’, to all believers in the Constitution, it is about justice, fairness and restitution of the horrific crime of the demolition of the mosque. Leaving aside the question that in light of the failure of so many previous attempts at mediation, the issue is should the Justices of the Highest Constitutional Court of this country abdicate its judicial duties in favour of ‘mediation’? And mediation between whom? Between the parties in the suit or the two communities of Hindus and Muslims? Whether these few parties in the civil suit going to represent their own views or also claim to represent the views of millions of community members? These are all vexed questions, with no easy answers.
And the biggest irony is the choice of mediators, i.e., Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, who is almost a mouth piece of the Modi Government and had openly said that Muslims should give up their claims on the Ayodhya land, where the demolished Babri Masjid stood. Should the Court not checked the background of the mediators before suggesting? And also taken into account the timing of mediation. A dispute dating back more than 100 years cannot be expected to be sorted in a span of 2 months, and that too in the middle of a general election of 2019. This is the most inappropriate time, considering how toxic the socio-political system has become against the Muslim community, where their daily lives are under assault everyday, where they are at the risk of being lynched for merely being ‘Muslims’. How is mediation even possible in this completely unequal context? Though the Court had mandated that the mediation proceedings would be confidential, we all know how information is deliberately leaked to the media by vested interests.
When Justice Bobde talked about the need for healing, it is just healing of relations between the two communities, in fact, it is essentially the country of India that needs to heal itself, from the brutal assault on its secular and social fabric from 1992 onwards, and which reached its peak in the last five years. The Supreme Court ought to have seized the opportunity to make a statement that the judicial process could not be hijacked for vile electoral gains, and unless the culprits of the mosque demolition are punished as per law, no mediation was possible. Alas, like often these days, the Supreme Court failed in its basic duty, i.e., to protect the Constitution and its inherent values of secularism and minority rights. (IPA Service)