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Sandeep Sahu

By Sandeep Sahu

Judicial pronouncements invariably leave one side disgruntled. So, it was not exactly a surprise to see the Muslim parties feel hard done by the long awaited Supreme Court verdict in the vexed Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute on Saturday.

While the petitioners themselves have been rather subdued in expressing their disappointment, the virulence with which some leading commentators have slammed the judgment is rather surprising. Some of them have gone on to impute motives to the apex court and accusing the learned judges of surrendering/pandering to the majoritarian narrative dominating the national discourse these days. “Violence has been rewarded,” screamed. “Vandalism legitimized,” said another. “High minded secular rhetoric doesn’t blunt majoritarian edge of ruling,” wrote columnist Akaar Patel in The Times of India.

There have been occasions in the recent past when the Supreme Court ruling on a case has defied all logic, reason and the principle of fair play, most notably in the court’s refusal to entertain a plea seeking a reopening of the case involving the mysterious death of Judge Loya. But the verdict on Babri Masjid title suit, I am afraid, is not one of them. Given the complexities of the case and the sensitivities involved, the Supreme Court has done the best it could have done.

The thrust of the criticism directed at the verdict of the five-judge bench led by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi is that it has been influenced by majoritarian sentiments. “Once you concede that the surreptitious placing of the Ram Lalla idol in the mosque on the night of December 22-23, 1949 and the demolition of the mosque on December 6, 1992 were illegal acts, how can you then go on to award the disputed piece of land to the very same the people who were responsible for the demolition in the first place?” goes the reasoning.

But then the court was not deciding either of these two cases. The case on the demolition is being heard by the court separately. What the court was hearing instead was a civil suit over a piece of 2.77 acre land. Based on the irrefutable evidence presented by the Archeological Survey of India (ASI), the main plank on which the verdict rested, that a pillared, no-Islamic structure resembling a temple did exist below the now demolished mosque, I wonder how the bench could have decided otherwise. True, the ASI report arrived at this conclusion based on the artefacts and architectural fragments found during excavation of the site. But as several legal experts have emphasized, unlike in a criminal case where the facts of the case have to be established beyond doubt, civil suits frequently take recourse to what may be called the ‘law of probability’ in cases where things cannot be settled beyond any doubt. In the absence of irrefutable evidence, the SC has done just that in this case.

The problem with this line of criticism is that it refuses to acknowledge the tell-tale archeological evidence available at the place from the period before 1528, when the Babri Masjid was built by Babar’s general Mir Baqi. I have a sneaking suspicion this refusal to see the obvious is deliberate because it doesn’t really go with the ‘Muslims wronged’ narrative the critics have been pursuing. If anything, it runs the risk of portraying the Hindus too as a wronged community. If the verdict is an ‘injustice’ to the Muslims, would it have been ‘justice’ if the land had been handed over the Muslim parties disregarding all the archeological evidence placed before the court? Similarly, the argument that the disputed piece of land was, in effect, given to those who demolished the Babri Mosque is rather disingenuous. Surely, these commentators know that the ownership of the land has been vested with a trust to be formed by the Government of India within three months and not the Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas, the VHP backed outfit.

Some quarters have also voiced the apprehension that the award of the land to the Hindu side would encourage the forces of Hindutva to rake up similar politically motivated campaigns in Kashi, Mathura and other places sacred to the Hindus. This is certainly a valid apprehension. Sure, there is a law in place – the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991 – that protects the religious character of all places of worship as they existed at the time of independence. Having just tasted ‘victory’ in an important case, they Hindutva forces may be lying low for the moment. But given their belligerence, nothing stops them from raking up Kashi or Mathura in future, despite the existence of the 1991 Act. After all, wasn’t “Faith is greater than law” their war cry during the Ram Janmabhoomi movement? But the question is: was the Supreme Court expected to factor in this possibility while ruling on the title suit on hand?

Whether Lord Ram was born at this particular place – or even whether Ram was a historical character – is purely in the realm of faith and therefore open to dispute. Even the question whether the Ram temple was demolished to make way for the Babri Masjid could not be settled by the court on the evidence available. But what has been established beyond any shred of doubt is that a Hindu temple did exist beneath the place where the mosque stood before 1992. Once this basic premise was settled, there was only one way the SC could have decided and it has done just that. The fact that the court felt the need to summon its powers under Article 142 of the Constitution to award five acres of land in Ayodhya for the construction of a mosque suggests it was mindful of the hurt sentiments of the Muslims community.

But Muslim hurt would be truly assuaged - and one of the most prolonged disputes in the nation’s history would have a real closure – only when the culprits responsible for the destruction of the Babri Masjid, perhaps the second biggest blot on the secular fabric of the nation after the partition riots, are punished. Now that the Supreme Court has emphatically and unambiguously called it ‘an egregious violation of the rule of law’, here is hoping that the bench hearing the case would expedite the hearing and dispense justice soon.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)

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