With Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi’s tenure at the Supreme Court ending on 17 November, the judgment of the court on the Ayodhya title dispute will be pronounced at 10:30 am on Saturday, 9 November.
Arguments in the case – an appeal against the Allahabad High Court’s 2010 judgment splitting the disputed land three ways – were heard by a five-judge bench headed by the CJI for 40 days.
But what was this case actually about? What did the main parties in the case – the Nirmohi Akhara, the Sunni Waqf Board and ‘Ram Lalla Virajman’ – argue to stake claim to the land where the Babri Masjid once stood ? And what are the possible outcomes of this case?
The case heard by the Supreme Court was pared down to one simple question:
Who has title over (ie, who is the rightful owner of) the 2.77 acres of land on which the Babri Masjid once stood?
It is important to note that this case predates the destruction of the Babri Masjid by kar sevaks in December 1992 and is not related to that per se. Criminal proceedings relating to that incident continue, and have unfortunately not been heard with the urgency demonstrated by the apex court in this case.
The first legal dispute over the area came in 1885. After having been refused permission to build a temple at the ‘Ram Chabutra’ area adjoining the mosque, Mahant Raghubar Das filed a title suit in the district court in Faizabad, seeking a right to ownership over the land.
The ‘chabutra’, a raised platform for worship, had been built there after violence between Hindus and Muslims between 1853 and 1855, which originated over Muslim claims that the Hanumangarhi Hindu temple nearby had been built over a mosque. From initial records, it appears that the site of the chabutra was claimed to be Ram’s birthplace, not the area under the dome of the Babri Masjid itself.
The court rejected Raghubar Das’ suit in 1886, denying the Hindus any ownership over the area, and refusing permission for them to build a temple there. The verdict was upheld on appeal.
However, there were soon fresh clashes between Hindus and Muslims at the site, and the Muslims never fully recovered it after them, causing disruptions in their ability to pray at the mosque. Among the Hindu groups involved was the Nirmohi Akhara, a sect that claimed to have been worshipping Lord Ram at his ‘birthplace’ since the 1400s.
In 1934, fresh communal riots took place in Ayodhya over the killing of a cow, leading to a mob of Hindus breaking into the area and damaging the Babri Masjid. While they eventually helped pay for repairs to the site, the Nirmohi Akhara bases one of its key legal claims – of possession over the site, from this year.
On the night of 22-23 December 1949, the next major development in the case took place, when idols of Ram, Sita and Laxman were placed inside the mosque. Local authorities disobeyed orders by the government to remove the idols on the pretext that this would cause communal riots.
On 29 December 1949, the Faizabad district court declared the area a disputed site under Section 145 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, and placed it under the ‘receivership’ of the local administration till its ownership was determined. The court also ordered maintenance of the status quo till such time.
The gates to the mosque itself were locked and Muslims were not allowed to enter, but ‘darshan’ of the idols was still permitted through the locked gate.