2.7 Acres & a Mosque: Ayodhya Land Dispute Over Years Explained

Here’s how arguably the Babri Masjid land dispute — arguably India’s most controversial court case — unfolded. 

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2.77 acres.

Independent India’s most controversial court case – the Babri Masjid land dispute – is over just this much land. Yes, that’s the total area of disputed land in Ayodhya. A couple of apartment blocks. Smaller than your average cricket ground.

And yet, it’s a land dispute which has spanned the Mughal era, British rule and now, in 2019, when a five-judge Bench of the Supreme Court finally declared its verdict on the case. The court directed that Hindus will get the disputed land subject to conditions. The inner courtyard, the verdict said, will be handed over to a Centre-led Trust, and a suitable plot of land measuring 5 acres shall be given to Sunni Waqf Board.

But, what is the disputed land, how has it changed and who is staking claim on what part?

This is how the disputed site looks:

Besides the three domes, there’s a raised platform structure called Ram Chabutra, a structure called Sita Rasoi, and gates called Hanuman Dwar and Sinh Dwar.

The dispute over this land has a long and complex history. It all began in 1885.


1885: Mahant Raghubir Das Tries to Build a Temple

In 1885, Mahant Ragubir Das wanted to build a temple at Ram Chabutra, which is said to be built in 1855 after violence between Hindus and Muslims. Important to our story is the fact that initial records show this was the area considered to be Lord Ram’s birthplace.

But Raghubir Das was refused permission to do so. So, he filed a title suit in the district court of Faizabad and sought ownership of the land. He was denied ownership as well as permission to build a temple. At the time, the British felt doing so would stir a Hindu-Muslim conflict.

Fast-forward to nearly a century later – 1949.


1949: Idols Placed Inside Central Dome

On the night of 22-23 December 1949, idols of Ram, Sita and Laxman were placed inside the mosque, under the central dome, by Abhiram Das and a group of local sadhus. They rang bells inside the mosque and sang prayers to the statues, all under the central dome.

Despite Jawaharlal Nehru, then Prime Minister, writing to Govind Ballabh Pant, then Chief Minister of United Provinces, the idols weren’t removed from inside the mosque. Authorities said doing so would cause communal conflict.

A few days later, on 29 December 1949, the Faizabad district court declared the area a disputed site. This is the Ayodhya disputed land area.


Nirmohi Akhara & Sunni Waqf Board File Claim

The lock on Babri wouldn’t be broken until thirty-seven years later – in 1986. But before this happened, two important parties staked claim to the land.

In 1959, Nirmohi Akhara filed a claim saying they had been managing the site and praying to Lord Ram since the Middle Ages.

Their claims were – one, Babri Masjid was built after destroying a Hindu temple which commemorated Lord Ram’s birthplace and two, Babri Masjid was not a mosque.

In 1961, Sunni Central Board of Waqfs staked claim. They said Babri Masjid was a mosque according to Islam and the land was owned by them since it was granted to them as waqf property in the Mughal era. They also said they had been worshipping at the site till 1949. Basically, before the idols inside the mosque were installed inside the central dome.

While litigation was underway, 1986 brought a major twist to the history of the Babri Masjid site. A twist that would elevate the 2.7 acre stretch of land to national consciousness and making Babri Masjid a political issue.


1986: Locks Broken & Ram Janmbhoomi Becoming a National Issue

The locks to the disputed site were broken on the orders of a district judge.

Two days after the lock was opened, the High Court was petitioned by a group of Muslim lawyers. They wanted nothing more to happen to the site. In response, the judge issued that “status quo” be maintained.


1989: Ram Lalla Virajman Files Claim

While there have been others who’ve filed a claim to the Babri Masjid land, it’s important to remember three – Nirmohi Akhara, Sunni Waqf Board, and in 1989, Ram Lalla Virajman and Ram Janmbhoomi.

In 1989, a suit was filed by Ram Lalla Virajman or the God’s idol and Lord Ram’s birthplace. The deity and the land was represented by Deoki Nandan Agarwala. Yes, in India law does recognise that deities are considered as legal persons. What did this suit say? It argued that one the WHOLE disputed land is Ram Janmbhoomi and has been a site of worship since “time immemorial.” So, nobody could own the site, except Lord Ram himself.

In August 1989, the Allahabad High Court combined all the cases and decided to hear them. But politically, the Ram Janmbhoomi movement was gaining strength, culminating in the Babri Masjid demolition in 1992.


1992: Babri Masjid Is Demolished

On the morning of 6 December 1992, Babri Masjid was surrounded by 1.5 lakh karsevaks or volunteers. On a scaffolding-like rooftop, Bharataiya Janata Party (BJP) and Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leaders were present. Around noon, some karsevaks broke through the security surrounding the site and climbed onto the central dome.

It was at this point that Mahant Satyendra Das and a couple of other people shifted the idols inside the dome, which were installed in 1949, to a nearby shelter. Within two hours, one of the domes collapsed. By five in the evening, Babri Masjid was demolished.

After the demolition, VHP leaders formed the Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas (RJN). Nyas bought 42 acres of the ‘superfluous/excess’ land around the disputed site. In 1993, the Centre acquired 67 acres of land around the disputed site, including the 42 acres acquired by Ram Janmbhoomi Nyas, through an ordinance and then the, Acquisition of Certain Area at Ayodhya Act in 1993. And so, the area around the disputed site looks like this.


2010: Allahabad HC Divides the Land

After years of hearing, the Allahabad HC delivered a judgment on 30 September 2010. The judgment divided the disputed land among three parties – Nirmohi Akhara, Ram Lalla Virajman and Sunni Waqf Board.

According to the judgment – the three central domes were allotted to Ram Lalla. The court said that Ram Lalla and Ram Janmbhoomi had rights to the land because of the BELIEF that this was the birthplace of Lord Ram. Ram Chabutra and Sita Rasoi were given to Nirmohi Akhara, Sunni Waqf Board was to be allotted one-third of the land, with the land acquired by the government to ensure they got their share.

None of the parties in the case, had asked for a partition of the land; and unsurprisingly, none were happy with the HC judgement. Appeals were filed in the Supreme Court, and order in the case was reserved in October 2019.

The Supreme Court’s verdict, delivered by a five-judge Bench, will be the final chapter in the long and complex history of what is arguably the most important court case in Independent India’s history. Whatever happens, all eyes will be on Ayodhya

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