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On September 30, 2010, a three-judge Bench of the Allahabad High Court attempted to put an end to a six-decade-old legal dispute over 2.77 acres of land in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh. Five suits in the matter were filed between 1950 and 1989.
Before the dispute came to the courts, the site was being used jointly by Hindus and Muslims for worship, with Muslims conducting their prayers in the Babri Masjid mosque in the inner courtyard, and Hindus occupying the outer courtyard. However, it was a long-standing Hindu belief that the land marked the birthplace of Lord Ram. Further, it was also believed by the Hindu community that a temple had stood in Ayodhya before it was demolished to build the Babri Masjid mosque.
During the colonial era, the British government put a fence on the property to demarcate Hindu and Muslim areas of worship. In December 1949, a crowd of people entered the mosque and installed a Hindu idol beneath the Central dome of the mosque, believed to be the birthplace of Ram. Following the 1949 incident, the area was sealed off citing the sub judice suits filed disputing rights over the land by Hindu and Muslim parties.
When it was de-sealed on the orders of a civil court in 1986, the Hindu parties were allowed to conduct worship under the Central dome of the mosque where the makeshift temple had been installed. Communal tensions built up over the years and came to hilt in December 1992 when a mob of over 20,000 kar sevaks demolished the Babri Masjid mosque.
Meanwhile, four of five suits filed in the matter were pending before the High Court (the second suit filed was withdrawn in 1990). Whereas the suits were initially placed before a Faizabad civil court, they were eventually withdrawn and transferred to be heard by a Full Bench of the Allahabad High Court in 1989.
The case was ultimately decided by a three-judge Bench comprising of Justices SU Khan, Sudhir Agarwal and Dharam Veer Sharma, each of whom wrote separate, detailed judgments, which cumulatively run to over 8,000 pages. The three judges concurred on most points, including the final decision as regards the partition of the disputed property.
What the High Court held
The High Court decided that the main parties to the dispute i.e. the Hindu parties, the Muslim Parties and the Nirmoha Akhara would hold joint title to the disputed property. As a result, the Bench unanimously held that the property should be split three ways equally, with a third of the property going to each party.
The decision was taken, inter alia, given that the parties had failed to prove commencement of their title and in view of the fact that Hindus and Muslims had been using the land jointly for long before the dispute reached the court (as per Justice SU Khan). “It was very very unique and absolutely unprecedented situation that in side the boundary wall and compound of the mosque Hindu religious places were there which were actually being worshipped along with offerings of Namaz by Muslims in the mosque,” Justice Khan noted.
On which part of the site goes to which party
The Bench directed that the portion before the central dome of the “three-domed structure” (mosque), where a makeshift idol had been kept, would be allotted to the Hindus. The Court made the allotment in view of the significance of this area in Hindu belief as the birthplace of Lord Ram.
The Nirmohi Akhara was allotted the part of the property in the outer courtyard which has the Ram Chabutra and Sita Rasoi structures. The Muslim Parties were to be given the remaining portions of the property (both inner and outer courtyard) to the extent of their allotted share of 1/3rd.
All parties were expected to allow exit and entry rights to the others. In this regard, it was observed separate entry for egress and ingress of the people may be provided without disturbing each others rights.
The order added that if while allotting exact portions some minor adjustment in the share is to be made then the same will be made and the adversely affected party may be compensated by allotting some portion of the adjoining land which has been acquired by the Central Government.
Points of Dissent
Whereas it had little bearing on the final verdict, the Bench was not unanimous on its findings as to whether there existed a Hindu temple that was demolished to build the Babri Masjid mosque. On this aspect Justices Agarwal and Sharma relied on ASI findings to conclude that a Hindu temple-like structure had been demolished in order to build the Babri Masjid mosque.
In this regard, Justice Agarwal found, that “The building in dispute (Babri Masjid) was constructed after demolition of Non- Islamic religious structure, i.e., a Hindu temple.“
Justice Sharma concluded, “The disputed structure (Babri Masjid) was constructed on the site of old structure after demolition of the same. The Archaeological Survey of India has proved that the structure was a massive Hindu religious structure.”
However, Justice Khan dissented on this point, opining that “No temple was demolished for constructing the mosque. Mosque was constructed over the ruins of temples which were lying in utter ruins since a very long time before the construction of mosque and some material thereof was used in construction of the mosque.”
Another point of dissent between the judges was on who built the Babri Masjid. Whereas Justices Khan and Sharma concluded that the mosque was constructed on orders by Mughal emperor Babur, Justice Agarwal found that, “it has not been proved that it was built during the reign of Babar in 1528.” He further added, “In the absence of any otherwise pleadings and material it is difficult to hold as to when and by whom the disputed structure was constructed but this much is clear that the same was constructed before the visit of Joseph Tieffenthaler in Oudh area between 1766 to 1771.”
On the other hand, Justice Khan found that, “The disputed structure was constructed as mosque by or under orders of Babar.”
Justice Sharma agreed with Khan on this point, concluding that “The disputed building was constructed by Babar.” However, he also opined that the structure was constructed against the tenets of Islam, and therefore, it could not be viewed as a mosque.
“…the year is not certain but it was built against the tenets of Islam. Thus, it cannot have the character of a mosque … it is established that the disputed structure cannot be treated as a mosque as it came into existence against the tenets of Islam,” held Justice Sharma.
All parties to the dispute eventually moved the Supreme Court in appeal. The Supreme Court stayed the High Court judgment in 2011. Final hearings in the matter commenced before a five-judge Bench of the Supreme Court in August this year, and continued on a day-to-day basis until mid-October. Judgment in the case were reserved on October 16.
The full judgment rendered by the Allahabad High Court may be accessed here.