The Ayodhya/Bhabri Masjid land dispute is over 165 years old, with the very first recorded legal suit being filed in the year 1885 and ever since then a series of suits and appeals have been preferred by the litigants and the incumbent governments. The constitutional validity and the merits of all these appeals and judgements will soon be decided when the Apex Court finally puts to rest the land dispute that has made the country bleed.
What is the Ayodhya/Bhabri Masjid Land Dispute?
The Ayoodhya/Bhabri Masjid Land dispute dates back to the period of Mughals and the first recorded dispute between the litigants dates back to 1885 when the Mahant of Hanumanghiri Temple at Ajudha/Ayodhya claimed that a Masjid was built by demolishing the temple and the Muslim cleric claiming in the contrary, to put the claims to rest the then Nawab of Oudh instituted an enquiry into the dispute between the interested parties and suggested that a Masjid be built adjacent to the Hanumanghiri Temple.
The Civil Suit of 1885 in the Ayodhya/Bhabri Masjid Land Dispute
The first recorded legal dispute dates back to 1885 between the litigants when the Mahant of Hanumanghiri Temple decided to build a temple around the platform that was raised at the disputed site for the Hindu worshippers to which the Maulavi of the Mosque and the Muslims strongly objected. Aggrieved by the objection raised the Mahant of Hanumanghiri Temple preferred a suit in front of Sub-Judge, Faizabad to allow him to construct a temple around the platform and also declare him as the owner of the land. Pandit Hare Krishna, the then Sub Judge presiding over the matter dismissed the suit of the Mahant of Hanumanghiri Temple and held that,“If a temple is constructed on the chabutra(Platform) at such a place then there will be sound of bells of the temple and shankh (conch shells) when both Hindus and Muslims pass from the same way, and if permission is given to Hindus for constructing temple then one day or the other criminal cases will be started and thousands of people will be killed."
The Appeals of 1886 in the Ayodhya/Bhabri Masjid Dispute
The Mahant of Hanumanghiri Temple aggrieved by the Judgement passed by the Sub Judge, Faizabad preferred an appeal to the District Judge to over turn and set aside the order and Judgement of the Sub-judge. Col. F.E.A Chamier presiding over the matter once again dismissed the Appeal of the Mahant of Hanumanghiri Temple, upholding the verdict of the Sub Judge and observed, “It is most unfortunate that a masjid should have been built on land specially held sacred by the Hindus, but as that event occurred 356 years ago it is too late to remedy the grievance."
The Mahant of Hanumanghiri Temple unsatisfied with the verdicts of the Sub-Judge and District Judge, Faizabad preferred an appeal to the District Commissioner of Oudh. W. Young the then District Commissioner of Oudh dismissing the appeal of the Mahant of Hanumanghiri upheld the verdict of both the Sub Judge and District Judge and observed that,“Now this spot is situated within the precinct of the grounds surrounding a mosque erected some 350 years ago owing to the bigotry and tyranny of the Emperor Babur, who purposely chose this holy spot, according to Hindu legend, as the site of his mosque. Hindus had been persistently trying to increase their rights to the property and to “erect buildings on two spots in the enclosure: (1) Sita ki Rasoi (b) Ram Chandar ki Janam Bhumi.” But the executive authorities, he said, had been right in forbidding any “alteration of the status quo.”
The Civil Suit of 1949
The orders of the courts of law ensured status quo of the disputed site only to be disrupted on 22nd December, 1949 when idols of Ram where smuggled into the central Dome of the Babri Masjid by Hindu activists. As communal tensions sparked between the Hindus and Muslims the District Magistrate appointed Babu Priyadatta Ram, the chairman of the Municipal Board as the receiver of the disputed land. The Chairman of the Municipal Board took over the Disputed land on January 1950.
The Civil Suit of 1950
In January 1950 Gopal Singh Varshad filed a Civil Suit registered as No.2/1950 and pleaded that he be allowed to worship Ram in the central Dome of the Masjid and also sought permanent Injunction against the removal of idols from the Masjid. The District Judge presiding over the matter granted temporary injunction to Gopal Singh Varshad and later modified his order in January, which now read, “The parties are hereby restrained by means of the temporary injunction to refrain from removing the idols in question from the site of dispute and from interfering with the puja, etc, as at present carried on. The undisputed fact remains that on the date of this suit the idols of Shri Bhagwan Ram Chandra and others did exist on the site and that worship was being performed…though under some restrictions put by the executives. It is a matter of admission between the parties that there are several mosques in the mohalla in question. The local Muslims will not, therefore, be put to much inconvenience, if the interim injunction remains in force during the pendency of the case.”
The suits of 1950,1959 and 1961
While the above suit remained pending three fresh suits were filed by individual parties seeking similar relief . In December 1950, Ramchandra Das Paramhansa filed a suit asking for the same relief as Visharad had. In 1959, Nirmohi Akhara and Mahant Raghunath Das filed a suit asking for the management and charge of the Ram Janmabhoomi temple. In 1961, the Sunni Central Board of Waqfs filed the fourth suit asking the Babri Masjid to be declared as a “public mosque” and that it be handed over to them.
The suit of 1986
Umesh Pandey had filed a suit seeking opening of locks of the gate to the disputed site to allow Hindus to perform Pujas at the Disputed site, however his plea was initially dismissed only to be reversed by the then District Judge who held that,“The idols inside the disputed premises were visible from outside. The outer gate had no doors.Inside the main gate there is an enclosure made of grills and two doors have been placed in the inner enclosure. In both the gates locks were placed…. No records are available on this point as to who passed the orders”. After further hearing in the suit, District Judge K.M Pandey held that,“ This appears to be an unnecessary irritant(Locked gates) to the applicant (Umesh C Pandey) and other members of the community. There does not appear any necessity to create an artificial barrier between the idols and the devotees.” Thus allowing the locks to be opened to the disputed site
The suit of 1989
While the Ayodhya/Bhabri Masjid dispute remained sub-judice another suit was filed by a former Retired High Court Judge who demanded that the entire disputed land be declared in favour of the original Plaintiffs and a perpetual injunction be granted from any form of interference at the worship place of the Hindus
The Transfer of all sub-judice matters regarding Ayodhya/Bhabri Masjid Land dispute to the Allahabad High Court
The UP government through an application requested in 1987 that all the matters be transferred to the Allahabad High court and the same was accepted and all the disputed regarding the Ayodhya/Bhabri Masjid Dispute were clubbed and transferred to the Allahabad High Court.
The Demolition of the Mosque
On December 6, 1992 the Mosque was demolished by Hindu activists backed by political forces and a make shift temple was built at the site sparking communal tensions and wide spread killings of the innocent. On January 7, 1993 the PV Narasimha Rao government issued an ordinance taking over 66.7 acres of land in Ayodhya, including the 2.77 acres on which the Bhabri Masjid had stood. The ordinance was later turned into the Acquisition of Certain Area at Ayodhya Act, 1993 and the Act prescribed maintenance of status quo that prevailed just before the acquisition.
The Ayodhya Land Acquisition Act Challenged
The Ayodhya land acquisition act was challenged by the Muslims and this case came to be popularly known as the Ismail Faruqui vs Union of India case which was decided on September 27, 2018 by the Apex Court that dismissed the plea of Ismail Faruqui and held that, “the contentions of the plea need to be viewed from the point of view of land acquisition and hence it is not relevant in the current matter at hand” disallowing the plea from being referred to a larger constitutional bench and upholding the Act.
The Verdict of the Allahabad High Court in the Ayodhya/Bhabri Masjid Land Dispute and its consequences
The Allahabad High Court in the year 2010 delivered its verdict on the Ayodhya/Bhabri Masjid land Dispute and in its verdict partitioned the land 3 ways equally between Ram Virajman, Nirmohi Akhara and the Sunni Waqf Board. The Ayodhya title suits and this decision came to be challenged in the Supreme Court as the dispute was regarding who is the owner of the land and not partition. Justice Sudhir Agarwal delivering the majority held that, “as per the faith and belief" of the Hindus and should not be "obstructed or interfered" with in any manner and justice Khan delivering the minority verdict against the three way partitioning held that, “Hindus and Muslims have worshipped together since centuries and a three way partitioning will only cause disruption of harmony”
The Ayodhya/Bhabri Masjid Dispute Remains in Deep Freeze for over 8 Years
The Ayodhya/Bhabri Masjid Land Dipsute Remains in deep freeze for over 8 years until an application is filed by BJP’s nominated MP to the Rajya Sabha, Dr. Subramanian Swamy requesting that the matter be decided on priority basis and only in 2018 October the Supreme Court began effective hearings on the Ayodhya/ Bhabri Masjid Dispute rejecting pleas of postponement of hearing post the 2019 general elections.
Supreme Court dismisses PIL for speedy hearing in Ayodhya/Bhabri Masjid land Dispute
The Supreme Court in January, 2019 dismissed a PIL filed by Advocate Harinath Ram seeking speedy hearings on the matters relating to the Ayodhya/Bhabri Masjid Dispute and the newly appointed CJI, Ranjan Gogi dismissing the application held, “further orders on the same will be passed by an appropriate bench on January 10,2019”
Government files petition seeking the Supreme Court’s permission to return undisputed land in the Ayodhya/Bhabri Masjid land dispute to its original owners
The government on January 30, 2019 filed a petition seeking permission of return of the superfluous land to its original owners barring the 2.3 acres of disputed land which once again impliedly challenged the Ayodhya land acquisition Act. The application was however decided on July 11th, 2019 when the matter was referred to mediation.
Supreme Court orders and appoints mediators in the Ayodhya/Bhabri Masjid Land Dispute
The Supreme Court on July 11th, 2019 ordered an 8 week mediation and appointed mediators to resolve the land dispute between the litigants. CJI Ranjan Gogoi reading out the judgement said,“the panel is expected to present a status report to the bench four weeks, or a month, into the mediation process” The three mediators appointed by the Supreme Court are FMI Kalifulla, the head and senior advocate Sriram Panchu and spiritual guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.
Supreme Court extends mediation until August 15,2019 but fails to succeed
The Supreme Court extended the mediation process between the litigants from March 8,2019 to August 15th, 2019 in a bid to allow the litigants to arrive at an amicable solution but the litigants failed to arrive at an amicable solution and the mediators sent in a Negative report to the Supreme Court.
Supreme Court to hear the Ayodhya/Bhabri Masjid Land Dispute on a daily basis
Following the failure of the mediation processes in the Ayodhya/Bhabri Masjid land dispute the Supreme Court has decided to hear the matter on a daily basis to put an end to the 165 year old land dispute.
The Ayodhya/Bhabri Masjid land dispute has become an instrument of polarisation for political milage with political parties using it as a poll plank and invoking sentiments of the minority and the majority. A simple civil dispute has caused the nation to bleed and will the Apex Court upholding the principles of law deliver a verdict that is driven purely on law and facts or one on sentiments of the majority and the minority, the answer to the same is awaited.