1. These first appeals centre around a dispute between two religious communities both of whom claim ownership over a piece of land admeasuring 1500 square yards in the town of Ayodhya. The disputed property is of immense significance to Hindus and Muslims. The Hindu community claims it as the birthplace of Lord Ram, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu. The Muslim community claims it as the site of the historic Babri Masjid built by the first Mughal Emperor, Babur. The lands of our country have witnessed invasions and dissensions. Yet they have assimilated into the idea of India everyone who sought their providence, whether they came as merchants, travellers or as conquerors. The history and culture of this country have been home to quests for truth, through the material, the political, and the spiritual. This Court is called upon to fulfil its adjudicatory function where it is claimed that two quests for the truth impinge on the freedoms of the other or violate the rule of law.
2. This Court is tasked with the resolution of a dispute whose origins are as old as the idea of India itself. The events associated with the dispute have spanned the Mughal empire, colonial rule and the present constitutional regime. Constitutional values form the cornerstone of this nation and have facilitated the lawful resolution of the present title dispute through forty-one days of hearings before this Court. The dispute in these appeals arises out of four regular suits which were instituted between 1950 and 1989. Before the Allahabad High Court, voluminous evidence, both oral and documentary was led, resulting in three judgements running the course of 4304 pages. This judgement is placed in challenge in the appeals.
3. The disputed land forms part of the village of Kot Rama Chandra or, as it is otherwise called, Ramkot at Ayodhya, in Pargana Haveli Avadh, of Tehsil Sadar in the District of Faizabad. An old structure of a mosque existed at the site until 6 December 1992. The site has religious significance for the devotees of Lord Ram, who believe that Lord Ram was born at the disputed site. For this reason, the Hindus refer to the disputed site as Ram Janmabhumi or Ram Janmasthan (i.e. birth-place of Lord Ram). The Hindus assert that there existed at the disputed site an ancient temple dedicated to Lord Ram, which was demolished upon the conquest of the Indian sub-continent by Mughal Emperor Babur. On the other hand, the Muslims contended that the mosque was built by or at the behest of Babur on vacant land. Though the significance of the site for the Hindus is not denied, it is the case of the Muslims that there exists no proprietary claim of the Hindus over the disputed property.
4. A suit was instituted in 1950 before the Civil Judge at Faizabad by a Hindu worshipper, Gopal Singh Visharad seeking a declaration that according to his religion and custom, he is entitled to offer prayers at the main Janmabhumi temple near the idols.
5. The Nirmohi Akhara represents a religious sect amongst the Hindus, known as the Ramanandi Bairagis. The Nirmohis claim that they were, at all material times, in charge and management of the structure at the disputed site which according to them was a temple‘ until 29 December 1949, on which date an attachment was ordered under Section 145 of the Code of Criminal 1898. In effect, they claim as shebaits in service of the deity, managing its affairs and receiving offerings from devotees. Theirs is a Suit of 1959 for the management and charge of â€—the temple‘.
6. The Uttar Pradesh Sunni Central Board of Waqf (Sunni Central Waqf Board) and other Muslim residents of Ayodhya instituted a suit in 1961 for declaration of their title to the disputed site. According to them, the old structure was a mosque which was built on the instructions of Emperor Babur by Mir Baqi who was the Commander of his forces, following the conquest of the subcontinent by the Mughal Emperor in the third decade of the sixteenth century. The Muslims deny that the mosque was constructed on the site of a destroyed temple. According to them, prayers were uninterruptedly offered in the mosque until 23 December 1949 when a group of Hindus desecrated it by placing idols within the precincts of its three-domed structure with the intent to destroy, damage and defile the Islamic religious structure. The Sunni Central Waqf Board claims a declaration of title and, if found necessary, a decree for possession.
7. A suit was instituted in 1989 by a next friend on behalf of the deity (Bhagwan Shri Ram Virajmanâ€–) and the birth-place of Lord Ram (Asthan Shri Ram Janmabhumi). The suit is founded on the claim that the law recognises both the idol and the birth-place as juridical entities. The claim is that the place of birth is sanctified as an object of worship, personifying the divine spirit of Lord Ram. Hence, like the idol (which the law recognises as a juridical entity), the place of birth of the deity is claimed to be a legal person, or as it is described in legal parlance, to possess a juridical status. A declaration of title to the disputed site coupled with injunctive relief has been sought
8. These suits, together with a separate suit by Hindu worshippers were transferred by the Allahabad High Court to itself for trial from the civil court at Faizabad. The High Court rendered a judgment in original proceedings arising out of the four suits and these appeals arise out of the decision of a Full Bench dated 30 September 2010. The High Court held that the suits filed by the Sunni Central Waqf Board and by Nirmohi Akhara were barred by limitation. Despite having held that those two suits were barred by time, the High Court held in a split 2:1 verdict that the Hindu and Muslim parties were joint holders of the disputed premises. Each of them was held entitled to one third of the disputed property. The Nirmohi Akhara was granted the remaining one third. A preliminary decree to that effect was passed in the suit brought by the idol and the birth-place of Lord Ram through the next friend.
9. Before deciding the appeals, it is necessary to set out the significant events which have taken place in the chequered history of this litigation, which spans nearly seven decades.
10. The disputed site has been a flash point of continued conflagration over decades. In 1856-57, riots broke out between Hindus and Muslims in the vicinity of the structure. The colonial government attempted to raise a buffer between the two communities to maintain law and order by set ting up a grill-brick wall having a height of six or seven feet. This would divide the premises into two parts: the inner portion which would be used by the Muslim community and the outer portion or courtyard, which would be used by the Hindu community. The outer courtyard has several structures of religious significance for the Hindus, such as the Sita Rasoi and a platform called the Ramchabutra. In 1877, another door was opened on the northern side of the outer courtyard by the colonial government, which was given to the Hindus to control and manage. The bifurcation, as the record shows, did not resolve the conflict and there were numerous attempts by one or other of the parties to exclude the other.
11. In January 1885, Mahant Raghubar Das, claiming to be the Mahant of Ram Janmasthan instituted a suit1 (Suit of 1885) before the Sub-Judge, Faizabad. The relief which he sought was permission to build a temple on the Ramchabutra situated in the outer courtyard, measuring seventeen feet by twenty-one feet. A sketch map was filed with the plaint. On 24 December 1885, the trial judge dismissed the suit, `noting that there was a possibility of riots breaking out between the two communities due to the proposed construction of a temple. The trial judge, however, observed that there could be no question or doubt regarding the possession and ownership of the Hindus over the Chabutra. On 18 March 1886, the District Judge dismissed the appeal against the judgment of the Trial Court2 but struck off the observations relating to the ownership of Hindus of the Chabutra contained in the judgment of the Trial Court. On 1 November 1886, the Judicial Commissioner of Oudh dismissed the second appeal3, noting that the Mahant had failed to present evidence of title to establish ownership of the Chabutra. In 1934, there was yet another conflagration between the two communities. The domed structure of the mosque was damaged during the incident and was subsequently repaired at the cost of the colonial government.
12. The controversy entered a new phase on the night intervening 22 and 23 December 1949, when the mosque was desecrated by a group of about fifty or sixty people who broke open its locks and placed idols of Lord Ram under the central dome. A First Information Report (FIR) was registered in relation to the incident. On 29 December 1949, the Additional City Magistrate, Faizabad-cum-Ayodhya issued a preliminary order under Section 145 of the Code of Criminal Procedure 18984 (CrPC 1898), treating the situation to be of an emergent nature. Simultaneously, an attachment order was issued and Priya Datt Ram, the Chairman of the Municipal Board of Faizabad was appointed as the receiver of the inner courtyard. On 5 January 1950, the receiver took charge of the inner courtyard and prepared an inventory of the attached properties. The Magistrate passed a preliminary order upon recording satisfaction that the dispute between the two communities over their claims to worship and proprietorship over the structure would likely lead to a breach of peace. The stakeholders were allowed to file their written statements. Under the Magistrate‘s order, only two or three pujaris were permitted to go inside the place where the idols were kept, to perform religious ceremonies like bhog and puja. Members of the general public were restricted from entering and were only allowed darshan from beyond the grill-brick wall.
(1) Whenever a District Magistrate, or an Executive Magistrate specially empowered by the Government in this behalf is satisfied from a police-report or other information that a dispute likely to cause a breach of the peace exists concerning any land or water of the boundaries thereof, within the local limits of his jurisdiction, he shall make an order in writing, stating the grounds of his being so satisfied, and requiring the parties concerned in such dispute to attend his Court in person or by pleader, within a time to be fixed by such Magistrate, and to put in written statements of their respective claims as respects the fact of actual possession of the subject of dispute.
13. On 16 January 1950, a suit was instituted by a Hindu devotee, Gopal Singh Visharad5, (Suit 1) before the Civil Judge at Faizabad, alleging that he was being prevented by officials of the government from entering the inner courtyard of the disputed site to offer worship. A declaration was sought to allow the plaintiff to offer prayers in accordance with the rites and tenets of his religion (Sanatan Dharm) at the - main Janmabhumiâ€–, near the idols, within the inner courtyard, without hindrance. On the same date, an ad-interim injunction was issued in the suit. On 19 January 1950, the injunction was modified to prevent the idols from being removed from the disputed site and from causing interference in the performance of puja. On 3 March 1951, the Trial Court confirmed the ad-interim order, as modified. On 26 May 1955, the appeal6 against the interim order was dismissed by the High Court of Allahabad.
To read the full judgment, find the enclosed file