The Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute dates back to 1992. On 6 December 1992, the entire nation witnessed one of the worst communal clashes in the history of India. People were killed and government stood helplessness when a violent mob tore downed the 16th century Babri Masjid in Ayodhya. Twenty-six years have passed since the demolition of the Babri mosque but still, the case is no close to a rational resolution.
To understand the entire case which has become a festering wound for the nation, one needs to dig deep into the series of events related to the mosque and Ram Temple movement in Ayodhya.
The bloody dispute is all about a plot of land in the city of Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh. The whole issue is regarding this particular piece of land because Hindus as well as Muslims consider this place as sacred. For Hindus, it is the birthplace of Lord Ram. Muslims, on other hand, consider it a holy land as it houses the Babri mosque, where they had offered prayers for years before the dispute.
The trouble goes as far back as 1528 when Mughal emperor Babar ordered his lieutenant Mir Baqi to build a mosque in Ayodhya. Hindus argue that the Ram temple was demolished or modified at that time to build a mosque on top of it. However, Muslims claim that Babri mosque was desecrated by Hindu in 1949 by surreptitiously placing the idols of Lord Ram under the central dome of the mosque.
The dispute took a violent turn in the year 1992, when around two lakh Hindu volunteers, ‘Karsevaks’ demolished the Babri mosque, inciting communal riots across the country. The subsequent riots which killed more than 1,000 people have left a lasting impact on the socio-political fabric of India.
What incited the conflict?
The issue turned ugly in December, 1949 when idols of Lord Ram and Sita were placed inside the mosque with the purpose of converting the existing mosque into the Ram temple. This prompted the conflict following which the gates of the mosque remained closed for the next 40 years. Notably, Hindus were allowed to pray at the site after Mahant Paramhans Ramchandra Das, the chief of Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas, and Gopal Singh Visharad in 1950 filed suits in Faizabad, although the inner courtyard gates remained locked.
Again, in 1959, Nirmohi Akhara, one of the main parties to the dispute, filed a third suit, seeking permission to conduct prayers in the central premises. Then in 1961, while claiming the mosque, the U.P. Sunni Central Wakf Board filed a case arguing that the surrounding area was a graveyard. February 1, 1986 marks an important day as the Faizabad district judge passed an order this day to remove the locks and open the gates of the disputed place for Hindus to offer prayers.
The campaign wave was further escalated on September 25, 1990 when BJP leader L K Advani, with the aim of stirring up support for the issue, started a rath yatra, pilgrimage procession from Somnath to Ayodhya. However, Advani’s rally was stopped and he was arrested in Samastipur, Bihar in November 1990.
The issue cannot be spoken about without mentioning the antagonistic role of the Sangh Parivar. Many of the BJP’s Hindutva brigade leaders, along with RSS, VHP and Bajrang Dal galvanized the campaign to rebuild the Ram temple. Ultimately, on December 6, 1992, the 400-year-old mosque was demolished by kar sevaks and a makeshift temple was positioned in its place.
On 16 December, 1992, ten days after the incident, the Liberhan Commission of India was constituted by the P.V. Narasimha Rao-led government to investigate the demolition of the Babri Mosque. The commission found senior BJP leaders, like Atal Bihari Vajpayee, LK Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, Kalyan Singh, Pramod Mahajan, Uma Bharti and Vijayaraje Scindia, as well as VHP leaders like Giriraj Kishore and Ashok Singhal guilty in the case.
To resolve the matter, the Archeological Survey of India (ASI) was ordered to excavate the disputed site on March 5, 2003. ASI in its report to the Allahabad High Court, claimed to discover evidences of a 10th century temple beneath the mosque.
On September 30, 2010, the Allahabad High Court ruled that the disputed land would be divided into three equal parts – one-third going to the Ram Lalla, for the construction of the Ram temple; one-third going to the Islamic Sunni Waqf Board and the remaining to Nirmohi Akhara, a Hindu religious denomination. The verdict was, however, challenged by the Hindu and Muslim groups and the Supreme Court in 2011 suspended the ruling.
This long-standing dispute took political color and became a watershed for Hindu-Muslim polarisation in India. Although, a Special Judge SK Shukla, in 2001 dropped conspiracy charge against 13 accused, including Advani and Kalyan Singh. But in a setback to the BJP, the Supreme Court of India on April 19, 2017 revived these conspiracy charges and directed the special court to “complete the trial and deliver the judgment within a period of two years”. The court on May 30, 2017, charged BJP stalwarts LK Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, and Uma Bharti with criminal conspiracy in the Babri Masjid demolition case.
There are two cases, one in Lucknow and the other in Raebareli, associated with the contentious Babri mosque demolition incident. The Raebareli court had been hearing the case against leaders of the BJP and Vishwa Hindu Parishad while the Lucknow trial court is hearing case against karsevaks.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court rejected the plea of Sunni Waqf Board and others to extend the hearing of appeals in the sensitive Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute post general elections 2019. In April 2017, the Supreme Court had ordered that a day-to-day trial be held in the case, and said it should be closed by April 19, 2019. The Supreme Court has now asked for a report from session judge in Lucknow on how he intends to complete the trial in the Babri Masjid demolition case by the April 2019 deadline.
The Ayodhya dispute has always been a point of debate between lawyers and historians. The mosque was razed down but the controversy surrounding the shrine has refused to die down. The horror and shame that gripped the nation twenty-six years ago now needs to make way for a rational judgment. Both, historical facts and religious sentiments are to be taken into account in deciding this case which has become the battle for India’s soul. However, may be the matter may never be amicably and satisfactorily be resolved.