New Delhi: The discord between Hindus and Muslims over the ownership of the disputed site in Ayodhya, believed to be Lord Ram's birthplace, that spanned the Mughal empire, colonial rule, post-Independence era, finally ended on Saturday when the Supreme Court paved the way for construction of a temple there.
Referring to the chequered past of the dispute, a bench headed by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi in its judgement noted that Hindus have always asserted that an ancient temple dedicated to Lord Ram existed at the site and it was demolished when the Indian sub-continent was conquered by Mughal Emperor Babur in the third decade of the 16th century.
On the other hand, Muslims contended that the Babri mosque was built at the behest of Babur on a vacant land, noted the bench, comprising Justices S A Bobde, D Y Chandrachud, Ashok Bhushan and S Abdul Nazeer.
It observed the site was a flash-point of "continued conflagration" over the decades and in 1856-57, riots broke out between Hindus and Muslims in the vicinity of the mosque.
In a bid to maintain law and order and peace between the two religious communities, the colonial government put up a six-to-seven-feet-tall grill-brick wall dividing the premises into the inner and outer courtyards, the court said.
The inner one was used by Muslims to offer 'namaz' and Hindus performed 'pujas' in the outer courtyard where they had built a platform — the Ram Chabutra — close to the grilled wall, the bench noted in its 1045-page judgment.
The bifurcation did not resolve the conflict and there were numerous attempts by both sides to exclude the other, the bench said.
The first such attempt was made in January 1885, when Mahant Raghubar Das, claiming to be the Mahant of Ram Janmasthan, filed a suit before the sub-judge of Faizabad, seeking permission to build a temple in the outer courtyard.
The litigation initiated by Das was unsuccessful as it was dismissed by the trial judge in December 1885, noting that there could be communal riots over the proposed construction, and subsequently, appeals against the decision were dismissed. "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," the apex court noted. From 1934 to 1949, there were several "skirmishes" between the two sides and the "controversy entered a new phase" on the intervening night of December 22-23, 1949, "when the mosque was desecrated by a group of about 50-60 people who broke open its locks and placed idols of Lord Ram under the central dome", the bench said.
On December 29, 1949, Additional City Magistrate of Faizabad-cum-Ayodhya issued an order attaching the disputed site and entrusting it to Priya Datt Ram, the Chairman of the Municipal Board, who was appointed as the receiver.
Thereafter, on January 16, 1950, a suit was instituted by a Hindu devotee — Gopal Singh Visharad — before the Civil Judge at Faizabad, alleging he was being prevented by government officials from entering the inner courtyard to worship.
An interim order was passed in the matter, preventing the idols from being removed from there and from causing interference in the performance of puja and on May 26, 1955, an appeal against the decision was dismissed by the Allahabad High Court. Another suit was filed on December 5, 1950, by Paramhans Ramchandra Das before the Civil Judge, Faizabad, seeking similar reliefs as in the one by Visharad.
It was withdrawn on September 18, 1990. During the hearing of the suit filed by Visharad, a court commissioner was appointed to prepare a map of the disputed premises and on May 25, 1950, he filed a report annexing two site plans of the area.
The apex court judgement further notes that on December 17, 1959, the Nirmohi Akhara filed a suit through its Mahant claiming that its absolute right of managing the affairs of the site and the temple had been impacted by the magistrate's order and sought that the management and charge of the temple and site be handed over to it.
Thereafter, the other side also pitched in with their claims to the site with the Sunni Central Waqf Board and nine Muslim residents of Ayodhya filing a suit on December 18, 1961, seeking a declaration that the entire disputed site of the Babri Masjid was a public mosque, the place be handed over to them and and the idols be removed.
On January 25, 1986, an application was filed by one Umesh Chandra before the trial court for breaking open the locks placed on the grill-brick wall and for allowing the public to perform darshan within the inner courtyard. On February 1, 1986, the district judge directed opening of the locks, but decision was challenged in the Allahabad High Court which on February 3, 1986 directed that nature of property shall not be altered till further orders.
On July 1, 1989, another suit was filed by the deity and the birth-place, through a next friend, for a declaration of title to the disputed premises and to restrain anyone from interfering with or raising any objection to the construction of a temple there. All the suits were transferred to the Allahabad High Court on July 10, 1989, which on August 14, 1989, directed the parties to maintain status quo. "During the pendency of the proceedings, the State of Uttar Pradesh acquired an area of 2.77 acres comprising of the disputed premises and certain adjoining areas," the SC noted and added the acquisition was challenged in the High Court which set it aside on December 11, 1992.
In between, on December 6, 1992, a large crowd destroyed the mosque, boundary wall, and 'Ram Chabutra', a makeshift structure of a temple was constructed at the place under the erstwhile central dome and the idols were placed there.