Ayodhya judgment: About faceless judges and the moral of Ram Katha

Columnist  | Sudhanshu Ranjan

Opinion, Op Ed

Many a time it happens that a division bench dictates the order/judgment in open court and both judges sign.

Hindu activists climb up the dome of Babri Masjid in Ayodhya which was quickly demolished by end of the day. (Photo: Sondeep Shankar)

Barring some dissent from expected quarters, the unanimous verdict of the five-judge Constitution bench of the Supreme Court on the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute has been universally hailed for putting the final lid on the centuries-old litigation, which caused tremors in Indian politics. However, it appears that some supporters of the Babri Masjid may not allow peace to have its way. Though every party to the litigation had publicly professed to abide by the verdict, they have taken a somersault. On the other hand, serious infighting is brewing among sadhu-sants claiming to represent Hindus over the management of the construction of the temple. It is hoped that Lord Ram is unshackled from the clutches of the so-called faithful and peace finally prevails.

The Supreme Court has tried its level best to cut the Gordian knot without hurting anyone. For the first time, the name of the judge who had authored the judgement has not been mentioned. Many a time it happens that a division bench dictates the order/judgment in open court and both judges sign. Thus, no particular judge is the author. But it is unprecedented so far as Constitution Benches are concerned. Thus, the judgment is unanimous as well as anonymous; the court has spoken. The author was not smitten by the virus of ambition to be remembered by posterity for penning a historic judgment and closing an acrimonious chapter of history. It serves the cause of justice better if judges are faceless.

It reminds one of the Federalist Papers written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay under the pseudonym “Publius” to canvass for the ratification of the US Constitution. Perhaps they did not reveal their identities because they had to appeal to the 13 states of the US which had to ratify the Constitution, and bylined authorship would have revealed their states and created doubts in the minds of other states that there might be some hidden agenda of the three states to which they belonged (Hamilton: British West Indies, Madison: Virginia, and Jay: New York). However, now the authorship of most of the papers has been established. Similarly, in the present judgment, it is conjectured that Justice D.Y. Chandrachud authored it, but the record is silent. In India, most of the ancient literature is aupauresheya (godised) as the author is unknown. Even the Vedas are aupaurusheya. Writers often concealed their names. Had Kalidasa not mentioned his own name in two of his plays — Malavikagnimitram and Vikramorvashiyam — people would not have known that a playwright called Kalidasa ever existed. The protagonist tells the actress that they are going to enact Kalidasa’s play Malavikagnimitram.

Another coruscating feature of the judgment is that after a long time the court has made a very constructive use of Article 142 of the Constitution, which gives the power to do “complete justice” to the Supreme Court in any matter or cause pending before it. In recent decades, Article 142 has been invoked with an alarming frequency, which has been subjected to searing criticism. But in this case, it has allotted five acres of land as a recompense for the construction of a mosque, invoking this extraordinary jurisdiction. Though some Muslims have fulminated, terming it as condescension, they should appreciate the gesture. Their anguish is understandable but calm cogitation is expected at this crucial juncture.

The court has also rightly recorded that all historical wrongs cannot be redressed by the court. But so far as the Ayodhya dispute is concerned, it acquired a gargantuan proportion as the court, for long, shuffled out of the controversy. History is replete with instances of barbarism, vandalism and rankling injustices. Since ancient times, temples have been invaded to plunder wealth. Christian mobs demolished pagan temples and made off with the accumulated wealth. Edward Gibbon has written that “in almost every province of the Roman world, an army of fanatics, without authority and without discipline, invaded the peaceful inhabitants; and the ruin of the fairest structures of antiquity still displays the ravages of those barbarians…” Most of the pagan temples in the Roman empire had been destroyed by the end of the fourth century CE by the menacing Christian crowds. The only one to go unscathed was the temple of Serapis, the presiding deity of Alexandria. Gibbon rebuts the claim that the Roman empire earlier persecuted Christians, “The learned Origen… declares in most express terms… that the number of martyrs was very inconsiderable… His authority would be alone sufficient to annihilate that formidable army of martyrs, whose relics, drawn from the most part from the catacombs of Rome, have replenished so many churches, and whose marvelous achievements have been the subject of so many volumes of holy romance… Dionysius… in the immense city of Alexandria, and under the rigorous persecution of Decius, reckons only ten men and seven women who suffered for the profession of the Christian name.” The Church branded Gibbon anti-Christian.

The Portuguese ravaged temples in Goa after they established their rule by 1520. Bishop Dume wrote to the King of Portugal on January 12, 1522 that service to God required razing temples and erecting churches in their place, and only those who convert to Christianity would be allowed to stay. All Hindu temples in Goa were demolished by June 28, 1541 by Miguel Vaz, who was blessed by Francis Xavier for carrying out the task. However, Muslim invaders targeted temples for riches. Mahmud Ghazni raided India 17 times. He broke the idols of Somnath when he could not get the desired wealth about which he had information. Temples were repositories of gold and jewels. Whenever he faced a financial crunch, he invaded to pillage. Invaders targeted mostly wealth. In 1739, Nadir Shah took back the booty that he had plundered on 700 elephants, 4,000 camels and 12,000 horses. After his return, he abolished taxes for three years in Iran.

However, there is no evidence that the temple, or whatever structure it was, at Ayodhya, was demolished for wealth. It was an act of vandalism to subjugate. It is heartening that top leaders of both communities, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, licked people into shape. There were no victory rallies or festivities by Hindus. This is the leitmotif of the Ram Katha, which spurns hatred or ill-will for anyone. Tulidas’ Ramcharitmanas is totally free from any hint of communalism though his time was not free from such rancor. George Grierson, in his “Notes on Tulsidas” which appeared in 1893 in the Indian Antiquary, extols Ramcharitmanas as the embodiment of Indian culture and he was mesmerised to such an extent that he wrote that even if the whole of Indian culture is destroyed and the Ramcharitmanas is saved, it alone will resurrect Indian culture. Vincent Smith laments that historians did not ruminate over the contributions of Tulsidas and just ignored him. Tulsidas talks of hunger and poverty: “The privation of the poor wretch who starves for want of food and nourishment will not be removed by drawing a picture of Kalpataru (the wish-fulfilling tree) or the Kamdhenu (the celestial cow with unbounded capacity to fulfill all needs) on the walls. The satisfaction of a good meal is known only to him who eats it, even if he should not say a word; but mere talk day and night about six varieties of eatables will do him no good.” The Ramayana has approximately 300 versions in India and abroad. Some countries other than India have more than one version. For instance, Myanmar has two versions: Ramavattu and Ramathagyan. But everywhere Ram is love, compassion, sacrifice and other virtues personified. It is not to humiliate or belittle anyone.