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Mainstream, Vol XLVIII, No 44, October 23, 2010

Faith, Fact and the Law in Ayodhya — An Appeal in the National Interest

Sunday 24 October 2010, by S G Vombatkere

Most people believe that there is a divine law, the details of which are a matter of faith, since the existence of each person’s God can neither be proved nor disproved. One can only pray, “Ishwar-Allah tero naam, sab ko sanmati de bhagawan” for communal harmony and peace. But why discuss this now? The reason is the troubled Ayodhya—Babri mosque-Ram Janmabhoomi issue—that has come to a critical juncture with the split Allahabad High Court verdict of September 30, 2010.

Matters of faith are not justiciable. The Hindutva groups, inaccurately claiming to represent all Hindus, aver that the precise spot of Ram’s birth is under the dome of the Babri mosque. One needs to distinguish between the general area of Ayodhya where Ram is believed to have been born, and the precise geographical spot of Ram’s birth. Most Hindus revere Ayodhya and indeed there are several temples in Ayodhya, each of which claim to be Ram’s birthplace. Obviously there can be no rational method to identify the precise spot after several lakh years. But the Hindutva groups, arguing that it is a matter of faith which is outside the purview of the law, demand that the disputed site be handed over to them for construction of a Ram temple.

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When the Courts granted a small sum of maintenance money to Shah Bano in 1985, Muslim clerics raised a furore claiming that it violated Islamic faith. The All India Muslim Personal Law Board insisted that faith takes precedence over law (faith-over-law). In an act of unprincipled vote-bank politics, the then Union Government reactively enacted the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act, which put Muslim women outside the purview of Section 125 of the CrPC. The secular Muslim voices and Muslim women’s protests opposing the Bill were suppressed by power-hungry Muslim clerics, to whom the faith-over-law argument was an important tool of control over the Muslim masses. Thus the Muslim clerics not accepting the Hindutva groups’ faith-over-law argument is strange. However, if the Muslim clerics now demand law-over-faith, then they should also accept Common Civil Law rather than insist on Sharia Law for Muslims. The Muslim clerics’ shaky position stands exposed.

The question whether these Muslim clerics really represent all Muslims is quite as pointed as whether the Hindutva groups represent all Hindus. Therefore from the faith point of view, the Babri mosque land ownership dispute is essentially between the Hindutva groups and Muslim clerics, and not between Hindus and Muslims per se. The faith-based arguments of both sides are unsound; a judicial decision on ownership of the disputed site on the basis of faith amounts to personal beliefs and biases of the learned judges.

Now let us examine the factual aspect of the issue. The Babri mosque was constructed in 1528 and was in use for worship, while Hindus worshipped at the Ram Chabootra within the mosque compound “in a spirit of mutual communal goodwill”.1 For various historical and political reasons, that goodwill has all but disappeared.

The Hindutva groups contend that a Hindu temple was demolished to construct the Babri mosque. In order to determine whether the Babri mosque was built over a Hindu temple, the Court ordered the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) to investigate by excavation. The Report that the ASI submitted to the Allahabad High Court in August 2003 concluded that a “massive Hindu religious structure” existed below the mosque. The Report was criticised both on bases of fact and conclusions by professional archaeologists some of whom witnessed the excavations and others who studied the Report. Whether or not this criticism was correct, the fact is that the original diaries of the excavations are not being made available for informed discussion, giving rise to serious doubts about the veracity of the Report.2,3,4 In fact, even the Court was divided in its opinion whether the pre-existing structure reported by the ASI was Hindu, Jain or Buddhist, and whether it was demolished to construct the mosque or was already a ruin. In any case, no historical documentary proof to show that a Hindu temple was demolished to construct the Babri mosque has come to light. In balance, no impartial observer would accept that construction of the Babri mosque involved demolition of a pre-existing Hindu temple.

However, historically there are two dates that are established in Court. One, the night of December 22-23, 1949, when the idols of Ram were surreptitiously installed inside the Babri mosque; and two, the deliberate demolition of the Babri mosque on December 6, 1992. Both these acts were illegal. So where do we go from here?

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The Hon’ble Courts may adopt the faith-over-law basis and thereby violate the secular character of the Constitution. Or they may take the legal basis. Regardless of the basis of judicial deliberations, any ruling that grants title to one or other parties to the dispute will surely result in appeals upto the Court of Last Resort, namely, a full Bench of the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India. And its “ultimate” decision in favour of one or the other, binding on all citizens of India, cannot but cause heartburning, violence and mayhem, howsoever unjustified, and loss to the nation. Such a decision cannot be in the interest of communal and general peace in India.

It is axiomatic that only peace can bring prosperity. Any decision on the Babri mosque issue that does not bring peace and harmony between Hindus and Muslims cannot be in the national interest, regardless of historical blunders and past judicial and political decisions. The judiciary and the political class will both surely understand this fundamental truth. The obvious peace-based solution is for both the political class and the judiciary to declare the 2.7 acres disputed site and the 77 acres surrounding land under government custody as a “common ground” for both Hindus and Muslims or declare it as an inter-religion sarvadharma sthal or as a national monument for communal harmony. This will surely be acceptable to all Hindus and all Muslims who are stakeholders for peace and harmony, and who condemn the conflict and violence being manufactured by the Hindutva groups on the one hand and by the Muslim clerics on the other.

References

1. Mander, Harsh, ‘Battle for the Idea of India’, The Hindu, October 10, 2010.

2. Jebaraj, Priscilla, ‘Historical evidence ignored, say historians’, The Hindu, October 1, 2010; http://www. thehindu.com/news/national/article805087.ece?css=print

3. Mandal, D. and Shereen Ratnagar, Ayodhya: Archaeology After Excavation, Tulika Books, 2007.

4. Sahmat, Statement on the Archaeological Survey of India’s Report on Ayodhya, August 29, 2003.

Major General S.G. Vombatkere retired as the Additional Director General, Discipline and Vigilance in the Army HQ, New Delhi, after 35 years in the Indian Army with combat, staff and technical experience. The President of India awarded him the Visishta Seva Medal in 1993 for distinguished service rendered in Ladakh. He holds a Ph.D degree in Structural Dynamics from IIT, Madras. He coordinates and lectures a course on Science, Technology and Sustainable Development for undergraduate students of University of Iowa, USA, and two universities of Canada, who spend a semester at Mysore as part of their Studies Abroad in South India. He is Adjunct Associate Professor of the University of Iowa, USA. He can be contacted by E-mail: sg9kere@live.com

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