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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 42, New Delhi, October 3, 2020

The mythology of Justice | John Dayal

Friday 2 October 2020, by John Dayal

It took crooked archaeologists and cultural mythologists to give a semblance of legality to the birthplace of Ram, the god. In the process, artefacts were found deep in the foundations where once stood the Babri Mosque. The artefacts were quickly dated, carefully avoiding the Buddhist period, on their way into a bygone era when King Dashrath reigned with his four wives, the senior queen giving birth to the heir.

There was a finality to this pseudo-scientific defining of a timeline which helped the Supreme Court conclusively decide in favour of the majority community in the title suit of the contested piece of land Ayodhya. In a judicial first, the court ruled that three crimes had been committed, each of which the evidence proved without a shadow of a doubt. Two statues had been surreptitiously introduced into the locked mosque in the 1950s, the character of the building had been changed into a Hindu place of worship, and the structure was finally razed to rubble in acts of vandalism that had been captured in tens of thousands of photographs and hundreds of documentary films.

But faith, as all people religious know, is stronger than fact. The land went to the ones with the older faith line. The presiding judge progressed to the Rajya Sabha, with a future chief ministership held out as further hope. Opprobrium of civil society and peers in the justice system does not really weigh heavy in this blind balance.

But criminal cases are not based on faith, fiction, mythology or even future political postings. They are supposed to be based on facts, forensic science, evidence and witnesses. Or so it was believed. The judgment of the special court of the Central Bureau of Investigations, Mr SK Yadav, late last month chose to disregard very bit of visual evidence, eye witness accounts and self-confessed statements of the accused to hold every one of the 32 accused innocent of charges of criminal conspiracy to destroy the 500-year-old mosque on 6 December 1992.

The demolition had left thousands dead in bombings, riots and retaliatory violence that followed, and was in fact preceded as many killings in the wake of Mr Lal Krishan Advani’s Rath yatra movement to stake a claim to the birthplace of Rama and revive the fortunes of the Bharatiya Janata party which had near sunk when Rajiv Gandhi rode another majority anger wave to triumph in the 1984 general elections.

Mr Advani, his colleague Murli Manohar Joshi, the then UP Chief Minister Kalyan Singh, the Hindu nun Uma Bharati, herself lager chief minister of Madhya Pradesh, were among those now heaving a sigh of relief.

As The Hindu’s reporter who translated the judgement, written in Hindi, narrated “The court rejected the charges of criminal conspiracy levelled by the CBI against the accused, observing that the charge sheet did not have any evidence to show that they “got together in common intent” with a group of “hooligan kar sevaks” to bring down the mosque. It observed that a group of “arajak” (hooligan) kar sevaks from the main crowd “suddenly got agitated” and indulged in violence even as senior VHP leader Ashok Singhal appealed to them to retreat that fateful day. All evidence in the charge sheet was examined. The crime alleged against the accused could not be prove n,” said the court.

According to the learned judge writing his 2,300-page verdict that evidence submitted by the CBI in the form of newspaper clippings, video cassettes, tapes, printed material, speeches, and witness testimonies, “it is clear that there was no moment when the accused persons gathered in a room to plan the scheme to demolish the structure . . . . None of the witnesses have clearly named any of the accused to say they were demolishing the disputed structure.”

***

The CBI judge’s ruling flies in the face of the more voluminous findings of the Justice Liberhans commission which grilled everyone from the sleeping prime minister, Mr PV Narasimha Rao, and the main suspects, journalists and police officers, to reach a conclusion that the accused were guilty as charged. Interviewed after the judgement of the CBO court, the now very old Justice Liberhans reiterates his belief and his finding that the group led by LK Advani had indeed had a hand on goading the mobs to destroy the mosque in a drill that had been practiced perfection.

Long ago, after the assassination of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi at his prayer meeting in New Delhi, the courts had found Nathuram Godse guilty of possessing a handgun and pulling its trigger thrice, but had found reason to let off the others initially charged with hatching the conspiracy f which the enthusiastic assassin was, in retrospect, was but a small part.

The parallels that many have drawn are not without reason. Political expediency rather than the rule of law and the impartiality of justice have been the hallmark of court decisions all too often in recent Indian history. Underlying this is a fear of rousing the silent majority — the so-called keepers of the National Conscience and national Consciousness on which may nefarious judgments have been based in the Supreme court and the high courts. It has something to do with the fear of mass violence, rioting as it is called. Though that fear is very real. The mass murder of Sikhs in Delhi in1984 and of the Muslims in Belchi once, and more recently in Gujarat in 2002, of Christians in Kandhamal in 2008 has shown that targeted violence against minorities, seen as aliens in the religious-cultural landscape, lies seething just under the surface.

It has also something to do with electoral politics. Much as we want to believe in Muslims as a vote bank, or even Dalits, no election can be won with just one or the other of these minority vote groups. It is the vast majority, divided into classes and castes but united by strong religious and cultural links, that really counts.

Not surprising that all but the Left want to keep on the right side of the majority. Not surprising that they are willing to sacrifice their belief in justice for this overwhelming reality. No one will be surprised if the nation “moves on”, forgetting that in the aftermath of the demolition of the Babri masjid, far bigger things than a historic mosque has been eradicated — a part of constitutional guarantees, a faith on national institutions, and a belief in justice itself is a thing of the past. Babri will be just a hiccup. Its dead not even a statistics.

Alas, it will not end targeted and communal violence. Those roots run deeper, and the date will shift back into history from the coming of Babur and his commander who perhaps built a mosque on the ruins of a temple.

This narrative needs a chronological timeline, created painstakingly by the venerable The Hindu of Chennai:

  • 1528: Babri Masjid built by Mir Baqi, commander of Mughal emperor Babur.
  • 1885: Mahant Raghubir Das files plea in Faizabad district court seeking permission to build a canopy outside the disputed structure. Court rejects the plea.
  • 1949: Idols of Ram Lalla placed under central dome outside the disputed structure.
  • 1950: Gopal Simla Visharad files suit in Faizabad district court for right to worship the idols of Ram Lalla.
  • Paramahansa Ramachandra Das files suit for continuation of worship and keeping the idols.
  • 1959: Nirmohi Akhara files suit seeking possession of the site.
  • 1961: UP Sunni Central Waqf Board files suit for possession of the site.
  • Feb 1986: Local court orders the government to open the site to Hindu worshippers.
  • Aug 1989: Allahabad HC orders status quo in respect of the disputed structure.
  • Dec 6, 1992: Babri Masjid demolished.
  • Dec 1992: Two FIRs filed in the case. One against unknown kar sevaks for demolition of the mosque. The other names BJP leaders L K Advani, M M Joshi and others for allegedly giving communal speeches before the demolition.
  • Oct 1993: CBI files composite charge sheet accusing Advani and others of conspiracy.
  • May 2001: Special CBI court drops proceedings against Advani, Joshi, Uma Bharti, Bal Thackeray and others.
  • Nov 2004: CBI challenges before the Lucknow bench of Allahabad High Court the dropping of proceedings against BJP leaders on technical grounds. Court issues notices.
  • May 2010: High court dismisses plea. Says no merit in CBI’s revision petition.
  • Sep 2010: In a 2:1 majority, HC rules three-way division of disputed area between Sunni Waqf Board, Nirmohi Akhara and Ram Lalla.
  • May 2011: SC stays HC verdict on Ayodhya land dispute.
  • Feb 2011: CBI moves Supreme Court against high court order in the mosque demolition case.
  • Mar 2017: SC indicates it may consider reviving conspiracy charge against the BJP leaders in Babri Masjid demolition case.
  • SC suggests fresh attempts to resolve Ayodhya dispute.
  • Apr: SC favours time-bound completion of trial in the case and reserves order on CBI’s plea.
  • SC restores criminal conspiracy charge against leaders including Advani, Joshi and Uma Bharti and clubs the trials in the matters pending against VIPs and kar sevaks.
  • Nov 2019: SC grants entire disputed land in Ayodhya to deity Ram Lalla, directs govt to allot an alternative five-acre plot to Muslims to build mosque.
  • Aug 2020: PM Narendra Modi conducts ‘bhoomi pujan’ in Ayodhya, launches construction of Ram temple.
  • Supreme Court extends by a month the deadline for completion of trial in the Babri Masjid demolition case.
  • Sep 30: Special Judge S.K. Yadav delivers judgment in the mosque demolition case, all accused acquitted.

It speaks for itself. Specially the developments of November 2019, and August 2020 in the midst of the Corona pandemic.

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