The article is based on the final judgement given by the Hon. Supreme Court of India in the Ramjanmabhoomi case. The article explains the SC’s verdict on various claims of contending parties, both Hindu and Muslim. The article explains why Muslims lost their claim and why the compensation of 5 acres of land was awarded to the Muslims. It also explains how Hindus got the title over Ram Janmabhoomi premises and finally future implications of the judgement on other disputes of similar nature.
Brief history of the case
In independent India, the first suit in respect of Ram Janmabhoomi was filed by one Gopal Singh visharad on 16 January 1950. The suit was filed on the background of seizing of Ram Janmabhoomi site under section 145 CRPC by the Government of Uttar Pradesh. The litigant claimed that he was a devotee of Ram Lalla and that he was deprived of Darshan and Puja of Ram Lalla because the Uttar Pradesh Government had acquired and sealed the Ram Janmabhoomi site. He prayed for injunction against the obstruction of Darshan and Puja Ram Lalla by the Government . On 18 December 1961, the Sunni Waqf Board filed a suit for declaration and prayed that the suit premises be declared as a mosque and be handed over to it.
On 1 July 1999, one Devkinandan Agarwal filed a suit claiming himself as next friend of Ram Lalla that is Plaintiff No.1 in the same suit and Ram Janmasthan as Plaintiff No. 2. He claimed that Ram Lalla and Ram Janmasthan were juristic personalities as they were deities and being their devotee, he was their next friend . Deities are always considered as perpetual minors therefore they are represented by their next friend . He claimed that the place Ram Janmasthan was the birthplace of Ram Lalla and hence belonged to him.
There were two more cases clubbed together. One by Nirmohi Akhada in 1959 which was dismissed by the Hon. Supreme Court in this Judgement on account of limitation. In this suit Nirmohi Akhada had claimed the right of sewadar of Ram Lalla . Another suit was filed by Paramhans Ramchandra Das in 1950. This suit was withdrawn in 1990.
On 10 July 1989, all suits were transferred to the Allahabad High Court. A three-judge bench was constituted and the High Court delivered its verdict on 30 September 2010. The High Court divided the disputed property in three parts - one part was granted to Sunni Waqf Board, one part to Nirmohi Akhada and one part called as Ram Janmasthan was awarded to Ram Lalla. Dissatisfied with this judgement, various appeals were filed before Hon.Supreme Court. Hon. Supreme Court delivered this judgement on all these appeals on 9th November 2019.
Description of suit property in brief
Before going into evidence considered by the Hon. Supreme Court to arrive at a conclusion, let us have a look at the map of the Janmasthan site prepared by Shiv Shankar Lal, the Court Commissioner appointed by Faizabad Civil Court on 1 April 1950.
In the above map, the square denoted by red border and letters ABCD is the property in dispute. It is divided into parts. The three domed structure is termed as inner courtyard while the remaining portion is termed as outer courtyard.
Why did the Sunni Wakf Board lose the claim over Ram Janmabhoomi?
To establish a claim on disputed property (in the present case, Plot No. 583, at village Ramkot, Ayodhya) called as Ram Janmabhoomi, the Sunni Wakf Board was required to prove that the said property is Wakf property.
When any person donates any property for Muslim religious or charitable purpose as recognized under Muslim law, it becomes Wakf. Waqf literally means detention, stoppage or tying up, meaning that the ownership of the dedicated property is taken away from the person who is making Waqf and transferred and detained by Allah.
The Sunni Wakf Board failed to give any documentary evidence to prove that the disputed land was donated to build a mosque or for any other Muslim religious purpose. In the Hon. Supreme Court, Adv. Rajeev Dhavan appearing on behalf of Sunni Wakf Board admitted that they have no evidence to show grant or donation of the disputed land. All the documentary evidence adduced by Muslim Parties was after 1858, i.e. after the transfer of power of Ayodhya province to the British Government.
The Muslim parties relied upon the doctrine of Wakf by user and loss of grant by way of adverse possession. They contended that due to prolonged use of the site for worship by Muslims, the property becomes Wakf property by virtue of Wakf by the user. It was contended that though the document of grant or donation was lost, the property became Wakf property because Babur built the mosque and Muslims continually used the same for worship. They contended that this attracted doctrine of loss of grant.
Under the doctrine of the lost grant, a long-continued use or possession can raise a legal presumption that the right exercised was previously conveyed to the user or possessor and that the instrument of conveyance has been lost. Muslim parties also claimed title through adverse possession. In all the above three cases, i.e. in Wakf by the user, Loss of Grant doctrine and adverse possession, the claimant needs to prove exclusive, uninterrupted possession over the period of time.
Considering all the evidence before Court which will be explained subsequently, the Hon. Supreme Court came to the following conclusion:
- As far as the outer courtyard is concerned, Hindus have exclusive possession.
- Muslim parties have failed to provide any evidence of Namaz being offered Namaz in the inner courtyard, i.e. inside the three-domed structure prior to 1858.
- On preponderance of probability, Hindus prove that prior to 1858 they were continually using the site for worship and it is considered as Ramanmabhoomi. They never abandoned it.
- After 1858 Muslims were offering Namaz in the inner courtyard. However they were not in exclusive possession, Hindus always claimed their right and continued their worship in the inner courtyard by performing Puja etc. albeit interrupted several times.
Thus Muslim parties failed to prove their exclusive possession over the disputed site while Hindus proved their uninterrupted exclusive possession over the outer courtyard and also the use of inner courtyard for worship though interrupted.
Therefore Sunni Wakf board lost its claim over the Ramjanmabhoomi site and failed to get the title.
How Ram Lalla Got title of disputed site i.e. Ramjanmabhoomi in Ayodhya?
In addenda to the judgment, Hon. Supreme Court made its observation on the issue of belief of Hindus’ about Ramjanmabhoomi. The issue framed by Hon.Supreme Court was as under:
‘Whether the disputed structure is the holy birthplace of Lord Rama as per the faith, belief and trust of the Hindus?’
The Hon. Supreme Court arrived at the following conclusion:
‘It is thus concluded that faith and belief of Hindus since prior to construction of Mosque and subsequent to it has always been that Janmaasthan of Lord Rama is the place where Babri Mosque has been constructed, faith to and belief are proved by documentary and oral evidence discussed above’ (Addenda page 116).’
Rebuttal by Muslim parties
Muslim parties denied the existence of any such belief prior to 1989. Adv. Rajeev Dhavan, learned senior counsel for Muslim parties contended that theory of disputed site being called as Janmasthan of Lord Rama is of recent origin and there is no evidence of any earlier time that Hindus had faith and belief that where the Mosque was constructed was the birthplace of Lord Rama.
Adv. Dhavan submitted that the argument that Ayodhya Mahatmya in Skanda Purana gives the location of Ramjanmabhoomi, which matches with the site of Babri Masjid has not been found correct. In support of his submission, he relied on “Historian Report to the Nation”. It was submitted that the above report states that the location described in the Ayodhya Mahatmya in Skanda Purana does not match with the present-day location of Babri Masjid.
Evidence By Hindus
Ayodhya Mahatmya in Skanda Purana is one of the important documents which gives idea about the exact location of Ram Janmasthan in Ayodhya. The Hon. Supreme Court discussed the evidentiary value of this document at length.
Following are the shlokas in Ayodhya Mahatmya, Skand Purana,
तस्मात् स्थानत ऐशाने रामजन्म प्रवर्तते।
जन्मस्थानमिदं प्रोक्तं मोक्षादिफलसाधनम ।।18।।
विघ्नेश्वरात् पूर्वभागे वसिष्ठादुत्तरे तथा।
लौमशात् पिश्चमे भागे जन्मस्थानं ततः स्मतृम्॥19॥
In his book, History of Dharmasastra, P. V. Kane has elaborately dealt with Puranas, and he has arrived at the conclusion that Skanda Purana can be placed not earlier than the seventh century and not beyond the ninth century. Thus this book in seventh or eighth-century states that
“To the north-east of that spot is the place of the birth of Rama. This holy spot of the birth is said to be the means of achieving salvation etc. It is said that the place of birth is situated to the east of Vigneswara, the north of Vasistha and to the west of Lomasha.’
These contents of Skanda Purana are further proved by the testimony of various witnesses from both sides.
Swami Avimuktswaranand Saraswati, in his Chief Examination, stated that he has visited following procedure stated in Skand Purana. He also stated that during that visit, he got great assistance from the stone boards fixed by a higher officer Mr. Edward, during the time of British Rule. Muslim Parties cross-examined him. However, his description of Janmasthan was found to be a ground reality.
Various witnesses of Muslim parties who were supposed to support the claim of Babri Mosque admitted that Vasishthkund, Lomash Ashram, Vighneshwar exist on the ground as described in Skand Purana. For example, Suresh Chandra Mishra, a historian and a witness for Muslim parties stated that, “Ram Janmasthan is situated West of Lomash Rishi Ashram, east of the Vighneshwar temple and north of Vasistha Muni Ashram. I did not come across the Vighneshwar temple; rather, I saw a pillar with the word “Vighneshwar” engraved thereon. I did not come across the hermitage of sage Lomash. I also did not see the hermitage of seer Vashishtha, but people told me about him”.
Another witness for the Muslim parties Prof. Shirin Musavi, in her statement, admitted that the geographical locale of Ramkot matched the description in the Skanda Purana. She clearly stated that Skanda Purana belongs to the ninth century A.D.
Historian’s Report, A Report by leftist historians
The Honorable Supreme Court has also thoroughly dealt with Adv. Dhavan’s objection based on ‘Historian’s Report to the Nation’. This is a report by four historians who wrote a letter 1 to the Government of India in 1991 stating that “Our study shows neither any evidence of the existence of a temple on the site of Babri Masjid nor of the destruction of any other structure there prior to the construction of the mosque.”
The Hon.Supreme Court observed that observations regarding Skanda Purana and Valmiki Ramayana made in the above report were baseless and were of no value as they were made without giving any reason. The Hon.Supreme Court also observed that opinions given in the above report were contrary to the conclusions drawn by eminent scholars who are authorities in that subject. The Hon.Supreme Court further observed that the above report had serious errors about locale description.
The map given above shows Rishi Lomash place in the south. The map is authenticated as the Court Commissioner had prepared the same and no one had questioned it. However, the above report denies the existence of any such place as given in Skanda Purana. Thus the Hon.Supreme Court found that the above report was not trustworthy.
The Hon.Supreme Court also considered at length a thesis on Ayodhya submitted to the University of Groningen in 1984 by Dutch scholar H.T. Bakker. Furthermore, the Court observed that ‘the conclusions arrived by Hans Bakker cannot be said to be based on surmises or conjectures.’ Various other documents where Ram Janmasthan and faith of Hindus regarding the same are mentioned are Janamsakhis describing the visit of Guru Nanak Dev Ji to Ram Janmasthan in Ayodhya.
The above-said documents prove the continuous belief of Hindus in Ram Janmasthan prior to 1528.
Belief After 1528
Ain-e-Akbari Volumes II and III give an account of Awadh province and describe Ramavtar thus,
" In ancient times its populous site covered an extent of 148 kos in length and 36 in breadth, and it is esteemed one of the holiest places of antiquity. Around the environs of the city, they sift the earth and gold is obtained. It was the residence of Ramachandra who in the Treta age combined in his own person both the spiritual supremacy and the kingly office."
Court has also considered the description of Ayodhya given by various travelers.
Traveler’s account of William Finch mentioned the ruins of Ramachandra's castle and houses. The travel accounts also noticed the belief of Indians that Ramchandra was born, who took flesh upon him (William Finch visited India from 1607 to 1611 A.D).
Father Joseph Tieffenthaler visited India between 1766-1771 A.D. He wrote historical and geographical descriptions of India in Latin. The entire Latin work was translated into French. The Supreme Court cited important and relevant content of Tieffenthaler's work. First that Emperor Aurangzeb got the fortress called Ramcot demolished and got a Muslim temple, with triple domes, constructed at the same place. Second, on the left is seen a square box raised 5 inches above the ground, with borders made of lime, with a length of more than five ells and a maximum width of about four ells, which is called Bedi (i.e. the "cradle") by the Hindus. The reason for the faith and belief was also that there was a house where Beschan (Vishnu) was born in the form of Ram. Third, that Aurangzeb or Babar got this place razed in order to deny the noble people the opportunity of practicing their superstitions. However, there still exists some superstitious cult in some place or other. Since in the place where the native house of Ram existed, the Hindus go around three times and prostrate on the floor.
Gazetteers published by Britishers in the year 1828, 1838, and 1854 also describe and give details about Ramjanmabhoomi in Ayodhya.
One more book considered as relevant to the present dispute is Hadith-e-Sehba written by Mirza Jaan in the year 1856. It is relevant because of its year of publication. The year 1856 is the period of dissension between Hindus and Muslims with regard to the issue of Idol worship.
'The place where there was a big temple of Hindu people, big Masjid was constructed and the place where there was a small temple of Hindu people, there small Masjid was constructed. The place of worship is called the birthplace of Lord Rama and the place which is adjacent to it, is called "Sita Ki Rasoi", and Sita is called the wife of Lord Rama. At that place, Babar Shah constructed a very big Masjid under the supervision of Sayyad Musha Ashiqan in the year 923 Hijri.'
Faith and belief of Hindus regarding Janamasthan of Lord Ram and Possession of Hindus over Janmasthan during the period 1858 to 1949
British had directly taken control over the area of Awadh from 1 November 1858 by Government of India Act, 1858. Under the above said title, Honorable Judges discussed various Gazetteers published by British Government, official correspondence within Government officials such as, various reports, applications, orders etc. The Hon. Supreme Court observed that in all reports and orders, the disputed structure is referred to as 'Masjid Janmasthan,'. It means that the Government was aware that the said Mosque was built upon Janmasthan.
One more important document is Report of A.S.I. of North-West Provinces and Awadh, published in 1889, which states that "The old temple of Ramachandra at Janmasthanam must have been a very fine one, for many of its columns have been utilized by the Musalmans in the construction of Babar's masjid, extracted earlier."
Next documentary evidence brought on record is an application dated 30 November1858 submitted by Syed Mohammed Khatib Moazzim Masjid Babri Sites in Awadh. In the complaint submitted by Mohammed Khatib Moazzim of the Babri Mosque, it was mentioned that Nihang Singh is creating a riot at Janmasthan Masjid situated in Awadh. The complaint mentioned that near Mehrab and Mimber, he has constructed an earth Chabutra inside the Mosque, 'Puja' and 'Hom' is continuing there and in the whole of Masjid, "Ram Ram" is written. The request in the complaint was to oust the Hindus from the Mosque . There are various applications made by Syed Mohammed Khatib. He has described the property as Babri mosque situated at Janmasthan in his every application.
Evidence has been brought on the record to the fact that Deputy Commissioner, Ayodhya by an order dated 03.04.1877 has granted permission to Khem Das, Mahant, Janmasthan to open the door in the Northern wall in the premises of the Mosque.
This proves that Hindus were visiting the Janmasthan, which was within the Mosque premises.
Another important fact to be noticed was the filing of a suit by Mahant Raghubar Das being case number 61 of 280 of 1885 before Sub-Judge Faizabad where the plaintiff had sought permission to construct a temple on Chabutra existing inside the Mosque premises.
Both parties laid substantial oral evidence which proved that faith and belief of Hindus that Janmasthan of Lord Ram is the place where Babri Mosque had been constructed. The three-domed structure was treated as the Birthplace of Lord Ram.
It was thus concluded that faith and belief of Hindus since prior to construction of Mosque and subsequent to it has always been that Janmaasthan of Lord Ram is the place where Babri Mosque has been constructed which faith and belief are proved by documentary and oral evidence discussed above and Hindus were in continuous position of suit premises.
Why compensation of five Acres of land to Muslim parties?
The Hon.Supreme Court awarded this compensation in special capacity given by the Constitution to the Supreme Court under Article 142 of the Constitution.
The Hon.Supreme Court observed that the disputed site was considered a Mosque by Muslims. First, they were illegally deprived of offering Namaz by obstructing them and illegally keeping idols in the disputed structure on 22/23 December, and after that, on 6 December 1992 Hindus illegally demolished the structure while pending the suit. Therefore Muslims are compensated with five Acres of Land.
It means that Muslims are compensated not because they had legitimate rights in the property, but they were deprived of worship illegally without an order of the Court.
Thus if the issue would have been resolved by Court or by the Government prior to 6 December 1992, the Muslims would not have got compensation.
It is completely a different story that delay in justice and denial of legitimate rights of Hindus over hundreds of years, and policy of successive Governments of protecting encroachers at the cost of the rightful owners led to the destruction of so-called Mosque.
Some Important observations by the apex court
This Court cannot entertain claims that stem from the actions of the Mughal rulers against Hindu places of worship in a court of law today. For any person who seeks solace or recourse against the actions of any number of ancient rulers, the law is not the answer. Our history is replete with actions that have been judged to be morally incorrect and even today are liable to trigger vociferous ideological debate. However, the adoption of the Constitution marks a watershed moment where we, the people of India, departed from the determination of rights and liabilities on the basis of our ideology, our religion, the colour of our skin, or the century when our ancestors arrived at these lands, and submitted to the rule of law. Under our rule of law, this court can adjudicate upon private property claims that were expressly or impliedly recognised by the British sovereign and subsequently not interfered with upon Indian independence.
Thus we can conclude that,
- Destruction of places of worship by Mughal rulers is an act of Sovereign, and it is beyond the scope of Court to undo the same even though it is perceived as an injustice to Hindus.
- Only the Sovereign has the right to undo or recognize the act of another Sovereign.
- Indian Courts can grant relief and adjudicate rights only if the present regime recognizes them.
The Court has awarded Ramjanmabhoomi to Hindus not because they found a temple under disputed site and not because they have faith in the place.
ASI Report is just a corroborate evidence of Hindu faith about Ram Janmabhoomi.
However Hindus win the case because they exercised faith. They proved their contineoes possession over Ramjanmabhoomi. They proved that they are worshiping Ramlalla in that place even after building a mosque. Hindus gained ownership of Ramajanmabhoomi because present laws (law of limitation, law in respect of adverse possession etc. are capable of recognising their title to.
Hindus struggled continuously for 500 years; they shed their blood and kept their claim alive by holding a position over Ram Janmasthan and forced the regime to recognize their right on Ramjanmabhoomi. The Places Of Worship Act 1991 is the biggest obstacle. It has given recognition to all the acts of encroachers. If Hindus really want to reclaim their lost places of worship, they will have to find a different way to get it because the Court has no power to undo the acts of Babur or Aurangzeb or any other ruler prior to independence of India. Today it can be achieved through the legislature.
Writer: Adv. Yogeshwar Ghogale
The writer is a Lawyer, practising in Pune District Court and Director of Demos Foundation