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Ayodhya Case: The Legal Battle So Far

As the Supreme Court today pronounces the final judgment in Ayodhya suit, it is imperative to have a background of the legal battle so far. Here the matter is explained in detail.

What is the Case Actually About?

Ayodhya Ram Mandir Case is essentially a title dispute between three parties over 2.77 hectares of land in the town of Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh.

Who are the Litigants?

There are three main parties to the title dispute case-

Nirmohi Akhara

  • Nirmohi Akhara are a group of Hindu monks who are devotees of Lord Ram and manage many temples and mathas(monasteries) in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat, and Bihar.
  • They filed a suit in 1959 in the district court in Ayodhya claiming to be the custodian of the property, seeking complete possession of the property.

Sunni Waqf Board

  • Sunni Wakf Board is a body that oversees Sunni Islamic properties endowed for religious or charitable purposes.
  • They filed a suit in 1961 in local court in Ayodhya seeking declaration of rights and possession over the property.

Ram Lalla Virajman

  • In 1989 suit was filed in Allahabad High Court on behalf of the deity and the birth place claiming title over the property.
  • It was filed by senior advocate Deoki N Agarwal and currently being represented by Trilok Nath Pandey after the death of Mr Agarwal.
How Can the Deity be a Litigant?
  • An interesting fact of the case is that Lord Ram as an infant is himself one of the litigants.
  • Under Indian laws, a Hindu deity can be a litigant since they are considered as “juristic person” with the right to sue and be sued. In fact, the treatment of Gods as ‘Juristic Persons’ started under the British who held that legal owner of properties owed by the temple is the deity himself.
  • This principle has also been subsequently reinforced by multiple judgments of the Supreme Court since independence.
  • This principle did not stop just with the recognition of the deity as a juristic person. It reasoned that a deity would not be able to act on its own and hence needed a guardian. Consequently, a Hindu deity was deemed in law as a perpetual minor with a manager appointed to act on its behalf. These managers could sue on the behalf of the deity as their friend. A deity cannot be divested of any title or rights of property in violation of the law.
  • Thus, Ram Lalla’s first sakha or friend was a retired Allahabad High Court judge, Deoki Nandan Agarwal, who moved the Allahabad High Court for the deity in 1989. When Mr. Agarwal passed away in 2002, the mantle of the sakha went to TP Verma, a retired professor of the Banaras Hindu University. The SC appointed Trilok Nath Pandey as sakha in 2010.
What is the Ayodhya Act?

In March of 1993, Acquisition of Certain Areas at Ayodhya Act was passed by the Parliament of India to acquire 67.7 acres in and around the disputed site.

The Act prescribed for maintenance of the status quo that prevailed just before the acquisition. It meant that the make-shift temple was to remain and the pooja was to be continued.

Dr Ismail Faruqui and other Muslims had challenged the validity of this act, saying governments have no right to acquire the disputed site.

What is the Ismail Faruqui Case?

Acting on the petition filed by Dr Ismail Faruqui in 1994, a three Judge bench of the Supreme Court held the state could acquire land on which a mosque is situated. It also established that a mosque is not an ‘essential part of the practice of Islam’ and namaz (prayer) by Muslims can be offered anywhere, even in open. Accordingly, the SC concluded that acquisition is not prohibited by the provisions in the Constitution of India.”

In September 2018, a three-judge bench of Supreme Court by a 2:1 majority held that 1994 judgement need not be reviewed. It added that Faruqui case was filed in the context of land acquisition and not for deciding ownership of titles . It also concluded that the observations in Faruqui case are not relevant in the Ayodhya Case, which is a title dispute, not a land acquisition matter.

What does the Archaeological Survey of India Report on Ayodhya Say?

In 1993, the President of India under Article 143 of Indian Constitution made a special reference to the Supreme Court of India on the following question:

“Whether a Hindu temple or any Hindu religious structure existed prior to the construction of the Ram Janma Bhumi–Babri Masjid (including the premises of the inner and outer courtyards of such structure) in the area on which the structure stood?”’

In pursuance to this, the High Court of Allahabad ordered excavation work to be carried out at the disputed site by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). In August 2003, ASI submitted a 574-page report consisting of written opinions, maps and drawings showing archaeological evidence of a massive structure beneath the disputed site with distinctive features such as Circular Shrine, Makar Pranala, Lotus Motif, Pillar Bases with carvings of animals, etc.

ASI report concluded that the archaeological evidence and other discoveries from the site indicated distinctive features that were found associated with the temples of north India.

What did 2010 Judgment of the Allahabad High Court Say?

The Allahabad High Court which started hearing the case in 2002, delivered its judgment in 2010. By a majority of 2:1, the High Court divided the ownership property among 3 parties in equal proportion-

The Majority of Justice Sudhir Agarwal and Justice Sibghat Ullah Khan divided the property in 3 equal portions and allotted them to each of the 3 parties. They cited faith as the basis to declare the site the janmasthan of Lord Ram, but ordered a three-way partition on the basis of historical use of the site by Muslims and Hindus.

  • Nirmohi Akhara- awarded 1/3rd of the land particularly the part containing ‘Ram Chabutara (a raised square platform)’, ‘Sita Rasoi’ and ‘Bhandar Grah’
  • Ram Lalla Vijraman- awarded 1/3rd of the land particularly the site where Ram Lalla idol currently stands
  • Sunni Waqf Board- awarded the remaining 1/3rd of the site

In a dissenting Judgement Justice Dharamveer Sharma stated that the disputed site is the birth place of Lord Ram and held that Hindus had exclusive rights over the entire 2.77 acres. He held that it was not possible to fix or narrow down the birth place of Lord Ram to the spot where idols were kept in 1949 and thus the property in entirety has to go to the Hindu side. He added that disputed structure which existed till 1992 was built by Babar against the tenets of Islam and thus does not have character of a mosque.

Some key observations common to both the majority and minority opinions of the judgement-

  • The portion under the central dome of the demolished three-dome structure where the idol of Ram Lalla had been kept in a makeshift temple was the birthplace of Lord Rama “as per faith and belief of the Hindus”.
  • The disputed structure which existed till 1992 was built over the ruins of a temple.

All the parties filed appeals in the Supreme Court against the High Court judgement and this judgement was stayed by the Supreme Court of India in 2011.

How did the Proceedings at the Supreme Court go?

In February 2019, five-Judge bench of the Supreme Court led by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi hearing the case asked the parties to attempt mediation process and try to reach an amicable settlement. They also instituted a mediation panel to oversee the process headed by former Supreme Court Judge F M I Kalifulla and included spiritual guru Sri Sri Ravishankar and senior advocate and mediation expert Sriram Panchu. The court gave them 8 weeks to complete its proceedings.

In August 2019, Supreme Court observed that mediation process failed and directed the appeals to be listed for day to day hearings from 6th of August 2019.

After a marathon day to day hearings which went on for 40 days, on October 16th the final hearing took place and the constitutional bench reserved the judgment bringing to an end a case which has lasted almost 134 years.