On December 6, 1992, Babri Masjid in Ayodhya, was reduced to rubble and preceded by a Rath Yatra, triggering the culmination of the historic schism. The demolition and the deadly riots that followed changed the course of country’s political and communal fabric.
A day ahead of the 25th anniversary of the unfortunate event, the Supreme Court commenced the final hearings in the long-standing BabriMasjid-Ram Janmabhoomi title dispute.
With the opening day of the final hearing witnessing a series of heated arguments from both sides, the apex court fixed February 8, 2018 as the next date for final hearing, turning down Sunni Waqf Board request that the hearing be deferred to after the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
While recalling the ill-fated event which continues to be a grim reminder in India’s volatile politics, let’s take an insight into what the dispute is all about, how it all started and at what point it stand today.
What is the Ayodhya dispute all about?
The epicentre of the most controversial dispute in nation’s history is a plot of land measuring 2.77 acres in the city of Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh.
On one hand, the land is considered sacred among Hindus as it is believed to be the birthplace of Lord Ram. On the contrary, Muslims argue that the land houses the Babri mosque.
The long-standing dispute is over whether the mosque was built on top of a Ram temple, after demolishing the latter it in the 16th century.
Hindus claim that the land on which the Babri mosque was built in 1528 is the ‘Ram Janmabhoomi’, and that Mir Baqi, one of Mughal king Babur's generals, destroyed a pre-existing temple of Rama and built a mosque called Babri Masjid.
For years, both the communities have worshipped at the “mandir-masjid”, Muslims inside the mosque and Hindus outside it.
However, in 1885, the head of Nirmohi Akhara had filed a petition, where he asked for permission to pray to Ram Lalla inside the Babri Masjid.
The permission was not given but in 1886, district Judge of Faizabad court FEA Chamier gave his verdict and said, "It is most unfortunate that a masjid should have been built on land specially held sacred by the Hindus, but as that event occurred 356 years ago, it is too late now to remedy the grievance."
In December 1949, Sant Digvijay Nath of Gorakhnath Math joined the Akhil Bharatiya Ramayana Mahasabha and organised a 9-day continuous recitation of Ramcharit Manas, at the end of which Hindu activists broke into the mosque and placed idols of Ram and Sita inside.
In 1950, a local resident Gopal Singh Visharad filed a complaint in the civil courts requesting permission to offer prayers in the mosque where the idols were installed.
Hashim Ansari, a resident of Ayodhya, approached the court saying the idols be removed and it be allowed to remain a masjid. Government locked the place but priests were allowed to perform daily puja.
In 1989, Rajiv Gandhi ordered for the gates to be reopened. In retaliation, many of the BJP's Hindutva brigade leaders, along with RSS, VHP and Bajrang Dal workers, ran campaigns to rebuild the Ram temple.
The campaign wave escalated over the next three years until 6 December, 1992, when LK Advani organised a rath yatra to Ayodhya, culminating in the demolition of the 400-year-old mosque.
The Babri Masjid was demolished by a gathering of more than 2 lakh Karsevaks, followed by communal riots all across the nation, which claimed over 1,000 lives.
What our courts had to say about it
Immediately after the tragic incident, the court ordered a survey to investigate of a Ram temple on the site. Later evidence was found of such a temple under the mosque, which was again disputed.
Meanwhile, the report alleged many BJP leaders culpable including Atal Bihari Vajpayee, LK Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, Kalyan Singh, Pramod Mahajan, Uma Bharti and Vijayaraje Scindia, as well as VHP leaders like Giriraj Kishore and Ashok Singhal of inciting the demolition.
Two FIRs filed in the Babri Masjid demolition case. Crime no. 197 deals with actual “demolition of the mosque by karsevaks.” Crime no. 198 named L.K. Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and others for ‘communal’ speeches before the demolition.
Back in 2010, the Allahabad High Court ruled the disputed land in Ayodhya will be divided into three parts. The 2.77 acres land will be divided between Hindus, Muslims and the Nirmohi Akhara.
The Allahabad High Court’s ruling stated that the disputed land was Ram’s birthplace, and that the mosque was built after the demolition of a temple and that it was not built in accordance with the tenets of Islam.
The apex court had, however, suspended the ruling in 2011 after the Hindu and Muslim groups had appealed against verdict.
On March 21, 2017, Chief Justice of India J.S. Khehar advised peace negotiations instead of a pitched court battle, even offering help to settle the fight amicably.
On April 6, 2017, the Supreme Court indicated that it will use its extraordinary powers under Article 142 of the Constitution to transfer the Babri Masjid demolition related trial in Rae Bareilly against top BJP leaders L.K. Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi to Lucknow, where a CBI court is hearing conspiracy and other serious criminal charges against "lakhs of unknown kar sevaks" for the actual act of razing down the 15th century mosque.
On April 19, 2017, the top court revived conspiracy charges against L K Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and 13 others in the cases.
On May 30, L K Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, Uma Bharti and Vinay Katiyar were charged with criminal conspiracy in the Babri Masjod demolition case.
The top court had on August 11 asked the UP government to complete within 10 weeks the translation of the evidence recorded for adjudication of the title dispute in the high court. It had said it would not allow the matter to take any shape other than the civil appeals and would adopt the same procedure as was done by the high court.
Shia and Sunni Muslims divided after Shia Waqf Board gives OK to build Ram temple at Ayodhya
In a sudden twist in the long-running political-cum-communal dispute, the Shia Waqf Board on August 8 suggested that a Ram temple can be built at the disputed site if a mosque is also constructed at a reachable distance and in a Muslim-dominated area.
Significantly, the Shias on Tuesday even called the disputed site as 'most revered place of birth of maryada puroshottam Ram'.
Mediation efforts in vain, Muslims feel out-of-court settlement would be surrender
Efforts by people like Art of Living founder Sri Sri Ravishankar to act as mediators with the goal of negotiating an out of court settlement have turned fruitless till date.
The Muslims represented by the Sunni Waqf board are averse to an out of court settlement. The Nirmohi Akhara welcomes Ravishankar's mediation but wants to firmly keep out the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) from the talks.
Prominent Hindu seers dismissed Ravishankar's mediation efforts as 'nautanki' (a hilarious play without any message) and asked him to keep away from the issue.
Senior Muslim cleric and All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) member Maulana Khalid Rasheed Firangimahali also voiced scepticism on the mediation efforts saying that the matter was before the Supreme Court and that Muslims would abide by its verdict.