Mumbai: Against the backdrop of the Sangh parivar’s sharpening rhetoric over the Ram mandir issue, a group of concerned citizens has moved the Supreme Court seeking a direction that the disputed site in Ayodhya be reserved for “non-religious public use, irrespective of the adjudication of the suit”.
On Friday, the Citizens for Justice and Peace, a human rights and legal resources platform working towards communal harmony in the country, moved an intervention petition in the Supreme Court against the 2010 verdict of the Allahabad high court in the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute.
The petition challenges the order passed by the high court that the area covered under the erstwhile central dome of the now demolished mosque in Ayodhya was the birthplace of Rama. The petition claims that the order was passed despite the absence of archaeological evidence and by selectively accepting and rejecting historical evidence.
The petitioners include CJP founder Teesta Setalvad, film makers Shyam Benegal, Aparna Sen and Anand Patwardhan, activists Medha Patkar and Aruna Roy, academics Ganesh Devy, Jayati Ghosh, Kalpana Kannabiran, Muniza Khan and G. Haragopal, editors Om Thanvi and Kumar Ketkar, businessman Cyrus Guzder, writer Kiran Nagarkar, Rupa Mody (whose son, Azhar Mody went missing during the 2002 Gujarat riots and was the subject of the film Parzania) and many other eminent personalities from diverse backgrounds.
In a 44-page appeal, they have called for the court’s immediate attention on the several “social and legal issues” surrounding the petition. Confirming that the appeal was filed on Friday, Setalvad said: “This three-decade dispute has led to polarisation in the past. We felt there is a need to not look at the Ayodhya issue as merely a civil dispute but also as something that is of larger public concern.”
The Allahabad high court verdict had directed the division of 2.77 acres of land of the disputed Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid site in Ayodhya into three parts – between the Hindu litigants, the Muslim litigants and the Nirmohi Akhara. Of the three judges, only Justice D.V. Sharma had registered his dissenting opinion against the order of the majority. In 2011, the apex court stayed the order. Those who filed appeals included the Sunni Central Wakf Board, Uttar Pradesh; the Nirmohi Akhara; the All- India Hindu Mahasabha and Bhagwan Shri Ram Virajman.
In the intervention filed on Friday, the petitioners have expressed apprehensions over the possibilities of adjudicating the matter in favour of either of the contesting parties. Any verdict “is bound to forge extreme opinion amongst the communities on both sides, which may result in aggravated incidents of violence, as had been perpetuated earlier by the involvement of various political parties posing a serious threat to the secular fabric of the country,” the petitioners have claimed.
The Allahabad high court in its order in 2010 had categorically observed that that none of the parties have been able to prove conclusive title of the disputed property. Yet the court passed its order on the basis of who was in possession of the land. Although the court ordered the division of the land, it accepted the belief that the site of the Babri mosque was the birthplace of Lord Ram. “Once we find that by way of faith and traditions, Hindus have been worshipping the place of birth of Lord Ram at the site in dispute, we have no reason but to hold in a matter relating to such a kind of historical event that for all practical purposes this is the place of birth of Lord Ram,” the court had observed. This, the petitioners have termed to be “quite shocking”. “The applicants refute the finding of the Hon’ble High Court that there exists a belief among majority of the Hindu community that the disputed property is the birthplace of Lord Rama, as there is no basis on which such a finding could be sustained,” the petition reads. “In view of the fact that neither party was able to establish their case, no one should have succeeded, even partially. It appears that finding no way to balance these two, the high court decision attempts a secular solution that unfortunately does not put the festering wounds caused by this conflict to rest.”
The key argument the petitioners make is that the high court looked at the dispute through the lens of a civil suit when there were actually “larger issues of constitutionality” involved.
Implicitly referring to suggestions being made for “mediation” as well as for a resolution of the civil suit, the petition draws attention to the current political realities:
“Today it is a battle of unequals within the courts as a divisive and cataclysmic movement and event is given legitimacy by the powers that be, and all of India, young and voiceless millions want to see the end to this deliberately perpetrated conflict. The only situation lies today In each of us Indians rising above narrow confines of class, caste, community and gender and dedicate the spot that has come to signify conflict to a constructive non religious purpose.
“For over three decades, this peace loving people of India, practicing co existence and negotiation between different faiths and languages, who have been held hostage to this dispute, have been, unfortunately, not heard. Their vast voice has simply not been heard. This small group of representatives Indians represents that vast, silent voice, that wishes above all peace harmony and collective advancement of all Indians.”
The 16th century mosque, built by the Mughal emperor Babar, was demolished by Hindutva activists on December 6, 1992 in Ayodhya. Following the demolition, the country witnessed massive riots, resulting in over 2000 deaths across India. Besides several regions of Uttar Pradesh, Mumbai city too was badly affected.
A criminal case against several BJP and Sangh parivar leaders and activists for their role in the conspiracy to demolish the mosque was registered soon after 1992 and is still being prosecuted by the Central Bureau of Investigation. Among those indicted are former deputy prime minister L.K. Advani, senior BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi and Uma Bharati, currently a minister in the Modi government.