Thanks to the Ayodhya Judgment, Faith Rather Than Fact is Driving India's Courts

As Hindu groups rekindle the claim that the Shahi Idgah in Mathura stands on the site of Lord Krishna's birth, it becomes pertinent to revisit the Supreme Court's Ayodhya judgment to see how it dealt with claims about the 'birthplace' of Lord Ram.

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Right-wing Hindutva groups are back again with their communal agenda, aggressively pitching their demands to convert various mosques into temples.

After the Supreme Court’s Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi verdict in 2019, the 1990s battle cry – “Ayodhya to sirf jhanki hai, Kashi, Mathura baqi hai!” (Ayodhya was just a trailer, Kashi and Mathura are still left) – has now taken on a life of its own.  

The Kashi Vishwanath temple trust claims that the land on which the Gyanvapi mosque stands actually belongs to them. A court in Varanasi ordered a survey and videography of the Gyanvapi mosque and the Supreme Court has declined to interfere.

As for the Shahi Idgah, Hindutva groups claim there was a Krishna Janmabhoomi temple at this site – where Lord Krishna was born – which was destroyed by Aurangzeb. These groups have been demanding that the mosque be demolished and the land ‘returned’ to the temple authorities.

Recently, two applications were filed in a Mathura court for the early appointment of a senior advocate commissioner for “verifying [the] presence of signs of a Hindu temple” at the mosque site.  

Tanvir Ahmed, secretary of the Idgah trust and an advocate, had earlier stated that the demands of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its allied Hindu groups are unclear and that the claim that the land under the Idgah is the birthplace of Krishna “does not hold water”. 

Also read: By Allowing Gyanvapi Mosque Survey, SC Has Turned a Blind Eye Towards Injustice

Going by the Ayodhya judgment, one is not sure whether the fact of ‘birth’ of Ram (or Krishna) really matters for the court.  

A significant factor in the Supreme Court’s Ayodhya verdict is the centrality of faith with regard to the birthplace of Lord Ram. The judgment deliberated extensively on whether Hindus believed that the Babri Masjid site was the birthplace of Ram and worshipped him at this site. In fact, the 116-page addendum, authored by one of the judges, is titled, ‘Whether disputed structure is the holy birth place of Lord Ram as per the faith, belief and trust of the Hindus‘. 

If one considers the birth of Ram as a historical event then surely evidence has to be produced in this regard. The evidence, however, only speaks of what the Hindus believed (which is, again, dubious as The Wire‘s report makes clear when it says, “Nor is there any proof that Hindus anywhere before very late times believed that Lord Ram was born precisely at the site of Babri Masjid, which should, of course, not be confused with the belief that he was born in Ayodhya”).

The status of facts is important when it comes to pronouncing judgments, particularly in liberal democracies. But the facts that are central to the case have been sidestepped. Instead, a different kind of a ‘fact’ seems to have been a factor in the verdict – the faith and belief of Hindus. What is adduced as ‘evidence’ is the ‘fact’ of the belief and faith of Hindus. 

Also read: In Ayodhya, Landmark Ram Temple Demolished by Ram Mandir Trust to Make Way for New One

The addendum to the Ayodhya judgment shows how it appeals to notions of faith, belief and doctrines as parts of religion that lead to “spiritual well-being”. It also brings ethical rules, rituals, observances, ceremonies and modes of worship within the domain of religion.  

This sort of deliberation reflects the preponderance of post-truth phenomena that seem to underlie the judgment.

‘Post-truth’, a term coined by Steve Tesich in a 1992 article, refers to “circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”

In a post-truth world, arguments are based on beliefs but are crafted as being based on facts. The term’s use was generally restricted to the political sphere and the media-driven world and was associated with the act of political deception. 

However, with the Supreme Court’s Ayodhya judgment, post-truth seems to have entered the judicial sphere. By taking recourse to the juggling of statements from what it considers as scriptures, like the Skandapurana and Ramayana, the addendum seems to conflate the two senses of religion.

On page 16 of the addendum, point 28 reads:

“Faith and belief foster and promote the spiritual life of the soul.”

Further, on page 18, it states:

“…all religions and faith is one, i.e., quest for truth, quest for knowing more about soul and quest to know more about Supreme, who in one or other form is worshipped in all religions.”

The above statements and deliberations impel one to examine whether there is only one overarching idea under which all intelligible locutions about religion are subsumed. The locution that favours the idea that religion is something that is available as a belief system one professes – with the ritual of temple worship and congregation – suggests only one aspect of religion. The ideas of “spiritual life of the soul” and the “quest for truth” that get connected to the idea of liberation, mark another. 

These two aspects are divergent but are often conflated, masking our understanding of religion in public discourse. 

Faith is the inner confidence of an individual about something or someone; it is personal. A religious faith can be said to be an inner response of an individual to something that can be termed ‘transcendental’ or ‘god’. Such a faith gets expressed in different ways in the form of tenets and thoughts pertaining to worship and the vision of god.

The thoughts are spontaneous in nature and express a certain putative relationship between man, nature and god. Since it is just faith, there is no way one can substantiate it as it is not based on rational grounds, and it cannot, therefore, be said to be inferred. 

Religion as faith is not a systematised entity but it just so happens that over a period of time, it becomes one such entity. Such an entity consists of beliefs, myths, rituals, external symbols and modes of worship having tenuous connections with the origins of faith that were motivated by piety and the vision of god.

William Cantwell Smith in his classic work, The Meaning and End of Religion, meticulously argues how this systematised entity, by a “process of reification”, gets institutionalised in a collective. This process of reification creates an aura of sacredness and communal sensitivity around this collective. Concurrently, there occurs a change in the significance accorded to the term religion and it comes to be applied to this collective or community. 

The bringing together of the faith, beliefs and doctrines and conflating the divergent senses of religion constitute the specious apologetics of the verdict to conclude that Ram’s birthplace was where the Babri Masjid had been constructed – a typical case of post-truth being appropriated by the judiciary in pronouncing the verdict.

S.K. Arun Murthy has taught philosophy in the Humanities and the Social Sciences department, Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Mohali, Punjab.