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No to status quo: Babri site now exception to 1991 religious places law on disputed sites

By Sanjeev Sirohi* 
“The court does not decide title on the basis of faith or belief but on the basis of evidence…it applies settled principles of evidence to adjudicate upon which party has established a claim to the immovable property.” -- CJI Ranjan Gogoi while reading the verdict
Incumbent Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi, who is due to retire shortly on November 17, along with the other 4 Judges – Justices Sharad Arvind Bobde, who is the new designated CJI, DY Chandrachud, Ashok Bhushan and S Abdul Nazeer, have put a supreme closure on a centuries-old Hindu-Muslim dispute. They all have not just decided unanimously that the Ram Janambhoomi-Babri Masjid disputed land shall be handed over for the construction of a Ram temple, thus accepting Hindus claim, and simultaneously ordering that Muslims shall be allocated five acres at a prominent place in Ayodhya for a mosque.
In the unanimous judgment in the M Siddiq (D) Thr Lrs Vs Mahant Suresh Das & Ors in Civil Appeal Nos 10866-10867 of 2010, along with other Civil Appeals, the bench headed by CJI Ranjan Gogoi asked the Centre, which had acquired the entire 67.73 acres of land, including the 2.77 acres of the disputed Ramjanambhoomi-Babri Masjid premises in 1993, to constitute a trust in three months for overseeing the construction of a temple and frame a scheme for its functioning as well as on matters pertaining to management of trust and construction of temple.
For the time being, the possession of the disputed property would continue to vest with the Centre until a notification is issued by it investing the property in the trust. The Bench also directed that the Sunni Central Waqf Board should be given a five acre plot, either by the Centre from within its acquired area, or by the Uttar Pradesh government “at a suitable, prominent place in Ayodhya”. The Board would be at liberty to construct a mosque there. This should be done simultaneously with the transfer of the property to the proposed trust.
Speaking for myself, I very strongly believe that why can’t a temple and mosque coexist, and why can’t Hindus and Muslims pray peacefully at any place together anywhere in India? Why can’t we be more respectful for each other? Why can’t we respect religion of those different from us just like we respect our own?
Speaking for my best friend Sageer Khan, he in spite of being a Muslim, differed very strongly with me on this and said way back in 1993-94 directly to about 4 to 5 Muslims in my absence, but which I overheard as I had just returned after attending my BSc classes at the Sagar University – something he repeated in my presence also: “The Centre must declare Ayodhya, Kashi and Mathura as Hindu sites and not a single shrine of any other religion should ever be constructed at any of these three places. Should a temple be built in Mecca or Medina?” 
He wondered, “What if Hindus also demand similarly? Will any Muslim anywhere in world agree to building of a temple anywhere in Mecca or Medina or anywhere in Saudi Arabia or any other Gulf country? Why do we then not do with others what we expect from others to do with us? Moreover, no true Muslim should offer namaz at any disputed place or by disturbing others like on roads and Hindus consider these three places as most sacred since lakhs of years. How can all this be overlooked?”
He continued, “Will we become small if we accord Hindus due respect just like they respect Mecca and Medina? I don’t consider disputed site at Ayodhya as mosque because no namaz has been offered there since last many decades and moreover it is disputed where no true Muslim should ever go and Hindus have considered it always as Lord Ram’s birthplace and even Archeological Survey of India has found remains of temple at the disputed site!”
He said, “A very prominent Imam of Iran has also upheld Hindus strong claim on Ayodhya. We must be large hearted and accept the deepest sentiments which Hindus share with these 3 places – Ayodhya, Kashi and Mathura just like we do with Mecca and Medina. How will we feel if Hindus demand temple at these two sites? We will get mad in anger than why do we also not respect Hindus sentiments just like they respect ours? Allah never accepts prayers offered by hurting the sentiments of others. I will prefer not praying at all rather than pray by hurting my Hindu brothers! Muslims enjoy maximum freedom in India all over the world.”
He added, “No place can be safer for Muslims than India where they enjoy maximum liberty. Indian Muslims are always discriminated in Pakistan which alone explains that why no Muslim from India ever wants to reside permanently in Pakistan and they are still termed as ‘Mohajjir’. I am proud to be an Indian and shall certainly die as an Indian. Religions are just different path to reach the common goal. God is called by different names but he is one.”
There can certainly be no communal violence ever in India if all Indians always think like him!
It is this same Sageer Khan who, when I expressed to him my desire to become a Muslim like him as he always stood by me in my most difficult times took a vow from me in 1994 by placing my hand on his head with tears in his eyes saying that, “You shall never renounce your religion”, as he (Sageer) felt always that, “Anything can be changed but nation, religion and parents can never be changed” and also God Shiva in whom I believed, till then but had lost faith in him shall continue worshipping him till my last breath just like he (Sageer) shall never renounce his Allah and his religion!
Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi
It is this same Sageer who regularly ensured that I worshipped Lord Shiv while he used to offer namaz and it was a coincidence that whenever he took me to different temples which he did regularly from April 1993 to April 1995, the idol was always of Lord Hanuman due to which I started believing in him also fully along with Mata Durga where Sageer always bowed his head in a temple in Sagar in Madhya Pradesh for my faith to stay intact!
I must acknowledge that the utmost sincerity with which he used to bow entirely in front of idols of Lord Hanuman and Mata Durga and shake his head on ground with fullest dedication when I never at that time liked to even bow down injected in me fresh lease of faith in not just Lord Shiva but also in Lord Hanuman and Mata Durga whom I never worshipped earlier for which I shall forever be indebted to him! 
It is again Sageer who took a vow from me that I shall never enter any mosque in my life nor bow my head ever in front of mosque as I am Hindu and should always visit only temple and bow head there only or in dargah as both Hindus and Muslims go there!
Speaking now for the Supreme Court which delivered this path-breaking judgment, it was also made clear that, “In exercise of the powers vested in this Court under Article 142 of the Constitution, we direct that in the scheme to be framed by the Central Government, appropriate representation may be given in the Trust or body, to the Nirmohi Akhara in such manner as the Central Government deems fit.”
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has hailed the restraint following the Supreme Court’s judgment in the Ayodhya case saying it should be seen as a message of unity which proves that the most difficult of problems can be solved within the framework of the Constitution and Courts. He tweeted, “This verdict shouldn’t be seen as a win or loss for anybody. Be it Ram Bhakti or Rahim Bhakti, it is imperative that we strengthen the spirit of Rashtra Bhakti. May peace and harmony prevail!”
After giving the disputed land to Hindus and a separate five acres of land at a prominent place to Muslims for construction of a mosque in Ayodhya, the Supreme Court shut the door for fresh litigation to alter the status quo of religious sites such as those in Kashi and Mathura which has also seen discord over worship.
I had the honour to visit Kashi in 2012 along with my advocate friend Amit Sharma and his family where we did pooja freely and I did not see any Hindu-Muslim tension at all! This clear assertion by top court must put to rest all doubts and speculations over such claims being presented at other disputed sites also by Hindus!
Leaders from all parties must refrain from expressing unfounded fears on this and should recognize that the top court has itself said clearly and categorically on this which cannot be questioned by anyone! Central and state governments should follow the Religious Places (Special Provision) Act, 1991, which mandates maintenance of status quo on character of the disputed sites as it existed in 1947. Only Ram Janambhoomi-Babri Masjid is excluded from ambit of this law. 
It can be termed as a collective judgment even though, as pointed out in the “Sunday Times” (November 10), “It was clear from the printed version of the judgment that the author was none other than Justice DY Chandrachud. It was a valid surmise. SC judges have their own styles and use distinct fonts. For those familiar with the style of Chandrachud, the matter was settled; well, almost beyond reasonable doubt.”
It is for first time that the main judgment is accompanied by a 116-page “addenda” which was in the shape of a complete judgment and could well have been passed off as a separate, although the concurring judgment which is believed to be authored by Justice Ashok Bhushan!
The judgment also pulled back no punches to conclude, “The destruction of the mosque took place in breach of the order of status quo and an assurance given to this Court. The destruction of the mosque and the obliteration of the Islamic structure was an egregious violation of the rule of law.” 
Why can’t a temple and mosque coexist, and why can’t Hindus and Muslims pray peacefully at any place together anywhere in India?
The court concluded that the Muslims were ousted from the 1,500 square yards of the mosque through acts of damage during communal riots in 1934, desecration in the intervening night of December 22-23 of 1949 when idols were placed inside the mosque and finally, the demolition of the mosque in 1992.” 
It also concluded that, “All forms of belief, worship and prayer are equal.” There can be no denying it. This landmark verdict cannot be interpreted either as victory for Hindus or defeat for Muslims.
Zufar Faruqi of UP Sunni Central Waqf Board said that, “We welcome and humbly accept the verdict…we will not go in for any review of the apex court’s order or file any curative petition.” Maulana Tauqeer Raza Khan, who is national President of Ittehad-e-Millat Council, that, “I respect the SC decision. Our faith has taught us to express gratitude to God in happiness and be patient while in sorrow. However, the verdict has ended the politics in the name of temple and will eliminate the hatred in the name of faith. I hope that the focus of politics will now be betterment of the country.”
Maulana Shahbudin Razvi, who is General Secretary of Tanzeem Ulama-e-Islam, said, “I welcome the decision of Supreme Court. The matter had become a major issue of contention between two communities of the country and today’s decision has ended a decades old dispute. I appeal to the people that they should maintain communal harmony in the country.” Pawan Arora who is VHP’s Divisional President said, “We welcome the decision which has been passed in the country’s interest.”
The Supreme Court has accepted what many Muslims like Sageer Khan and Sufi Khan have steadily maintained that Hindus have always considered the disputed site in Ayodhya as the birth place of Lord Ram since lakhs of years and their unflinching faith in this stands vindicated by the report of Archaeological Survey of India which found proof of temple beneath the disputed site which can be considered as an expert opinion.
The Apex Court conceded that Hindus and Muslims had a competing right over the disputed site but Hindus showed better evidence of their continuous worship at the disputed structure for centuries. It also maintained that no evidence produced by Muslims to indicate that their possession of disputed structure was exclusive and that offering of namaz was exclusionary of Hindus.
It was also conceded that Muslims have never been in possession of the outer courtyard. Inner courtyard has been a contested site with conflicting claims of Hindus and Muslims. But there has been no abandonment of mosque by Muslims as namaz was offered till December 1949. 
It held that “the allotment of land to Muslims is necessary because though on balance of possibilities, evidence regarding claim of Hindus to the composite whole of the disputed property stands on a better footing than the evidence adduced by Muslims, but Muslims were dispossessed upon desecration of mosque on 22/23 December 1949, which was ultimately destroyed on 6 December 1992.”
The Apex Court has thus set aside the September 30, 2010 verdict of Allahabad High Court which had divided the core disputed area into three equal parts and allotted one part each to Ram Lalla (the area under the central dome of the demolished mosque), Nirmohi Akhara (outer courtyard including Ram Chabutra and Sita Rasoi) and the rest to Sunni Waqf Board. Let’s earnestly hope now both Hindus and Muslims would be able to pray peacefully as directed by the top court!
---
*Advocate based in Meerut, Uttar Pradesh

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