Twenty-seven years ago, when the Babri mosque in Ayodhya was razed to the ground, there were riots across the country and many towns from the north to the south were under curfew for days on end.
The situation was so tense that multiple Hindi film stars, Hindu and Muslim, acted in a video in which one actor after another would feature for a few seconds, performing to a song — which was an appeal for harmony — sung by singer Udit Narayan.
Three days ago, as the Supreme Court pronounced the Ayodhya title suit judgment, the reactions were very different. The Sunni Waqf Board soon afterwards announced that it would not file a review petition. The Muslim litigant, thus, accepted the judgment.
There were some arrests based on social media posts and celebrations by some, but the overall mood involved a serious discussion of the verdict. Some called it a statesmanlike verdict that sought to put a lid on an old dispute. Some others wondered in dismay why the court ended up awarding the whole disputed site to Hindus even while finding the demolition of the mosque – to fix responsibility for which a special CBI court is hearing a case in Lucknow – a violation of the rule of law, and even after finding no conclusive proof of a Ram temple underneath the Babri mosque.
However, there was no frenzy this time around. People went about their work as if not much had happened, something very different from 1992 when the country was engulfed in flames.
What does this augur for the future of inter-community relations in a secular nation-state?
The Supreme Court starts its judgement with a reminder: “This Court is tasked with the resolution of a dispute whose origins are as old as the idea of India itself.”
The Supreme Court relied on accounts from travellers Tieffenthaler and Montgomery Martin and corroborated by both Hindu and Muslim witnesses. It drew an inference of identifiable places for offering worship by Hindu pilgrims at the disputed site. The order notes that Babri Masjid was constructed in 1528 under the command of Babur. It also notes the communal riots between Hindus and Muslims necessitated the British administration to build a grill-brick wall in 1858.
The earliest court case regarding the dispute arose in 1885. The District Judge of Faizabad, in his judgment dated 18/26 March 1886, held that “it was most unfortunate that the Masjid should have been built on the land especially held sacred by the Hindus but since the construction had been made 358 years earlier, it was too late in the day to reverse the process.”
The Supreme Court observes that the Muslim account is conspicuously silent on worship prior to 1856 as opposed to the accounts of worship being offered by the Hindus. There is clear evidence of obstruction of worship, like 1934 riots, even after construction of the grill wall. Yet, the restoration of the mosque and arrangements made for Pesh Imam’s service indicates some form of namaz continued to be offered in the mosque until 16 December 1949.
The Court notes evidence that Muslims offered Friday namaz at the mosque and had not completely lost access to or abandoned the disputed property.