March 26, 2002


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Arvind Lavakare

The legal labyrinth of Ram's Ayodhya

It's a reality that may well belong to the realm of fiction. The first legal case for repossession of the Ram Janambhoomi was filed in 1885. And the petitioner won it! In 1886!

It was a civil appeal (no 27 of 1885) by one Mahant Raghubardas and the defendant respondents were the secretary of state of India (no less) and one Mohammed Azghar. In his judgment delivered on March 18, 1886, the district judge, Colonel F E A Chamier (a Briton) recorded as follows:

'I visited the land in dispute yesterday in the presence of all parties.

'I found that the masjid built by Emperor Babar stands on the border of the town of Ayodhya, that is to say to the West and South. It is clear of habitations. 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. All that can be done is to maintain the parties in status quo. In such a case as the present one any innovation could cause more harm and derangement of order than benefit.'

Thus, the Hindus won the legal case exactly a week more than 116 years ago, but were denied their Ram temple for the very same reasons that have been harboured by Muslim-appeasing pseudo-secularists of India whose 'hate Hindu' mentality is now openly pronounced by senior English-language journalists. And yet, these 'secularists' of pink and other hues want the VHP to proclaim that it will abide by the court verdict -- whatever it be.

Judicial proceedings in the Ram Janambhoomi were recommenced three years after the British had left Indians completely free to take their own decisions in accordance with their own Constitution which then did not have the much misused and abused word 'secular' in its Preamble.

After the idols of Sri Ram appeared in the Babri structure on the night of December 22/23 in 1949, a Hindu lawyer, Gopal Visharad, filed a suit on January 15, 1950, before the civil judge, Faizabad, praying for 'an injunction restraining the Government of UP, other civil officials and five other Muslims from removing those idols, closing the passage or interfering with [them] in any way and permitting the Pooja and Darshan of Sri Rama with due ceremony and ritual.'

Paramhans Ramchandra filed a similar suit. Both injunctions were granted in the combined suit. On appeal, this order was confirmed on March 3, 1951, by the district court and then by a division bench of the Allahabad high court on November 26, 1953. In fact, the high court directed in 1955 that the case be disposed of 'at once'. The district court didn't respect its superior's order for 34 years. Yet, the 'secularists' want the VHP to respect the court verdict, whatever it is and whenever it is.

Ultimately, all the five cases in process then were withdrawn by the high court from the district court to itself on July 10, 1989 -- in response to an application to that effect made by the UP government... two years earlier! The application for a special bench of three judges was also approved then.

Of those five pending cases, the one that has been made the 'leading suit' is the only one filed by the Muslims. The Sunni Waqf Board (a waqf is a trust that controls the property of Islamic institutions) did that in the Faizabad district court on December 8, 1961. It wanted the court to declare the Babri structure a mosque that was Muslim property, the possession of which had to be delivered to them by removing the idols and other articles placed there by the Hindus. Its suit also wanted the return of the graveyard, 'Ganj Shahidan', at the gate of the Janmasthan where 75 Muslims are recorded to have been buried in 1855; that was when the Hindus made a counterattack on the Mussalmans who had occupied the Janmasthan by force and had made a desperate assault on the nearby Hanuman 'garhi'.

This Muslim suit was in response to the one filed by Visharad and Paramhans on January 15, 1950, wherein the injunctions they had requested had been upheld by the high court in 1955, as seen earlier.

This waqf board suit was frivolous, to say the least. First, while the statute of limitations for wresting title of property lost by adverse possession is six years, the waqf board's case was filed 11 years and 360 days after the Ram idols had been placed in the Babri structure. Secondly, the city civil judge of Faizabad had given a preliminary finding on April 21, 1966, that the Babri structure was not a waqf property because no proper notification under the law had been made declaring it to be a Waqf property. Thirdly, under Islamic law, only the muttawali of the masjid is authorised to initiate legal action, not a waqf board; what's more, the muttawali who was recognised as such in black and white by the Sunni Waqf Board on November 25, 1948, and recognised by it as such in its report of December 10, 1949, was one Mir Java Hassan, who refused to join the waqf board suit and, in fact, wanted the transfer of the masjid to his village so that he could offer prayers.

That time-barred waqf board suit still stands in India's courts. First, the high court refused to hear the limitation as the preliminary issue. When Paramhans Ramchandra went to the apex court on that refusal, the Supreme Court observed on January 12, 1990, that 'if the defendants press the contention regarding the maintainability grounded upon limitation to be raised as a preliminary issue, the high court which is trying the case will do well to entertain the request'.

Armed with this order, the Hindu defendants asked for preliminary determination of the limitation issue. On August 22, 1990, the high court refused to decide any issue as the preliminary issue -- without hearing the defendants' arguments on merit.

This refusal of the high court to hear the limitation as the preliminary issue is the subject of a special leave petition that has been in the Supreme Court from September 1990. Thus, instead of wanting the outright dismissal of the waqf board's flippant suit, the VHP must patiently, calmly, and respectfully await the verdict on it of the apex court, whatever it be, and whenever it be.

The fifth of the legal suit pending with the special bench of the Allahabad high court is the one filed by a former justice of the Allahabad high court, Deoki Nandan, as a friend and on behalf of Lord Ram and his devotees. He prayed for declaration of the title and property in favour of the deity. That was on July 1, 1989.

In the very first post-Independence suit of January 1950, the plaintiff as well as the five defendants died 10 years ago while in the second suit of 1950, only the plaintiff, Paramhans Ramachandra, is alive, all of 92 years. He is the one who, reacting to the Allahabad high court's refusal to hear the limitation issue of the waqf board's case as a preliminary issue, personally applied to it, on August 23, 1990, for withdrawal of his suit that had remained undecided, even by the special bench, since it was filed in January 1950.

He also orally told that court then that he was withdrawing the litigation completely and leaving the matter entirely in the hands of Bhagwan Sri Ram. But the 'secularists' want the VHP to await and abide by the court verdict, whatever it be, and whenever it be.

The 'secularists' want the VHP to be happy now that that special bench has heeded the UP government's request to meet every day to 'expedite' the five pending cases bunched with it. So instead of waiting for another 15 years or so for it to finish taking all the 230 depositions, it might finish the job in, say, a year or two. Thereafter, we will have to wait for arguments before we get the decision. After all, remember that it was on November 7, 1989, that the special bench had said, 'It is doubtful that some of the questions involved in the suit are soluble by judicial process.' But if the VHP says that, it will be hauled over the coals and told to await the verdict, and abide by it, whatever it be and whenever it be.

Arvind Lavakare

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