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The mediation panel, comprising former Supreme Court judge FM Kalifulla, spiritual guru Sri Sri Ravishankar and senior advocate Sriram Panchu, started consultations with various groups in March and submitted its report. The Ayodhya judgement is expected to be delivered before Chief Justice Gogoi retires on November 17.

Both Hindus and Muslims claim the land where the 16th century Babri mosque stood before it was brought down in December 1992 by Hindu activists who believed that it was built on the ruins of an ancient temple marking the birthplace of Lord Ram. The cataclysmic incident shook Indian politics and caused riots across the country.


The Ayodhya row

At the centre of the row is a 16th Century mosque that was demolished by Hindu mobs in 1992, sparking riots that killed nearly 2,000 people. Many Hindus believe that the Babri Masjid was actually constructed on the ruins of a Hindu temple that was demolished by Muslim invaders. Muslims say they offered prayers at the mosque until December 1949 when some Hindus placed an idol of Ram in the mosque and began to worship the idols.


Demolition of Babri Masjid

In the 1980s, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), belonging to the mainstream Hindu nationalist family Sangh Parivar, launched a new movement to "reclaim" the site for Hindus and to erect a temple dedicated to the infant Rama (Ramlala) at this spot. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), formed in 1980 from the remnants of the Jana Sangh, became the political face of the campaign. In 1986, a district judge ruled that the gates would be reopened and Hindus permitted to worship inside, providing a major boost to the movement. In September 1990, BJP leader L. K. Advani began a "rath yatra" (pilgrimage procession) to Ayodhya in order to generate support for the movement. Advani later stated in his memoirs, "If Muslims are entitled to an Islamic atmosphere in Mecca, and if Christians are entitled to a Christian atmosphere in the Vatican, why is it wrong for the Hindus to expect a Hindu atmosphere in Ayodhya?" The yatra resulted in communal riots in many cities in its wake, prompting the government of Bihar to arrest Advani.


On 6 December 1992, the VHP and its associates, including the BJP, organised a rally involving 150,000 VHP and BJP kar sevaks at the site of the mosque. The ceremonies included speeches by the BJP leaders such as Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and Uma Bharti. The mob grew restive through the duration of the speeches, and stormed the mosque shortly after noon. A police cordon placed there to protect the mosque was heavily outnumbered. The mosque was attacked with a number of improvised tools, and brought to the ground in a few hours. This occurred despite a commitment from the state government to the Indian Supreme Court that the mosque would not be harmed. More than 2000 people were killed in the riots following the demolition. Riots broke out in many major Indian cities including Mumbai, Bhopal, Delhi and Hyderabad.


Who is fighting the litigation?

The Hindu litigants are the Hindu Mahasabha, a right-wing political party, and the Nirmohi Akhara, which is a sect of Hindu monks. They filed a title dispute in the Allahabad High Court in 2002, a decade after the mosque was demolished. A verdict in that case was pronounced in September 2010 - it determined that the 2.77 acres of the disputed land would be divided equally into three parts.

The court ruled that the site should be split, with the Muslim community getting control of a third, Hindus another third and the Nirmohi Akhara sect the remainder. Control of the main disputed section, where the mosque once stood, was given to Hindus. The judgement also made three key observations. It affirmed the disputed spot was the birthplace of Lord Ram, that the Babri Masjid was built after the demolition of a Hindu temple and that it was not built in accordance with the tenets of Islam. The Supreme Court suspended this ruling in 2011 after both Hindu and Muslim groups appealed against it.

Religious tensions

Ever since the Narendra Modi-led Hindu nationalist BJP first came to power in 2014, India has seen deepening social and religious divisions. The call for the construction of a Hindu temple in Ayodhya has grown particularly loud, and has mostly come from MPs, ministers and leaders from the BJP since it took office.

Restrictions on the sale and slaughter of cows - considered a holy animal by the majority Hindus - have led to vigilante killings of a number of people, most of them Muslims who were transporting cattle. An uninhibited display of muscular Hindu nationalism in other areas has also contributed to religious tension. Most recently, the country's home minister Amit Shah said he would remove "illegal migrants" - understood to be Muslim - from the country through a government scheme that was used recently in the north-eastern state of Assam.


Awaiting settlement

As the final verdict is awaited, it cannot be forgotten that the demolition of the disputed structure in December 1992 was an egregious crime against the country’s secular fabric and its constitutional ethos. The purported evidence of a Hindu structure beneath the mosque came up only in excavations made after the structure was razed. Any decision made on such evidence, which would not have been available to the court if the suits had been disposed of in earlier decades, might amount to the judicial system legitimising the demolition. Even otherwise, the fact that a modern democracy should have been saddled with litigation motivated by historical revanchism is execrable in itself. There can be no judicial standards to settle a faith-based argument. There is some talk of a “settlement” based on mediation efforts at the court’s behest. A mediated settlement would be welcome, even though it is not clear if all sides are on board. However, if the outcome is not to be based purely on the rule of law, it would be better there is a mediated settlement.