On 9 November 2019, the Supreme Court of India ordered that 2.77-acre land in North Indian town of Ayodhya, where Babri Masjid stood for centuries, be handed over to a trust to build a Hindu temple. It also ordered the government of India to give an alternate 5-acre land to Sunni Waqf Board, to build a replacement mosque.
The site of the historical old mosque has been a centre of dispute between Hindus and Muslims since the 18th century. Hindus claimed that the mosque was the site of birthplace of their god Rama.
The first recorded instance of conflict over the site was in 1853 when India was going through socio-political upheaval and uprise against the British rule had begun. The courts had then allotted separate areas of the site for Hindus and Muslims.
In 1949, two years after India’s independence and country’s partition into India and Pakistan, Hindu activists associated with the fundamentalist religious organisation Hindu Mahasabha covertly placed idols of Rama inside the mosque. In the ensuing controversy, the site was closed off to both communities, but the idols were not removed.
A campaign was launched in 1984 by the right-wing Hindu Nationalists to remove the mosque and build a Hindu temple in its place. The movement gained momentum in the following years.
BJP leader L K Advani led a procession of Hindu volunteers on a chariot called Rath Yatra in 1990 which covered hundreds of villages and cities across the country for two months raising the issue of Mosque/Temple.
The journey involved thousands of volunteers of Hindu extremist groups, raising communal tensions. The religious passions helped BJP winning power in several states including the state of Uttar Pradesh where the site in located.
On 6 December 1992, thousands of Hindu activists attacked the mosque and destroyed it as the security forces stood by allowing it to happen. The incident sparked serious communal riots in many parts of the country resulting in hundreds of deaths, most of them Muslims.
Subsequent court battles kept the issue alive. In 2010, Allahbad high court divided the land between Hindus and Muslims, giving two third to Hindus and one third to Muslims. The decision was appealed by both Hindu and Muslim litigants leading to the current Supreme Court order which entrusted the site exclusively to Hindus.
The judges of the apex court based the judgement on a report by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) that it had found evidence of there being a temple under the Babri Masjid. However, ASI is being challenged by other prominent archaeologists such as Supriya Varma, a professor of archaeology at Jawaharlal Nehru University and a prominent historian Jaya Menon.
They accused the ASI of having preconceived notions and blamed them for violating ethical codes and procedures during the excavation. In their opinion, ASI was under pressure from BJP led government to reinforce the Hindu narrative that Mughal emperor Babar’s general Mir Baqi had knocked down a temple to build a mosque.
With the same evidence of findings of structural pieces under the mosque, these archaeologists have interpreted that there were actually two or three phases of smaller mosques underneath the Babri Masjid.
Since BJP came to power five years ago and following their re-election early this year, various institutions in India seem to have lost their independence. Doubts are raised about the integrity of judges in supreme court who unanimously gave the decision in favour of Hindus in the Babri mosque case.
Although all sides had said that they would accept the decision of the supreme court, a few Muslim bodies are not convinced. All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) and Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind (JUH), the prominent body of Muslim scholars, said they would contest the judgment.
JUH president Arshad Madani said that it was not a prestige issue. “This is a matter of Sharia (Islamic law). We can neither give the mosque nor take anything in lieu of it,” he said, referring to the land being promised for Muslims.
Both organisations were not part of the 9 November court ruling. The Sunni Central Waqf Board, the main litigant for Muslims, has said it accepted the ruling, as was promised earlier. However, it is yet to decide whether to accept the plot of land and build a replacement mosque.
It is unlikely that any appeal against the court ruling will be accepted.
Muslims fear that this decision is likely to open flood gates of many claims by Hindu communal organisations against several mosques being built during Muslim rule in India that lasted almost 1000 years.
Thus, communal tensions are unlikely to subside as issues are continuously being raised to harass and intimidate Muslims under the current Hindu nationalist government.