It took 134 years of court battle

Updated: 10 November, 2019 09:44 IST | Sharat Pradhan | Lucknow

When the first petition in the dispute was filed in 1885, it was by a mahant seeking to build a temple on land that belonged to him. It wasn't until later that the Hindus staked claim to it as the birthplace of Ram

Priests perform the arti on Saryu ghat, Ayodhya, on Saturday. Pic /Sharat Pradhan
Priests perform the arti on Saryu ghat, Ayodhya, on Saturday. Pic /Sharat Pradhan

Lucknow: The verdict in the Ayodhya case, after 134 years of court battle, brings to an end a dispute that shaped and twisted the political destiny of India through decades. Trouble between Hindus and Muslims had been simmering since a large mosque was built in the mid-16th century by Mughal emperor Babur's commander Mir Baqi, who named it Babri Masjid in honour of his ruler.

However, the first legal petition in this regard was moved by a local Hindu priest, Mahant Raghubir Das, in 1885. Das sought permission of the Ayodhya Sub Judge to build a temple in the eastern courtyard of the Babri mosque, that was described as the birthplace of Lord Ram and known as Ram Chabutra.

Significantly, the mahant did not seek any claim over the land on which the masjid stood. And the Ram Chabutra land, that had been separated by a wall erected in 1855, belonged to him. It was only later that Hindus staked claim to the land on which the mosque stood.

The Hindu Sub Judge Pandit Hari Kishan Singh felt that even though there was clear demarcation between the Ram Chabutra and the mosque, permission could not be granted for construction of a temple there. He ruled, "If a temple is constructed on the chabutra at such a place then there will be sound of bells of the temple and shankh when both Hindus and Muslims pass from the same way, and if permission is given to Hindus for constructing the temple, then one day criminal cases will be started and thousands of people will be killed."

Das chose to make an appeal before the District Judge, Faizabad, Col. FEA Chamier, who upheld the Sub Judge's order in March 1886. Chamier, however, dismissed Singh's observation, whereby he had confirmed Raghubar Das's ownership of the land. What made it worse was Chamier's remark: It is most unfortunate that a masjid should have been built on land specially held sacred by Hindus, but as that occurred 356 years ago, it is too late to remedy the grievance.

Chamier's pointed observation—"The chabutra is said to indicate the birthplace of Ram Chandra"—is what became the basis of Muslim assertion that the plot on which the mosque stood was not Ram's birthplace.

Mahant Raghubir Das moved a higher appeal before Judicial Commissioner W Young, who on November 1, 1886, ruled that Hindus wanted to create a "new temple" over the "holy spot" that was said to be "birthplace of Sri Ram Chandra." While dismissing Das's claimed ownership of the chabutra, Young went on to add, "Now this spot is situated within the precinct of the grounds surrounding a mosque erected some 350 years ago owing to the bigotry and tyranny of Emperor Babur, who purposely chose this holy spot, according to Hindu legend."

Babri Masjid or the Ram Janmbhoomi were not in the news for the next few decades until 1934, when a riot erupted over cow slaughter in Ayodhya. The British government got repairs undertaken in the mosque building that was damaged.

There was another lull for 15 years. However, on the intervening night of December 22-23, 1949 an idol of Lord Ram was surrepticiously planted inside Babri Masjid. Hindus promptly sought to give it a divine colour. What followed was the convergence of a huge Hindu crowd who started performing kirtan inside the mosque.

Much commotion prevailed but the then district magistrate KKK Nayyar refused to have the idol removed even after he was instructed to do so by the top political masters of the day. Subsequently, Nayyar resigned from the Indian Civil Service and later got elected as MP from there on a Hindu Mahasabha ticket.

On December 29, 1949, a local judge declared Babri Masjid a "disputed property" and ordered that status quo be maintained. Muslims were barred from entering the mosque and its main gate was locked. However, Hindu priests were allowed to enter the premises through a side gate for carrying out routine religious rituals and puja. But, even as the place remained out of bounds for ordinary Hindu devotees, the Hindu claim gained currency.

In January 1986, the district judge of Faizabad ordered the opening of the locks of Babri Masjid. That marked yet another victory for the Hindus and more particularly for VHP that had launched a movement with open support of the BJP.

Interestingly, the district judge who issued the order for unlocking the gates to the disputed Ram Janmbhoomi-Babri Masjid, subsequently got elevated to become judge of the Allahabad High Court. A year later, three different suits pending before the Faizabad district judge were transferred to the Lucknow bench of Allahabad High Court. These included the original suit filed by local resident Gopal Singh Visharad, a second y Paramhans Ramchandra Das, but this one was withdrawn later. Nirmohi Akhara moved the third suit while Sunni Central Waqf Board became the fourth petitioner in the case.

The year 1989 witnessed a new twist when Ram Lalla or the deity itself became a party in the case. The petition on behalf of the deity was moved by retired judge Deoki Nandan Agarwal, who described himself as the "friend" of Ram Lalla. The petitioner was named as "Ram Lalla Virajman". Significantly, no one opposed this, and today, that is what has come in handy—as the verdict goes fully in favour of the deity. Eventually , the mosque was razed by violent kar sevaks on December 6, 1992.

In the years that followed, the case gained pace as a title before the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad HC. A long-drawn battle began as parties started presenting their arguments.

Finally, the HC gave its verdict, trifurcating the disputed land into three equal parts—to be shared by the three parties. But that was not acceptable to any of the parties who went into appeal before the highest court of the land which has finally brought the case to a close today.

By and large, it is a verdict that reflects immense balance and pragmatism. And what is even better is that it does not leave room for mischief-mongers to raise other contention issues like Kashi or Mathura, which have been on the agenda of aggressive Hindutva groups.

Voices of dissent are being heard from Muslim quarters. But even those who may not be satisfied with the judgment do not disagree that it was the best way forward in the larger interest of the nation and its people.

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First Published: 10 November, 2019 07:01 IST

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