Thursday, October 28, 2010

ASI excavation and other issues related to Ayodhya imbroglio

Besides the legal issues per se related to the Ayodhya case, I suppose the verdict also sparked off a debate on the relevance of historical and archeological studies and can these findings be taken with certainty. In fact, thinking is also that the original error committed in this issue was when the court of the land was expected to decide on such an emotive issue. Thus debating now on whether a court could decide anything based on historical studies and archeological findings is perhaps only academic.

Archaeology by web dictionary Wikipedia, is the study of past human societies, primarily through the recovery and analysis of the material culture and environmental data including artifacts, architecture, biofacts and cultural landscapes. Also known as the study of the art, customs and beliefs of ancient times, archaeology is often considered to be both a science and a humanity.

In this context, one must take note of the Presidential reference made to the Supreme Court in January 1993 by the Narasimha Rao government seeking an advisory opinion on this question: “Whether a Hindu Temple or any Hindu religious structure existed prior to the construction of the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid (including the premises of the inner and outer courtyards of such structure) in the area on which the structure stood?”

On October 24, 1994, the Supreme Court, rightly so, declined to give any opinion saying it was “ill-equipped” to examine and evaluate matters related to archeology and history.
The matter was heard by a five-judge Bench comprising Chief Justice MN Venkatachaliah, Justice AM Ahmadi, Justice JS Verma, Justice GN Ray and Justice SP Bharucha. The majority judgement written by Justice JS Verma on behalf of Chief Justice Venkatachaliah, himself and Justice Ray had said the Presidential reference was ‘superfluous and unnecessary’.

On March 5, 2003, the Allahabad High Court ordered excavation of the land and in the ultimate analysis, the Archeological Survey of India findings were largely cited for ordering retention and continuation of the Ram Lalla’s idols at the ‘make-shift’ temple, erected after the demolition of the Mosque in December 1992.
In fact, the ASI excavation clearly showed distinctive features of a 10th century temple below the ruins of the Babri Mosque. It further mentions discovery of 50 pillar bases, decorated bricks bearing features of 10th century, deities of Hindu gods and goddesses, lotus motifs, and curved architectural pieces, say experts.
It has been also argued by historians that when the Babri Masjid was demolished an inscription was unearthed which said that 'a temple was constructed by a King Nayachandra in the 12th century to honour Ram.' But the Muslims had rejected the ASI report saying it as a 'concoction' of the ASI to please its 'political masters', the BJP-led Atal Bihari Vajpayee. The All India Muslim Personal Law Board had said the report was ‘inconsistent’ with the interim report submitted earlier.
Nevertheless, in his ruling, Justice Sharma contended that “the Archaeological Survey of India has proved that the structure was a massive Hindu religious structure” even as he said “It is also established that the disputed structure cannot be treated as a mosque as it came into existence against the tenets of Islam.”
But there remained certain questions on the findings of Archeological Survey of India as well.
There is a school of thought which counters that the ASI’s report was ‘not above controversy’ as on the possibility of Hindu temple its argument rested primarily on ‘pillar basis’ – which according to them could not be ascertained as no final words could be said purely based on the pillars. In fact, the Muslims clergy in Faizabad say the alleged existence of pillars too has been debated by historians on material evidence relating to ASI’s excavation.
They maintain Archaeological Survey of India’s own excavations of certain animal bones as well as of the use of ‘surkhi’ a typical characteristic of Muslim presence would challenge the possibility of a Hindu temple.
The Sunni Board or Muslim Personal Law Board contest ASI reports but accept the authenticity of the discovery of archeological materials. They refuse to take evidence as conclusive evidence that it was a Hindu temple. Even the main advocate for Muslims in the title suit, Zafaryab Jillani, said that the ASI has 'misinterpreted the findings'. The allegation has been also that the ASI report of ignoring the discovery of glazed tiles and pottery indicative of Muslim settlements in the area before Babar's invasion.

However, from the Hindu point of view, Mahant Brijmohan Das, chief priest of Dasarth Garhi in Ayodhya countered this saying “we never disputed the fact Muslims came and set up a Mosque there. We only say they did it after demolishing a temple”.

He said three crucial questions related to Ayodhya case were - Whether the disputed structure that is, Babri Masjid was constructed over some other pre-existing structure after demolishing it? Whether that preexisting structure was a Hindu Temple? And whether that temple, if any, was located on Lord Rama’s birth place in Ayodhya?
The Hindu argument is also that originally there was a Vishnu Temple earlier at the same spot where the Masjid was erected after demolishing the same. This temple of Lord Vishnu, according to faith, existed from time immemorial. It was renovated several times and the temple as well as worship of Ram Lalla, they say is referred to in many texts and inscriptions. This temple of Vishnu was erected exactly on the same holy spot where Lord Rama was born and around the place, Sita’s kitchen, Hanuman’s house, Kaikeyi’s palace etc were all located and worshipped even since Vikramaditya era and even published in official gazettes brought out by the British government.

Those countering these versions say most of the official gazettes prepared during British rule especially in the 19th century were based on here-says.

The Muslims have on the contrary argued that there were official documentation which claimed that the Hindu claim was erroneous and the place used to be a Masjid.

On September 29, a day before the verdict IUML UP unit chief Dr Ghani was a confident person though anxious about other kind of repercussions. He said documentary evidence cannot go against Muslims. Here are some of the points, which Muslims thought would sail them through in the case.

On 23 December 1948, the Inspector of Waqfs, Mohammed Ibrahim alleged harassment and stoning of the Namazis going to the mosque and that yet prayers continued to be offered on Fridays.
Radio message on December 23, 1949, by District Magistrate K.K. Nayar to the Chief Minister, Chief Secretary and Home Secretary: “A few Hindus entered Babri Masjid at night when the Masjid was deserted and installed a deity there.”
The State of Uttar Pradesh, in a document signed by Deputy Commissioner, Faizabad, J.N. Ugra, on April 25, 1950 had claimed “it has for a long period been in use as a mosque for the purpose of worship by the Muslims and not a temple”.
Another strong argument from the Muslims has been that false claims have been made by Hindus on the findings of inscription of Lord Vishnu on December 6, 1992. The Hindu groups had claimed that during the demolition of the Babri mosque in December 1992, three inscriptions on stone were found. The most important one was the inscription that the temple was dedicated to Lord Vishnu, slayer of Bali. The Muslim allegation was that the said Hari-Vishnu inscription corresponded to an inscription dedicated to Vishnu that was supposedly missing in the Lucknow State Museum. However, the museum authorities had denied the inscription (stone) had gone missing from the museum. He showed the inscription of his museum at a press conference and it was different in shape, colour and text contents from the Vishnu-Hari inscription.
Another argument from Muslims was that Richard M Eaton, an American historian of medieval India, in his ‘Essays on Islam and Indian History’ documented in details about 80 major instances of destruction of the Hindu temples between 1190 and 1760. But the list did not include any Ram temple at Ayodhya.
The Muslim League leader Dr Ghani had also claimed that “Litigation in the 19th century was only for permission to build a temple at and near the chabutra – and not the mosque”. Subsequently even till 1948-49, till the idol was placed, there were only efforts to build a Ram temple on the chabutra (platform) outside the mosque but within its complex.

This Ram chabutara, which has been now allotted to the sect Nirmohi Akhara, falls on the left hand side as one walks through strictly barricaded security arrangement for the make-shift Hindu temple.


Saturday, October 9, 2010

Faith versus Fact debate on Ayodhya verdict

Predictably, the debate between evidence submitted and faith as highlighted in the verdict by the Allahabad High Court
ought to be analyzed here in certain details.
One observation on the verdict was that the majority verdict of the High Court was well intentioned, politically correct, meant to be a measure of compromise and aimed at avoiding any communal riots. The process of national reconciliation has been lauded by many including those not happy with the verdict totally. A local furniture maker near Ghantaghar Market at Faizabad Md Siddiqui, summed up the paradox aptly, “the court had no option but to appease all. Otherwise by now there would have been bloodbath in UP and the rest of India”.

“If it (the verdict) is accepted in that spirit (reconciliation) by the Muslim community, it will resolve a burning communal problem of our nation,” wrote former Solicitor-General of India, T.R. Andhyarujina in The Hindu.
Thus, for weeks aftermath the verdict, political jargons revolved around whether the court order has legitimized the vandalisation of December 6, 1992.
Contemporary historians would recall that so great was the sense of outrage in the country on the demolition that the Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao and the Central Government said on December 7, 1992 that the Babri mosque would be re-built.
Surprisingly neither of the judges took note of December 6, 1992 and virtually give an impression that the demolition as a fait accompli, as if the disputed 2.77-acre site was vacant land. It legitimized the Hindu claim over what was once described as ‘make-shift’ temple.

The Congress party, clearly on defensive following Muslims’ anguish, held its highest policy making body, the steering committee, meeting on October 5. At the end of marathon meeting, the party resolution said in no way the verdict had given sanction to the demolition exercise of December 6, 1992.

This aspect was truly exploited by other players as well. Shahi Imam of Jama Masjid Syed Ahmed Bukhari, often known for hardline stance said, “the verdict of the High Court provides legal validity to the shameful and criminal act of the demolition of the Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992.” Bukhari, who also held a closed door meeting with discredited secular brigade leader Mulayam Singh Yadav, ruled out the possibility of any attempt to resolve the Babri Masjid issue through dialogue. “Giving away of the mosque, its forcible occupation or allowing idolatry within its premises was totally haram (illegal),” he had said.
LJP led by discredited secular champion, Ram Vilas Paswan, has gone a step further only to put pressure on Congress and urged the Centre to seek Supreme Court's opinion on the verdict and especially address the 'faith'
CPI(M), another key self-styled champion of the cause of secularism, after quite a balanced and guarded statement on September 30; a few days later slammed the ‘faith’ part of the verdict and also the “post-facto justification for the (Babri) demolition".
"There are apprehensions that some of the reasoning set out in the (title deed suit) judgements may be taken as a post-facto justification for the (Babri) demolition" which was a criminal offence, CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat told reporters after a two-day meet of the party's Politburo.
In a statement, the CPI national executive also held that the Allahabad High Court verdict was based on "faith and religious belief" and said it did open a few questions on rule of law and principles of secular democracy.
Pushed to the corner by the much goodwill generated for Ms Mayawati-led BSP government in the wake of incident free passage of entire Ayodha verdict imbroglio, Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav-led Samajwadi Party launched aggressive and detailed roadmap to retain its base among Muslims. On October 1, a day after the verdict, in Lucknow, Yadav, once called ‘Maulana Mulayam Singh’, said, “a nation state is run by the rule of law and not on the basis of religious faith”.

The BJP, predictably, had, however, slammed parties for their remarks that Ayodhya verdict is based on faith and belief. Party’s chief spokesperson and also a lawyer in the dispute Ravi Shankar Prasad instead asked the political parties including the Left to read the length judgement.

Interestingly, L K Advani, though stood vindicated in the wake of the verdict, remarked in a statesmanlike spirit that “what the court has said does not justify the demolition”.
Aptly, Advani’s statement has come in for appreciation by objective observers. “This is a clear denunciation and disowning of the crime of 1992 by a top BJP leader than you have heard of the Emergency of 1975 by a top Congress leader,” wrote Shekhar Gupta in his popular column ‘National Interest’ in The Indian Express, October 2, 2010.
December 6 Vandalism:

However, it goes without saying the vandalism on December 6, 1992 was grossly erroneous and sinful. No less than the Supreme Court had passed an order in 1994 for the demolition of the Masjid, saying “the Hindus must bear the Cross for it.”
Former union Law minister and country’s best known maverick politician Subramanian Swamy argues that while the Supreme Court absolved the Hindus in general sense for the December 6 act, adding, “what was wrong with the demolition of the Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992 was that it was unauthorised by law and hence a criminal offence.” (The Hindu)
In this context, those who believe temple was destroyed by Babar and a mosque built in its place, argue that way back on March 18, 1886, the Faizabad sub-judge, a Briton, had ruled that “It is most unfortunate that a Masjid should have been built on land specially held sacred by the Hindus. But as the event occurred 358 years ago, it is too late now to remedy the grievance.”
The case was thus kept open – for political exploitation in democratic independent India where the political class had vested interest to pursue vote bank politics.

Another question which has evaded scrutiny is whether a temple and a masjid be considered equally ‘sacred’? The answer is perhaps a big no as the informed legal opinion suggests strongly “a mosque is not en essential part” of Islam.
“Under Mohammedan law applicable in India, title to a mosque can be lost by adverse possession. A mosque is not an essential part of the practice of the religion of Islam and namaz (prayer) can be offered anywhere, even in the open,” the constitution bench of the Supreme Court had ruled in 1994.

Thus based on this ruling, with due respect, the acquisition of a masjid is not prohibited by the provisions in the Constitution of India. That way Babri Masjid demolition case essentially means a criminal offense because the destruction was not allowed by the state or any judicial order.

Moreover, the point which ought to be emphasized is that the vandalism and subsequent destruction of the mosque had resulted in communal riots in several parts of the country including the hitherto peaceful places like Mumbai or parts of Assam.

“…. in Islamic law as well as in Saudi Arabia the authorities have demolished mosques from time to time for developmental works like to build bridges and lay roads. Even the mosque where Prophet Mohammed used to pray was demolished,” Subramanian Swamy told me in Parliament within days the historic verdict was pronounced.

However, like the political class and other players like Shahi Imam, even legal experts on the other side of dividing line had some strong words for the verdict.
The court’s judgment robbed Muslims of their entitlement to a site and a mosque on no flimsy legal grounds. The Lucknow judgment is a mess of potage,” wrote eminent jurist Rajeev Dhawan.

One would not like to value judgement either on the verdict or the merits and demerits of each of the arguments for and against the bench ruling; but it ought to said that majoritanism-minoritism is a reality.
It is this, I had found during and after post-Godhra riots in 2002.

Unlike their self-styled leaders like Shahi Imam, the common Muslims pretty well appreciate the futility of confrontation.

It is this realization about the “futility of confrontation” that made Ayodhya-based oldest plaintiff Mohammad Hashim Ansari swear by the compromise formula. “Agar masjid chhor dene se aman hoti hae …. Toh chhor do, humey nahi chahihye,” he retorted.
It is in this context, he had said, “Khushi ho ya gam, Band kamre mein raho. Musalman sarko pe ani nahi chahihiye, (Whether it is victory or loss in the case, Muslims should not take to the streets either to protest or rejoice)”.
After the verdict, giving his reaction to it, Ansari told me on October 1, “throughout my life I have maintained that Muslims should not adopt confrontation approach towards Hindus. Most of the time, people did not listen to me. I have gone through all that. Even before partition, Muslims would say, I am coward. But look at the reality today, Muslims are no where. Any further confrontation against the High Court order legal and political will be suicidal. That’s why I am meeting the Hindu leaders; many Hindus agree with me. We should use the opportunity.”


Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Ayodhya 2010 : Advantage Hindus

On 30th September, 2010; in more ways than one history was written for the Hindus in India. Predictably, the historic temple city of Ayodhya heaved a sigh of relief over the verdict from Allahabad High Court on the six-decades old title dispute with local residents rejoicing.
Sweet-maker Avdesh Kumar lit candles in front of his house near Hanuman Garhi temple with his two children even as a large number of enthusiastic Hindus applied restrain after the Janmabhoomi Nyas (trust) head Nritya Gopal Das said: “Hindus should not be over-joyous".
"... there's no question of half joy or quarter victory. We want the entire land.” The message was clear. The Hindus are again going assertive and would not spare an inch of the land, where Lord Rama was born.
Later, police officials did not allow citizens in Ayodhya near the disputed structure and in vulnerable pockets like Hanuman Garhi to lit candles or so in orde to keep things calm and under control.
But the sweet-maker wasn't interested: “I am happy, my family is happy. We will have Ram temple here. The dispute should end and there should be normalcy so that we can continue to earn our living.”
A large number of VHP leaders and senior members of the VHP-affiliated Digambar Akhara, Karsevak puram and Nyas leaders welcomed the verdict, raising slogans of 'Jai Shri Ram' and ‘Ram lalla hum ayenge …. Mandir wahin banayenge’. Ram Janmabhoomi trust members said the concept of 33 per cent land allocation for the Sunni Central Wakf board out of the 2.77 acres land was “not acceptable”. “This will only open yet another window of confrontation,” one of them said. The Janmabhoomi Nyas president said: “It's a big victory for Hindus that the Sunni Wakf Board’s claim over the land has been rejected by the court. But we have to fight another battle in the Supreme Court. No land should be given to the Muslims”.
However, there is another section among Hindu leaders such as Acharya Satyender Das, chief priest of the Ram Janmabhoomi mandir, who said: “The High Court ruling has come after years of litigation. The dispute should end here. The general demand of Hindus has been that the Ram idol should be placed where he was born and that theory has been accepted”.
He said any further confrontation or litigation would only keep the issue alive which was not good for peace and tranquility. “All parties including Muslims and Hindu leadership should respect the order of the court,” he said.
Muslims in Ayodhya and Faizabad, too, favoured an early end to the dispute. But a section of them felt the verdict was a “big setback” and did not rule out moving the Supreme Court. Mohammad Shafiq, in-charge of Iqbal Dargah near the Faizabad-Ayodhya road said “I don’t understand the logic of 33 per cent land distribution."
“There appears to be a Congress hand behind all this ~ sab ko khush karne ka koshish Congress ki policy hai (appease all parties is an old practice of Congress party)”.
“Muslims feel somewhat let down by today’s judgement,” said one resident of Kazian Mohalla. “All these wars in court or out of court are not good for common people. We suffer the most but the government is happy making security arrangements only,” said a tailor, Kareem Ibrahim.

Congress could be loser: Muslims
The verdict could have significant political fallout with politically
hyper sensitive Muslims already saying that the development could
result in “erosion” in Congress support base among the “aggrieved
Perhaps it will also give a set back to Rahul Gandhi's efforts to revive
party's prospects in UP.
“I am happy about the general peace and amity. But Muslims are
saddened. We firmly believed it was a Masjid as namaaz used to be
performed. Now Congress will have to pay a price for this,” said Mohammad
Zameer, Naib Imam of Farizabad-based Sunni community’s major Tatshah
He maintained the division of the disputed land reflects “a typical
Congress stamp” though it is a judicial order. “The attempt to delay
the judgement by way of special leave petition was also seen as
Congress hand. This party has always betrayed Muslims whenever we had
shown faith in it,” he said.
Several of those who had gathered in the city’s spacious Mosque to
conduct the Friday prayer seemed to have endorsed the sentiments of
the Imam.
In fact, an angry Congress member from Fatehganj Block displaying his
Congress party card said he would “surrender it” in the evening.
Irshad Ahmed, a footwear businessman, said the ultimate message of the
verdict was that “jo Musalman ko milna chahiye thee, nahi mili”.
Agreeing with him, 56-year-old Rais Khan said “yeh faisla sey bahut hi
mayusi hae. Yeh faisla, faisla nahi tha…. Panchayati thi (This verdict
has left us aggrieved. The order was like a panchayati order)”.
Significantly, though the verdict was a judicial order where in
probably even Congress party has been caught unawares; the general
impression among the Muslims in Faizabad and Ayodhya is that the
appease all formula typically reflected a Congress style of
“Actually, what happens, when you try to appease all. You end up
everyone unhappy. No doubt the case would go to the Supreme Court. But
meanwhile, Congress will again have to rethink about their faith in
Congress. Shilanayas was their work and even Babri demolition took
place during Congress rule in Centre,” lamented 80-year-old Anwar