Opening Pandora’s box
The Ayodhya judgement is out; Pandora’s box has been opened and I suppose the hope fairy is fluttering amidst us all. That there haven’t been riots is being seen as a sign that “the country has moved on”. My personal sense is that the absence of riots simply proves that riots are rarely spontaneous: adequate security has ensured an uneasy calm.
It’s still too early (at least for me) to make sense of this verdict, so I thought we could kick off the debate on Kafila by posting a list of links and resources and perhaps take the conversation forward as more and more information comes in.
To start off, the Judgements can be accessed at http://rjbm.nic.in/ . The top half of the page contains the gist of the judgments while your can find the entire judgement below the fold.
To get a sense of how the verdict broke down, NDTV has reduced the 3 judgments to a power-point presentation of sorts. You can view it here . Note that this is not a substitute for looking at the actual judgments.
Reactions thus far – at least in the English media – have been to acknowledge that the verdict is essentially some form of compromise. The Hindu has termed it “An intriguing compromise that might work”, noting that
The majority verdict of the Allahabad High Court on the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute is a compromise calculated to hold the religious peace rather than an exercise of profound legal reflection. This search for a compromise informs the orders of Justice S.U. Khan and Justice Subir Agarwal even if they would seem to stretch the law and, at times, logic as well. The third judge, Justice D.V. Sharma, decided that the disputed structure could not be regarded as a mosque and ruled in favour of the Hindu plaintiffs. The effect of the majority judgments is that the disputed land of 2.77 acres is to be divided equally among the two Hindu plaintiffs, the Nirmohi Akhara and Bhagwan Sri Rama Virajman, the deity regarded as a jurisdic person that can own property, and the Sunni Central Board of Waqfs U.P
From the Express: in their editorial Law and Sacrifice:
Our judicial institutions were being asked to address what has been one of the most divisive political issues that independent India has faced; and so many of India’s people, forward-looking and aspirational, have expected that a peaceful, legal mechanism will provide satisfactory closure to the problem. In this verdict, and in what appears for now to be a measured response to it, we see that hope in action. But what is true by implication is that, if the court’s verdict on this issue is to have political heft, other Ayodhya-related cases can’t be considered minor or forgettable. Nobody can stand behind the judicial process on this case — and in the matter of the Babri demolition case, for example, duck out of legal consequences. The question of culpability for that act is completely unrelated to the legal question of ownership of the Babri site. And those cases need to be pursued visibly and energetically.
In his column The Leap and the Faith; Pratap Bhanu Mehta more of less endorses the verdict entirely – urging us to value symbolism over the legal arguments and not pick at the obvious flaws:
he full grounds on the basis of which these conclusions have been reached will have to be unpacked in the weeks to come. But the symbolism of the current moment is powerful. In the immediate context, it is important to recognise the three important ways the judgment is likely to be criticised. And it is equally important to resist the temptation to do so unthinkingly..
Each of these three critiques, if pursued assiduously, will have political consequences. If the property rights claims are agitated with fervour, by any side, it will simply signal veniality in the face of an enormously sensitive and historically complex issue. If the historical claims are contested with relentlessness, it will simply keep India trapped in old historical debates that have no resolution outside the ideologies of those who pursue those historical claims. And if issues of faith are reopened, it will polarise society once again…
The acknowledgement that this site be regarded for this purpose as the birthplace of Ram is, if anything, an attempt to de-politicise religion. Our standard distinctions between faith and reason, between myth and history, do injustice to what the court had to grapple here.
One of the most intriguing legal aspects of the case has been granted the idol of Ram legal personhood. The Times of India has an interested piece on this:
in the Indian judicial system, deities have always been regarded as legal entities who could fight their case through the trustees or managing board in charge of the temple in which they are worshipped by devotees.
If Ram Lala fought his case in Lucknow, even Kashi Vishwanath of Varanasi had done so in the Supreme Court when the UP government enacted the Sri Kashi Vishwanath Temple Act, 1983 for better management of the ancient temple.
The Supreme Court, in Sri Adi Visheshwara of Kashi Vishwanath Temple, Varanasi, vs State of UP [1997 (4) SCC 606], recognised the right of a deity, though not for the first time, to move court and said, “Properties of endowment vest in the deity, Lord Sri Vishwanath.”
It dismissed claim of the priests that they alone had the right to manage the temple on behalf of the deity and said management of the temple by mahant/pandas/archakas did not mean it became their property. It upheld the Act saying it was merely for better management of the temple.
Some commentators have pointed to the Archeological Survey of India report that the judges relied upon to arrive at their judgement. At least one group – Sahmat – has a problem with the report. You can read their objections here
Another great question is: Who are the Nirmohis? and what’s with the Akhara:
It is one of the 14 akharas recognized by the Akhil Bharatiya Akhara Parishad and belongs to the Vaishnava sampradaya. It is headed by Mahant Bhaskar Das. It has been in the light in connection with the Ayodhya debate since 1959 when it filed a suit to take over the disputed site of Babri mosque.
To get a sense of how the international press covered the demolition in 1992: The Guardian has a great section:
This is all I have time for right now. Will keep updating this. I would urge our readers to post links to interesting/insightful articles that they have stumbled across.