The Ayodhya case may be 70 odd years long, but the struggle has been of around 500 years. It all started in the 16th century with the expansion of Mughal invasion in northern India in the 16th century.
In 1528, Babur’s general, Mir Baqi went to Ayodhya, destroyed pre-existing temple of Bhagwan Ram, and erected ‘Masjid-i-Janmasthan’ on the temple’s ruins.
300 years later, East India company surveyor Francis Buchnan discovered inscriptions resembling that of Hindu culture on the walls of the mosque and this gave currency to the belief that there was a Hindu temple beneath the masjid. Hindu leaders, upon the revelation, claimed that the Islamic structure was built on the wrecks of an erstwhile Ram Temple. It was 1853, when one of the first communal clashes surrounding this subject broke out. In 1859, the British administration put a fence on the site and gave two separate areas to the Hindus and the Muslims to carry out their prayers.
In 1885, a petition was filed by the the head of the Nirmohi Akhara asking for permission to offer prayers to Ram Lalla inside what was known as the Babri Masjid. The permission was not given but in 1886, district Judge of Faizabad court FEA Chamier gave his verdict and said, “It is most unfortunate that a masjid should have been built on land specially held sacred by the Hindus, but as that event occurred 356 years ago, it is too late now to remedy the grievance.”
Status quo was maintained for the next 9 decades, till one day, a murti of Ram Lalla was found placed inside the main dome. Fearing further communal clashes, the government locked down the gates of the establishment and put the matter sub-judice.
In 1950, civil suits seeking rights to keep the murti placed within the structure and perform puja and other religious rituals were filed. Nirmohi Akhara was also a stakeholder in the disputed land, and in 1959, they filed their claim over it.
But it was not before 1984, that the Mandir movement came to a full bloom. Hindu groups were formed to initiate the construction of a temple dedicated to the deity at the site regarded as the birthplace of Bhagwan Ram, the Janmabhoomi.
In 1985, Rajiv Gandhi overruled SC’s decision of giving Shah Bano her rights to alimony and was criticized for pandering to the minorities. To balance this mess, he had the locks of the Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid taken off, granting all Hindus access to the site.
But this wouldn’t pacify the rising demand for a grand Ram mandir. In November 1989, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad laid the foundation stone of the temple on the land adjacent to the disputed site in the presence of Home Minister Buta Singh and Chief Minister ND Tiwari. Sporadic clashes were reported in many places including Bihar.
In 1990, BJP President, Lal Krishna Advani was arrested in Bihar while on a cross-country rath-yatra seeking support for the Ram Mandir. After his arrest on 23rd October, the then UP CM Mulayam Singh Yadav ordered to shoot down karsevaks who had gathered for the Ram mandir. Their families were denied their dead bodies, and the dead bodies were denied their last rites. Bodies of these Ram bhakts were thrown into river Saryu by the city of Ayodhya.
In 1991, Kalyan Singh, after becoming the Chief Minister of UP, publicly extended his support for the Ram Mandir.
In 1992, VHP and Babri Masjid Action Committee got embroiled in heated but unfruitful exchanges. On December 6th, 2 lakh determined karsevaks razed down the Babri Masjid. This ignited major communal riots across country; even the minority Hindus in neighboring Bangladesh and Pakistan were targeted and many temples destroyed in those two Muslim countries .
The following year, the Ayodhya Act was passed. A makeshift temple was assembled at the site.
The case took a major turn nine years later. In February of 2002, Sabarmati Express carrying pilgrims and karsevaks who had volunteered for the cause of Ram Lalla, was set ablaze. 59 people were burnt alive, 48 others were injured. What followed was one of the biggest communal riots of recent times in Gujrat; it claimed around 1000 lives of people from both communities.
In 2003, the Allahabad High Court summoned the Archaeological Survey of India to carry out a thorough excavation and ascertain what lied beneath the disputed site.
Upon investigation, the ASI evidenced the presence of a Hindu temple at the site, and in 2010, the court partitioned the land into three equal parts, granting two-third to Hindu parties and one third to Uttar Pradesh Sunni Central Waqf Board.
But all parties appealed in apex court against the High Court verdict which was stayed in 2011.
In 2014, the Bhartiya Janata Party with Modi as the Prime Minister, gained power at the center. Construction of a grand Ram Mandir had been in their manifesto since the beginning. Hence, in 2015, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad launched a nationwide campaign for Ram Lalla’s temple and sent stones for the construction. The then CM of UP, Akhilesh Yadav, had these stones blocked from reaching the disputed site.
In 2017, the Supreme court encouraged all parties to go for an out-of-court settlement; Chief Justice JS Khehar volunteered to assist the process. Meanwhile, the Shia Waqf Board filed a petition proposing the Ram Mandir be built at the disputed site, and a mosque be constructed in Lucknow. However, Sunni Waqf Board was averse to this negotiation.
In Dec 2017, CJI Dipak Misra started final hearing in the case, but Congress ecosystem lawyers Kapil Sibal, Rajeev Dhawan and Dushyant Dave representing the Muslim side made a heated demand for the case to be adjourned till after the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, and questioned the CJI’s integrity for prioritising the matter and planning daily hearings. Soon after, other senior SC judges, including current CJI Ranjan Gogoi, held a press conference against CJI Misra claiming that ‘independence of judiciary was in peril’. Congress and other secular parties also tried to get CJI Misra impeached.
Demands for a larger Constitutional Bench, appeal for intervention by 32 ’eminent persons’ and other tactics ensured that the case was delayed through the whole of 2018 and passed on to CJI Gogoi after Dipak Misra’s retirement on 1 October 2018. On Oct 29, CJI Gogoi adjourned the case and refused to give it an urgent hearing due to ‘other priorities.’
The final hearing started on August 6th, 2019, after the 2019 Lok Sabha elections; a five-judge bench, led by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, presided over this case. On October 16th, following a 40-days hearing, the judgement was reserved.
The verdict to one of Bharat’s longest running cases was delivered at 10:30 AM, of November 9th, 2019. The bench constituting CJI Ranjan Gogoi, Justice S A Bobde, Justice D Y Chandrachud, Justice S Abdul Nazeer, and Justice Ashok Bhushan ruled in favor of a Ram Mandir at the Janmabhoomi in Ayodhya. The land spreading across 2.77 acres will be handed over to a trust to be formed in the next three months, and it will oversee the construction of a grand Ram Mandir. Muslims have been given an area of 5 acres where they may build a mosque.
A 500-year-old fight for Dharma, thus, ends with the victory of Dharma.
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