India's Supreme Court (SC) held that the disputed 2.77 acres of land in Ayodhya be given to the Hindu deity 'Ram Lalla' in a historic verdict that clears the deck for the construction of a Ram temple at the site and draws a line under a dispute spanning several decades.
The verdict on Ayodhya was read out by the Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, as part of a five-member constitution bench. Notably, the verdict was unanimous.
The court also ruled that the Sunni Waqf Board be granted a 5-acre plot of land in Ayodhya elsewhere for the construction of a mosque.
The Sunni Waqf Board - the plaintiff in the case, was arguing for the restoration of the demolished Babri Masjid mosque at the site.
The disputed site would be handed over to a trust whose management would be decided by the central government.
The court ruled that the trust would have to be formulated by central government withing 3 months. In the interim, the 2.77 acre disputed land would be given to the central government, which would later be transferred to the trust for the construction of a temple.
The land would need to be granted to the Sunni Waqf Board by either the central or the state government of Uttar Pradesh at a 'suitable place.'
The final verdict of the SC contains the judgement:
It is thus concluded on the conclusion that faith and belief of Hindus since prior to construction of Mosque and subsequent thereto has always been that Janmaasthan of Lord Ram is the place where Babri Mosque has been constructed which faith and belief is proved by documentary and oral evidence discussed above
'Babri Masjid Not Built On Empty Land'
The SC relied heavily on findings of the Archeological Survey of India (ASI), which showed evidence of a structure below the mosque, which the SC called a non-Islamic structure.
However, the SC also noted that while a structure existed, there was no evidence that a temple was demolished for the building of the mosque.
In the course of its judgement, the SC also noted that there was evidence of the outer courtyard of the disputed site being used for worship by the Hindu community. Further, the inner sanctum of mosque was being used by Muslims, with a clear barrier between the two, and thus ruled that the Muslims did not have exclusive claim over the land.
'Ram Lalla A Juristic Person'
In a noteworthy nuance in the case, the SC recognised 'Ram Lalla' or the deity of baby Ram as a juristic person. Ram Lalla was represented during the Ayodhya legal proceedings by the Hindu Mahasabha. While the disputed land will be in the name of Ram Lalla, the management of the land will be in the hands of the government-formulated trust.
This goes against the case presented by the Nirmohi Akhara -- another Hindu mystical group and party to the case -- which said that it was not Ram Lalla but the Ram Janmabhoomi itself that was a juristic entity. This suit of the Nirmohi Akhara was dismissed by the SC.
However, the SC has directed that the Nirmohi Akhara would have representation on the government trust.
The SC also dismissed a petition of the Shia Waqf Board, which challenged a 1946 Faizabad court ruling that called the site (on which a mosque then stood) a Sunni property.
The final ruling of the SC can be found here.
The last hearing on the issue ended on October 16, after a marathon 40-day hearing of the case. In 2010, the Allahabad High Court ruled that the disputed land be divided equally among three.
- A third of the site going to the Hindu Mahasabha
- A third going to the Nirmohi Akhara.
- The remaining going to the Sunni Waqf Board.
In 2011, all parties appealed against this ruling, which was quashed by the SC. The SC reiterates this judgment and states in its judgement:
We have already concluded that the three-way bifurcation by the High Court was legally unsustainable. Even as a matter of maintaining public peace and tranquillity, the solution which commended itself to the High Court is not feasible. The disputed site admeasures all of 1500 square yards. Dividing the land will not subserve the interest of either of the parties or secure a lasting sense of peace and tranquillity.
The Ram Janmabhoomi is a dispute that has taken prominence since 1992. On December 6, 1992 a Hindu mob demolished Babri Masjid, a 16th century mosque in Ayodhya. The opponents of the mosque have always insisted that the mosque was built by invaders on the ruins of a temple demolished by them. The 1992 Babri Masjid demolition caused widespread riots in India and flamed communal tension, killing an estimated 2,000 people.
Several petitioners representing the interests of the Hindu community had since then amplified their claims to rebuild a temple in the spot where the Babri Masjid once stood. The Muslims, in turn, petitioned the courts to restore a mosque.