While it would be hard for any court to settle ownership of a religious site whose origins have been disputed for hundreds of years, the Indian citizenry, made up of 80 percent Hindus and 14.5 percent Muslim, received the Supreme Court verdict Nov. 9, on Ayodhya/Babri Masjid, with unprecedented maturity.
The 1992 violent dispute that left thousands dead, over the 2.7 acre site where the Babri Masjid mosque was demolished by Hindu crowds, appears to have been settled relatively amicably by the highest court.
Many Hindus, both at home and abroad, see it as a victory when the highest court allotted the land to a trust to build the Ram Lalla temple believed by devotees to be the birthplace of Ram, an avatar of Vishnu, upholding their claim.
The court ruled that another 5 acres is to go to the Sunni Waqf Board so that it can build a mosque for the religious needs of Muslims. The “suitable” “alternative” piece of land for the mosque has to be at a “prominent place” the Supreme Court specified.
The handling of the Supreme Court verdict by the nation as a whole, is remarkably different from previous such divisive issues that have led to violence and mayhem. And there are reasons for that.
Political leaders of the country, including those belonging to opposite sides of the dispute, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, urged restraint and called for unity before and after the verdict, an appeal that was heeded by followers and devotees. Leaders asked the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh and Vishwa Hindu Parishad to refrain from taking out processions and raising slogans days before the judgment, NDTV reported, issuing specific guidelines on how to celebrate. On Nov. 7, Union Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, met leaders of RSS and Muslims and declared that, “A historic dialogue was held today in which Muslim intellectuals and clerics participated. At the meeting, it was stressed that all efforts should be made to strengthen the unity and brotherhood in the country under all circumstances,” All states were ordered to put enough security personnel on the ground to prevent potential clashes.
Measures were in place at least two weeks before the judgment was expected, to diminish the possibility of riots, particularly in Ayodhya.
The day after the verdict the government detained dozens of people on suspicion of publishing inflammatory social media posts and setting off celebratory firecrackers, Reuters reported.
New Delhi made clear it had a “zero tolerance approach” toward potential or real inflammatory content on social media such as YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, and WhatsApp, particularly in Uttar Pradesh. Apart from some 77 arrests in that state, police acted on 8,275 social media posts and went further to close the local office of the Akhil Bharat Hindu Mahasabha, Reuters reported. In addition, “thousands” of paramilitary forces and police were deployed in Ayodhya and other sensitive places, the report said.
While the decision was ultimately accepted with resignation by one side (Sunni Waqf Board), and joyfully by the other, it was more a First Place and Second Place victory, according to Suhag Shukla, co-founder and executive director of Hindu American Foundation.
Victory of Secularism
“I am heartened by the peaceful nature in which all parties have accepted the verdict,” Shukla told News India Times. “The biggest winner of this was secularism and inter-religious coexistence,” she added.
The Hindu American Foundation is the largest advocacy organization in the U.S. on all issues and rights affecting Hindus. Yet, Shukla acknowledged that the Indian Supreme Court went beyond the scope of the case over a land dispute. “It recognized that the aggrieved party included the Muslims had been deprived of their religious site first in 1949 when a murti (idol) was placed there, and then in 1992. So it recognized that historical wrong, and provided for land to redress it,” Shukla noted.
“It’s a model of how secularism and the law can deliver justice in a way that it serves all parties,” she said.
That Hindus are a majority, often puts them on the backfoot when it comes to the potential for violence, and the challenge is to recognize that many Hindu religious sites were destroyed, Shukla said, but conceded that one cannot rewind history. “Acknowledging past traumas is the only way to heal,” Shukla said. “It was not so much a victory for one side and defeat for another, as it was a first and second place win,” she contended about the victory.
That was not the reaction of the Indian American Muslim Council, which declared that the Supreme Court of India “prefers faith over law to accommodate majoritarianism.” In a statement Nov. 10, IAMC expressed “dismay” and urged Indian Muslims to pursue legal avenues such as review petitions before the Court.
That idea was dismissed by the Sunni Waqf Board in India which was the main litigant from the Muslim side in the case. After an initial dissatisfaction, the body declared it accepted the verdict.
Zufar Faruqi, chairman of the UP Sunni Waqf Board said in a written statement that he “welcomes and humbly accepts” the Ayodhya verdict, adding, “I, as the chairman of the UP Sunni Central Waqf Board, want to make it clear that the Board will not go in any review of the Supreme Court’s order or file any curative petition.” Faruqi went further to clarify the Board’s position. “Any statement in this regard by any individual, lawyer or organisation which mentions that the Sunni Waqf Board will (file a review petition) is not our line,” India Today, and other news outlets reported.
The Overseas Friends of Bharatiya Janata Party (OFBJP-USA), reacted to the verdict immediately, welcoming it and calling it “historic” judgment “putting an end to 491 years old Ramjanma Bhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute.” It also called it a “just and fair” settlement.
Indian-American ordained Hindu priest Anju Bhargava, described the Supreme Court judgment as “relatively fair.”
“The Supreme Court decision is the next best thing to going back to square one. You can’t go back in history. After the building of Babri Masjid
in the 1500s, “It remained a sore point because Hindus never got the opportunity to get the issue resolved … it was not in the interest of the British who anyway followed a divide-and-rule policy.”
As for the lack of violence following the verdict, Bhargava contended it was because of the leadership on both sides working hard to keep things calm.
“Both sides recognized the long-term implications of trying to fight it violently,” she said, also adding, “I think this government learnt from Gujarat (Godhra) that the situation must not go out of hand.”
Additionally, Bhargava reflected on the tremendous change India has undergone since not only 1984 Sikh massacre, but also the 1992 killings in Ayodhya, and other instances.
“India’s economic standing, the global situation, issues of climate change, and the very real Delhi smog – these are real issues affecting rozi-roti. That is what a normal Indian wants.”
“While I have not lived in India in a long time, there is more of a desire now to say — you do your thing and I do my thing – and let’s be Indians,” Bhargava contended.
SOME HIGHLIGHTS OF INDIAN SUPREME COURT AYODHYA VERDICT NOV. 9, 2019
The 2.77 acre of disputed land be given to deity Ram Lalla who was one of the litigants
Central government to be the receiver of the land and must set up a trust within 3 months for temple construction
An alternative piece of land, equal to 5 acres, allotted to the Sunni Waqf Board at a prominent site, to build a new mosque. The 1992 destruction of the Babri mosque violated the law
However, the Babri mosque demolished on Dec. 6, 1992, was built on a temple.
Members of both religions practiced their faith on the disputed land, Hindus in the outer courtyard and Muslims at the mosque.
While faith and beliefs cannot be grounds for title, the practice of religion at the site helps to decide dispute.