The 1992 Babri Masjid demolition in Ayodhya and the decades-long Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri masjid land dispute are perhaps the most polarising flashpoints in the history of contemporary India. On Tuesday, August 30, the Supreme Court of India closed all proceedings pertaining to the Babri demolition case, thus tying up the loose ends in a centuries-long conflict that has ridden the nation from pre-Colonial times.
The court was hearing a 1991 plea by Muhammad Aslam Bhure and another contempt petition filed in 1992. Bhure who died in 2010. Dismissing all proceedings, the court said that while the contempt plea should have been heard earlier, it does not stand in view of the 2019 SC verdict on the land dispute case. The court also noted that the destruction of the 16th-century mosque had happened in breach of the apex court's orders and that placing an idol inside the mosque in 1949 which amounted to the desecration of the mosque was against the law.
Here’s a detailed timeline of how the dispute began, the various twists and turns, its culmination in the 2019 judgement by the Supreme Court, and what happened after that.
1500s - Construction of Babri Masjid
Babri Masjid was built in 1528 during the Mughal era by Mir Baqi, who was said to be a commander in the court of emperor Babur. Many academics and politicians as well as historical accounts claim that the mosque was built by Babur after demolishing a temple in Ayodhya, believed to the capital of Rama’s father Dashrath in the Ramayana. The claim has been contested for years with many historians clarifying that Babur never came to Ayodhya and hence could not have ordered the demolition of a temple and its construction. Certain historical sources also state that there was no Mir Baqi in Babur’s court.
1800s - The First Petitions
The Ayodhya legal dispute can be traced back to 1880s when the spot became a religious flashpoint between Hindus and Muslims which started with an alleged disputed in 1855 when Sunni Muslims claimed that the temple in nearby Hanumangarh was built after demolishing a mosque. The incident leads to clashes between Muslims and Bairagis, at the end of which, it is believed that Wajid Ali Shah ruled in favour of the Hindus in the matter. The clashes lead to disharmony among both communities.
By 1859, the British government had erected a fence around Babri masjid amid a growing belief that the spot was the location of ‘Ram Janmabhoomi’, the birthplace of Lord Rama.
In 1885, what may be seen as one of the first pleas in the land dispute case, was filed in court in Faizabad by Mahant Raghubir Das. The plea, which sought permission for building a canopy outside the contested structure, was rejected.
1900- 1960s: Hindus, Muslims Stake Claim
In 1934, Hindu Muslim clashes resulted in the damage of the mosque’s dome and exteriors. As tensions simmered, the first idol of Ram Lalla was placed under the central dome outside the distorted mosque in 1949. The idols were placed inside by members of a fringe Hindu organisation called Akhil Hindu Ramayana Mahashabha, which organised a nine-day Ramacharitmanas recitation event outside the mosque at the end of which a mob of 50-60 men entered the mosque and placed the Rama idols inside.
In 1950, a suit was filed in Faizabad district court by Gopal Simla Visharad seeking the right to worship the idol. Another petition to continue the worship and keeping the idols was filed the same year by Paramahansa Ramachandra Das.
In 1959, the Nirmohi Akhara filed a suit seeking possession of the site. The suit is followed by another filed by UP Sunni Central Waqf Board in 1961 seeking possession of the site.
1980s -2000: Babri Demolition
After a lull for about two decades, Babri politics heated up once again the in the latter half of the 80s after a local UP local court ordered the then Rajiv Gandhi-led Congress government to open the disputed site for Hindu worshippers in 1986. The move led to religious tensions in UP and other places in the country. In August 1989, the Allahabad HC ordered a status quo in respect of the disputed structure.
On December 6, 1992, the Babri Masjid was demolished by a mob of 'kar sevaks' in culmination of BJP's Rath Yatra. Several BJP leaders were accused in the demolition case which led to violent Hindu-Muslim clashes across the country. Following the demolition, two FIRs were filed in the case, one against unidentified 'kar sevaks' and the second against BJP leaders LK Advani. andMM Joshi.
By 1993, the CBI had filed a composite charge sheet accusing Advani and others of conspiracy. 32 people were eventually accused of conspiracy and their role in the demolition.
Meanwhile, in 1993, the PV Narshimha Rao government at the centre passed the ‘Acquisition of Certain Area at Ayodhya Act’ for land acquisition in the disputed area. The Act is challenged by various writ petitions including a significant one by Ismail Faruqui challenging the validity of various aspects of the Act. In the next year, the SC in a historic verdict dismissed Faruqui’s plea, stating that mosque is not integral to Islam.
2000-2010: Three-way Division
Allahabad HC began the Babri-Ram Janmabhoomi property dispute hearings in 2002. In 2003, the SC forbade religious activity of any nature inside the acquired land. In 2010, the Allahabad HC ruled in favour of a three-way division of the disputed area with a 2:1 majority. The land was to be divided between the Sunni Waqf Board, the Nirmohi Akhara and Ram Lalla petitioners.
2010-2020s: Ram Lall Wins
In 2011, the Allahabad HC verdict is stayed by SC. In 2017, CJI JS Khehar suggests out-of-court settlement among rival parties. A three-judge bench is constituted by SC the same year to hear the civil pleas against the 1994 Allahabad HC verdict. The hearings begin the following year. In 2018, SC reserved verdict on the matter.
In 2019, SC sets up a five-judge constitution bench to hear the title case. The same year, the Centre moved SC for permission to return the 67-acre acquired land around the disputed site to its original owners. The SC ruled that the case be mediated by a panel headed by former apex court judge FMI Kallifulla. Daily SC hearings in the case start after the failure of the mediation process in August 2019.
On November 9, SC granted all of the 2.77 acres of disputed land in Ayodhya to the deity Ram Lalla and also ruled that the possession of land will remain with the central government receiver. The Centre and UP government were also directed to allot 5-acre land to the Muslims at a prominent place for building a mosque.
2020-2022 - Ram temple construction
A 15-Member Trust for Ram Temple in Ayodhya is announced in Parliament in 2020. Prime Minister Narendra Modi attends the Bhooma Poojan at Ayodhya, kicking off the temple construction on the previously disputed site.
In September 2020, a special CBI court acquitted all 32 accused in the Babri Masjid demolition case, including BJP leader former deputy prime minister LK Advani, former Union ministers Murli Manohar Joshi and Uma Bharti, former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Kalyan Singh.
In 2022, the SC closed all cases pertaining to the Babri demolition.