Once the Hindus and Muslims clashed over what had become a disputed structure and property in the 1850s, it was a short step from the social arena to the legal theatre. On January 29, 1885, Mahanth Raghubar Das filed a suit in the Faizabad (Ayodhya) court.
He wanted permission to build a temple over (Lord Rama’s) Chabutra Janamasthan (birthplace), which had a dimension of 17x21 feet. He said that it was “an old and sacred place of worship”, and had the Charan Paduka (literally, the feet or impression of feet) of Lord Rama.
He claimed that as the Mahanth of the holy place, which was under his possession, he was the legal owner and, therefore, had the right to build over it. A permanent temple was required for people to safely pray during the extremely hot and cold seasons, as well as the monsoons. This was possibly the first legal attempt by a Hindu to establish the ownership in the area.
A local Muslim, Mohammad Ashgar, opposed the Mahanth in the court. The former claimed that Emperor Babar had built the mosque, and the name “Allah” was inscribed on its walls. Moreover, his contention was that Charan Paduka came into being in 1857, when the British divided the area into two portions. The land belonged to the King who built the mosque. Only he, or any other King, could change the ownership, which hadn’t been done.
Moreover, the Mahanth, said Ashgar, had not produced a single legal or official document to prove that he was the owner of the land. Merely because the Muslim community had allowed Hindus and other non-Muslims to visit the area didn’t shift the property rights. The Muslims did so in the case of several Imambaras, mosques, and holy graves across the country, but this didn’t entitle the Hindus, or other communities, to own these structures and land.
The sub-judge of the Faizabad Court ruled that there was “no question or doubt” over the possession and ownership of the Hindus over the Chabutra. Yet, it didn’t allow the construction of the temple for several reasons. One, the court maintained that the existing built structure was a mosque because of “Allah” written on its wall. Two, the judge felt that if a temple was constructed next to it, it could “lead to great conflict (between the two communities) resulting in a massacre of thousands of people”.
Clearly, the sub-judge thought that a temple adjacent to the mosque would raise the social tensions, and lead to violence. He indicated as much in the order: The sounds of the bells and shankhs of the temple could anger the Muslims going to the mosque, and result in clashes and conflicts, he wrote. Therefore, the Mahanth’s plea was dismissed more from the angle of public policy, and a desire not to lay down the foundation of “riots between the two communities”.
In retrospect, one of the court’s observations now seems ironical. “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. All that can be done is to maintain the parties in status quo,” he said. He added that the real purpose behind the Mahanth’s suit was to “remedy an injustice committed by a Mahommedan Emperor” through the courts.
(This is the second part of the seven-part series on the Ayodhya dispute.)