The Supreme Court’s five-judge bench, which was headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, based its Ayodhya judgment on three factors – physical evidence (archaeology), social and religious practices, and indirect issues of faith and beliefs. (Catch all live updates on the Ayodhya verdict by Supreme Court here)
On this basis, it said that Ram Lalla (the infant Lord Ram) was the title holder of the disputed area, the inner and outer courtyards of which comprise a mere 1,500 square yards. The Hindus showed a more exclusive, continued (particularly for the outer courtyard that has the Ram Chabutra), and uninterrupted rights over it, compared to the Muslims, over centuries. It said the archaeological evidence was not conclusive.
In its long order, the court said that the deity Ram Lalla is a juristic entity, which went beyond legal persons and human nature. This is “recognition” that an object or corpus has certain rights and duties. This is true of a corporation, which is the “most widely recognised artificial legal person”.
More than a century ago, the courts (British ones) recognised the legal personality of the Hindu idols (and Gods). This was done, the apex court said, for two reasons. The first was to guard against the “real possibility of maladministration by the shebaits (managers of the places of worship)” over the land, donations, and other endowments that were owned and received by places of worship.
The second was to intervene when there were threats that “access or other religious benefits would be denied to the public, particularly the devotees”.
According to unanimous decision of the CJI-led Constitution Bench, “it was a legal innovation necessitated by historical circumstances, the gap in the existing law and by consideration of convenience.” In addition, there is a public interest to protect the properties that were endowed by the devotees to religious places.
Thus, the law “confers legal personality on this pious purpose”, the judgement stated. The idols are “looked upon” as the entities on in which the respective properties vest. The idol is legally recognised as an embodiment of the pious or benevolent purposes.
In the Ayodhya case, Ram Lalla, who was the first plaintiff in Suit No. 5, which was clubbed with the others, was the “object of worship for several hundred years”. In addition, his “legal personality is not dependent on the continued existence of the idol”.
Thus, the Court recognised Lord Ram’s legal personality. The Court concluded that the Suit No. 5 was “maintainable”, i.e, Ram Lalla held the title over the 2.77 acres of disputed area .
On the basis of social and religious practices, the bench said that the inner and outer courtyards need to be considered as a “composite whole”. If this is done, the evidence “in respect of possessory claim of the Hindus to the composite whole of the disputed property stands on a better footing than the evidence adduced by the Muslims”.
In the case of the outer courtyard, the Hindu worship in the area “continued unimpeded” despite the grill-brick wall that was built by the British in 1857 to separate the two areas.
In 1857, the British allowed Muslims to pray in the inner courtyard, and the Hindus in the outer one. However, the evidence in front of the Supreme Court established that the Hindus worshipped in the inner courtyard prior to the annexation of Oudh (the Awadh region), which included Ayodhya, in 1857.
In comparison, the court said, the Muslims “offered no evidence to indicate that they were in exclusive possession of the inner structure prior to 1857 since the date of the construction (of the mosque) in the sixteenth century”.
The Court, therefore, asked the government, which acquired the disputed area and the adjoining land in 1993, to transfer the area to a trust within three months. The trust’s responsibility will be to manage the disputed area, and think of a plan to build a Ram temple on it.
But there was evidence that the Muslims regularly offered namaz in the inner structure between 1857 and 1949, and the last one was on December 16, 1949. The Muslims’ exclusion of the worship and possession of the inner courtyard “took place on the intervening night between 22/23 December 1949, when the mosque was desecrated by the installation of Hindu idols”.
This was not because of “any lawful authority but through an act which was calculated to deprive them of their place of worship”, the judgment said.
On December 6, 1992, the mosque structure was brought down in a “egregious violation of the rule of law", and the Muslims were “wrongly deprived of a mosque” that was constructed 450 years ago.
So, the court decided that the Muslims need to be given five acres of land in a prominent area in Ayodhya to build a mosque. The area would be chosen by either the central or state (Uttar Pradesh) government, and the Sunni Waqf Board would have the right to build on it.
When it came to the conclusion of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) that there was an underlying Hindu temple structure underneath the demolished mosque, the court added several caveats.
One, the ASI failed to provide the reason for the destruction of the “pre-existing structure”, and whether it was demolished to build a mosque. Two, the underground structure dates to the twelfth century, and there is a “time gap of about four centuries” between its date and the construction of the mosque. The ASI has given no evidence to explain what happened in the intervening period, the court said.
Finally, the ASI couldn’t prove that the remnants of the Hindu underlying structure were used to build the mosque. “The pillars that were used in the construction of the mosque were black Kasauti stone pillars. ASI has found no evidence to show that these Kasauti pillars are relatable to the underlying pillar bases found during the course of excavations”, said the apex court.