A five-bench Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court on Wednesday reserved its order on sending the contentious Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid Ayodhya title dispute case for mediation.
The matter has been pending before the apex court for the past nine years. The three parties – Nirmohi Akhara, Ram Lalla and Sunni Waqf Board -- have challenged the Allahabad High Court’s 2010 verdict to bifurcate the 2.77 acres of disputed land equally among the three.
The Modi government on January 29 moved a plea in the Supreme Court to return 67.703 acres of undisputed land to the Ram Janambhoomi Nyas. The government claimed that only 0.313 acre of land was disputed on which Babri masjid stood before it was demolished in 1992.
The land was acquired by the Centre after the demolition of the 15th-century Babri Masjid by kar sevaks in 1992.
The history of the dispute goes way back to the late 19th century and has been continuing for over a 100 years now.
What was Babri Masjid?
The Babri Masjid was a mosque in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh built in approximately 1528–29 CE (935 AH) by Mir Baqi, on orders of the Mughal emperor Babur.
The mosque was located on a hill known as Ramkot and a section of the Hindu community claimed that the Mughals destroyed a structure marking the birthplace of Rama (Ram Janmabhoomi) to build the mosque. This, however, was denied by the Muslims.
The Ayodhya Dispute
The Ayodhya dispute has been an emotive issue for decades and mired in a slew of legal suits involving Hindu and Muslim religious groups.
Chronology of events
1853: First recorded incidents of communal violence at the disputed site take place.
1859: British officials erect a fence to separate the places of worships, allowing the inner court to be used by Muslims and the outer court by Hindus.
1885: Mahant Raghubir Das files a suit seeking permission to build a canopy on Ram chabootra but his plea was rejected a year after by the Faizabad district court.
1949: Idol of Lord Ram surfaces inside mosque. Muslims claim that it was kept there by Hindus. Muslims protest, and both parties file civil suits. The government proclaims the premises a disputed area and locks the gates.
January 18, 1950: The first title suit filed by Gopal Singh Visharad asking for the right to worship the idols installed at 'Asthan Janmabhoomi'. The court restrained the removal of idols and allowed the worship to continue.
April 24, 1950: The State of UP appeals against the injunction order.
1950: Ramchandra Paramhans files another suit, but withdraws later.
1959: Nirmohi Akhara enters the fray and files the third suit, seeks possession of the site, doing away with the court-appointed receiver. It claims itself to be the custodian of the spot at which Ram was supposedly born.
December 18, 1961: UP Sunni Central Board of Waqfs moves in to claim possession of the mosque and adjoining land.
1986: On a plea of Hari Shanker Dubey, a district judge directs Masjid gates to be unlocked to allow 'darshan'. Muslims set up Babri Masjid Action Committee.
1989: A fresh suit is filed by former VHP vice-president Deoki Nandan Agarwala in the name of Lord Ram for declaration of the title and possession in its favour at the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad HC.
October 23, 1989: All the four suits, pending before a Faizabad court transferred to a special bench of the HC.
1989: VHP lays foundations of a Ram temple on land adjacent to the disputed mosque.
1990: VHP volunteers partially damage the mosque. Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar tries to resolve the dispute through negotiations, which fails the next year.
Dec 6, 1992: The disputed mosque is razed by Hindus in support of VHP, Shiv Sena and BJP, prompting nationwide communal riots which claimed more than 2,000 lives.
Dec 16, 1992: Justice Liberhan Commission set up to inquire into the demolition of the disputed structure within six months.
Jul, 1996: Allahabad HC clubs all civil suits.
2002: The HC directs the Archaeological Survey of India to excavate the site to determine if a temple lay underneath.
Apr, 2002: Three High Court judges begin hearing.
Jan, 2003: ASI begins a court-ordered survey to find out whether a temple to Lord Rama existed at the site.
Aug, 2003: The survey says there is evidence of a temple beneath the mosque. Muslims dispute the findings.
Jul, 2005: Suspected Islamic militants attack the disputed site. Security forces kill five people.
Jun, 2009: Liberhan commission investigating events leading up to the mosque demolition submits its report - 17 years after it began its inquiry and after getting extension for 48 times.
Jul 26, 2010: Lucknow bench of Allahabad High Court reserves its order on the suits, fixes September 24 for pronouncement of verdict.
Sep 17, 2010: HC refuses to defer pronouncement of the verdict as pleaded by one of the parties R C Tripathi in the suit.
Sep 21, 2010: Tripathi approaches SC against HC order. A bench of Justices Altamas Kabir and A K Patnaik refuses to take up the case. Matter referred to another bench.
Sep 23, 2010: Difference of opinion between two Justices R V Raveendran and H L Gokhale crops up on entertaining the petition. Court issues notices to the parties.
Sep 28, 2010: SC dismisses Tripathi's plea for deferment of the verdict by the HC which now fixes September 30 for pronouncement of the judgement.
2010 The final verdict from Allahabad High Court comes in: the site is to be split—Muslims, Hindus and the Nirmohi akhara sect get a third of the land each. The main portion, where the mosque once stood, goes to the Hindus.
December 2010: The Akhil Bharatiya Hindu Mahasabha and Sunni Waqf Board move the Supreme Court challenging part of the Allahabad High Court’s verdict.
2011: Supreme Court suspends High Court ruling after Hindu and Muslim groups appeal against the 2010 verdict, stating that the status quo remains.
2014: BJP led by Narendra Modi comes to power at the centre.
December 25, 2014: Mohammad Farooq, oldest litigant in the case, dies. Farooq, a resident of Ayodhya, was one of the seven main Muslim litigants in the 1949 Babri Masjid case.
2015: The VHP announces a nationwide drive to collect stones for the construction of the Ram Mandir. In December, two trucks of stones arrive at the disputed site. Mahant Nritya Gopal Das claims there is a green signal from the Modi government that the temple will be built now. The Uttar Pradesh government led by Akhilesh Yadav says it will not allow the arrival of the stones in Ayodhya for the construction of the Ram Mandir.
March 2017: The Supreme Court said charges against LK Advani and other leaders cannot be dropped in the 1992 Babri mosque demolition case and that the case may be revived.
March 2017: BJP wins a mammoth victory in Uttar Pradesh in the Assembly Elections. Yogi Adityanath known as a hardline Hindu mascot and the founder of Hindu Yuva Vahini takes oath as UP's Chief Minister.
March 21, 2017: The Supreme Court says the matter is sensitive and should be settled out of court. It asks stakeholders to hold talks and find an amicable solution.
April 6: SC favours time-bound completion of trial in the case and reserves order on CBI's plea.
April 19,2017: The Supreme Court pronounces verdict, charging top BJP leaders including LK Advani, Uma Bharti and MM Joshi of criminal conspiracy. The apex court orders the trial court in Lucknow to complete the hearing within two years
August 8, 2017: UP Shia Central Waqf Board tells SC mosque could be built in a Muslim-dominated area at a reasonable distance from the disputed site.
September 11, 2017: SC directs Chief Justice of the Allahabad HC to nominate two additional district judges within ten days as observers to deal with the upkeep of the disputed site.
November 20, 2017: UP Shia Central Waqf Board tells SC temple can be built in Ayodhya and mosque in Lucknow.
December 1, 2017: Thirty-two civil rights activists file plea challenging the 2010 verdict of the Allahabad HC.
February 8, 2018: SC starts hearing the civil appeals.
March 14, 2018: SC rejects all interim pleas, including Subramanian Swamy’s, seeking to intervene as parties in the case.
April 6, 2018: Advocate Rajeev Dhavan files plea in SC to refer the issue of reconsideration of the observations in its 1994 judgement to a larger bench.
July 20, 2018: SC reserves verdict.
September 27, 2018: SC declines to refer the case to a five-judge Constitution bench. Case to be heard by a newly constituted three-judge bench on October 29.
October 2018: SC turns down appeal for urgent hearing. Hearings to start in January 2019.
January 4, 2019: The Supreme Court defers hearing a bunch of petitions in the Ayodhya title dispute case till January 10. “Further orders will be passed by an appropriate bench on January 10 for fixing the date of hearing the matter,” the Bench says.
January 8, 2019: The Supreme Court sets up a five-judge Constitution Bench to hear the land dispute case.
January 10, 2019: Justice U U Lalit, one of the five-judges on the Bench, recused himself from the hearing, after which the SC rescheduled the hearing to January 29.
January 29: The court postpones its hearing as Justice SA Bobde, one of the five-judge Constitution Bench for the case, is not available.
February 15: SC decides to hear a fresh plea against the 1993 central law on land acquisition near the disputed site at Ayodhya.
February 26: A hearing by a five-judge constitution bench comprising Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justices S A Bobde, D Y Chandrachud, Ashok Bhushan and S Abdul Nazeer is scheduled.
In the hearing, the Supreme Court suggests the mediation route citing Section 89 of the Code of Civil Procedure, and its power to order so in an appropriate case.
March 5, 2019: The Supreme Court's suggestion for mediation was not accepted by lawyers appearing for the Hindu parties. Those appearing for Muslim parties were ready for mediation. Regular hearing on the petitions to go on concurrently.
The court said that even if there is 1% opportunity, mediation should be given a chance. The court said that it may decide the ownership but it is also looking at the possibility of healing relations between the two communities.
The record for the Supreme Court's perusal consists of a total of 38,147 pages in multiple languages including Persian, Sanskrit and Arabic, stored in 15 trunks. Of the total pages, 12, 14 pages are in Hindi including 10,907 pages of deposition of witnesses, 18,607 pages in English, 501 pages in Urdu, 97 pages in Gurumukhi, 21 pages in Sanskrit and 86 pages in other languages.
Over 11,000 pages of documents, mostly deposition of witnesses in Hindi, need to be translated into English. The task would require 120 working days.
(With agency inputs)