The Ayodhya title dispute before the Supreme Court of India is composed of a total of seventeen cases, making it difficult to keep track of the various arguments. This post is intended to help readers grasp the claims advanced by the primary litigants.
The current legal dispute traces back to December 1949, when Mahant Abhiram Das and his followers placed a series of Hindu idols under Babri Masjid's central dome. To prevent civil unrest from breaking out, a Faizabad magistrate immediately issued an order under Section 145 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898 (CrPC) and placed the disputed site under the receivership (a type of temporary custody) of the State. In response, various litigants approached the courts claiming ownership of the site. Key suits were field by:
After the Allahabad High Court instituted Sri Ram Virajman's suit in 1989, it clubbed together all the original suits. Finally in 2010, the Lucknow Bench of the High Court delivered its judgment and divided the title among the Nirmohi Akhara, Bhagwan Shri Ram Virajman and the Sunni Central Board of Waqfs, Uttar Pradesh. Immediately following, various major litigants filed Civil Appeals and Special Leave Petitions in the Supreme Court challenging the judgment. The Supreme Court began hearing oral arguments in August 2017 and finally reserved judgment in October 2019, after 61 days of oral arguments.
Sunni Central Board of Waqfs, Uttar Pradesh.
The Sunni Central Board of Waqfs, U.P. (hereafter ‘Sunni Waqf Board’) claims exclusive ownership of Babri Masjid and the directly adjacent land, on behalf of the entire Muslim community. It filed a suit along with 9 Muslim residents of Ayodhya on 18 December 1961, seeking to regain possession of the mosque and surrounding area from the State receiver. It filed its suit against both the primary Hindu parties – G.S. Visharad and Nirmohi Akhara (Shri Ram Virajman had yet to become a party until 1989) – and the State.
According to the Sunni Waqf Board, the mosque was constructed by Emperor Babur in 1528. It asserts that the property is vested in God – i.e. it is waqf property. It claims that Muslims continuously prayed at the mosque from when it was constructed until 1949, when Hindu idols were placed under its central dome. In addition, the Board says that the area directly adjacent to the mosque also belongs to Muslims. It claims that the adjacent area is the site of an ancient graveyard for Muslim soldiers who died invading Ayodhya (it later amended its plaint to retract this assertion regarding the graveyard).
The Sunni Waqf Board asserts that the title dispute was already decided by a Faizabad district court in the 19th century. In 1885, a Mahant claiming to represent the Hindu community sought permission to construct a temple at the Ram Chabootra in the outer courtyard, adjacent to Babri Masjid. The district court ruled in favor of the Mutawalli of Babri Masjid and dismissed the suit. The Sunni Waqf Board claims that the judgment applies res judicata, meaning that the other Hindu parties' title suits are not maintainable.
The Sunni Waqf Board opposed the outcome of the 1949 Section 145 CrPC proceedings, wherein a Faizabad City Magistrate placed the disputed property under the custody of a State receiver. In its 1961 suit, the Sunni Waqf Board labelled the Magistrate’s actions as ‘illegal’. It stated that the order wronguflly denied Muslims from realising their right to pray. Further, it emphasised that while Muslims were prevented from removing the Hindu idols (hence preventing them from praying), Hindus were allowed to perform puja to the idols.
Following the demolition of Babri Masjid in 1992, the Sunni Waqf Board amended its original pleadings. It labelled as illegal the demolition of the mosque and construction of a new Hindu structure. Further, it claimed that the site remains to be a public mosque, as under Muslim law, a mosque can exist independently of the existence of a physical building.
Shortly after the Allahabad High Court delivered its judgment in 2010, the Sunni Waqf Board filed its appeal to the Supreme Court. It asserted that the High Court had relied on faith-based arguments, not historical evidence, to conclude that the site is the birthplace of Lord Ram. Further, it noted that the partition ordered by the High Court was beyond the scope of any of the pleadings and prayers in any of the suits. It asserted that the High Court had committed various ‘apparent errors on the face of the record’.
In its Civil Appeal, the Sunni Waqf Board prayed for the following interim relief: (i) stay the operation of the Allahabad High Court judgment while the Sunni Waqf Board’s Civil Appeal is pending; (ii) maintain the status quo established by the Supreme Court in Ismail Faruqui as regards the distribution of the disputed site.
The Sunni Waqf Board’s primary prayers are as follows: (i) declaration that Babri Masjid is a public mosque; (ii) decree of perpetual injunction against both the Hindu parties and the State that would prohibit them from interfering with the removal of the make-shift temple and the construction of a new mosque; (iii) decree for delivery of possession to the Sunni Waqf Board.