Week 4 in Ayodhya

This week, the hearings in the Ayodhya dispute centered around the possession claim. All three parties relied on archaeological evidence.

The Supreme Court is hearing final arguments in the appeals against the 2010 Allahabad High Court judgment. To keep you updated, we have weekly summaries of final arguments (here are Weeks 12356789 and 10)

The three primary parties are the Nirmohi Akhara (original suit number 3), the Sunni Waqf Board (original suit number 4) and Ram Lala represented by D.N. Agarwal (original suit number 5).

Nirmohi Akhara is the shebait and entitled to represent the deity

Sr. Adv. S.K. Jain appearing for the Nirmohi Akhara argued that ideally a shebait should represent a deity in a legal suit, with the implication being that the Akhara, not D.N. Agarwal should represent Ram Lala (and Ram Janmabhoomi). He submitted that no Hindu party had disputed the Akhara’s management and possession claims, and that they are entitled to collect their offerings from devotees’ worship.

Sr. Adv. Jain proceeded to demonstrate the shebait claim by taking the court through various civil disputes concerning properties around the disputed structure, wherein the Akhara or its mahants were litigants. He argued that the fact that the Akhara was party to these disputes demonstrates that it was responsible for managing the site.

Case not maintainable

Sr. Adv. S.K. Jain argued that at the time DN Agarwal filed his suit, there was no indication in the pleadings that the already working shebait (allegedly the  Nirmohi Akhara), had ceased working in the interest of the deity. He argued that therefore, DN Agarwal could not maintain his suit as the ‘next friend’ of the deity.

Later he clarified that his argument against the maintainability of DN Agarwal’s suit was conditional upon the other Hindu parties recognising the Akhara’s shebaitship rights. He said that he would drop his argument, if the Akhara was seen as the shebait.

Inner vs. outer courtyard

Sr. Adv. SK Jain stated that the Akhara’s suit is limited to the inner courtyard. He suggested that no decrees should be passed with regards to the outer courtyard, which he submitted is in the possession of the Akhara.

Location of the Ram Janmasthan

Sr. Adv. P.N. Misra who represents the Ram Mandir Revitalisation Committee sought to establish the location of the Ram Janmasthan by referring to the Skanda Purana and a map, as well as British collector Edward’s research. Justice Chandrachud stressed that there is a significant difference in relying on religious scripture to indicate faith and relying on it to determine a physical location.

Not Waqf property; no mosque on the land

Sr. Adv. P.N. Misra disputed that the site was designated as waqf property. He submitted that waqf property must meet three conditions: at the time of donation, the waqif (donor) must be the owner; he should make a public dedication; azaan (call to prayer) should be called in public.

Then, he disputed that Babur had built a mosque at the site in the 16th century. He argued that the site cannot be called or defined as a mosque. He stressed that Babur’s memoir (Baburnama) does not reference a mosque being constructed at Ayodhya.

Building cannot be a mosque

Sr. Adv. P.N. Misra relied on Islamic scripture to argue that the building has features that prevent it from being a mosque. His primary argument was that a mosque cannot be constructed on disputed land. He referred to archaeological evidence to argue that the site lacked water storage to allow for a wudu, which is necessary for ritual purification prior to namaz.

Sr. Adv. P.N. Misra argued that the site cannot be a mosque because it has images of living beings. Relying on archaeological evidence, PN Misra submitted that the gates have two leaping tigers and a peacock. He cited various Hadith and the Qu ‘ran to argue that no mosque would have such images.

Site is integral to Hinduism

Sr. Adv. P.N. Misra argued that not all mosques are integral to Islam. He argued that only three mosques are essential to Islam: Masjid al-Harām (Kaaba in Mecca), Masjid an-Nabawī (Medina) and Masjid al-Aqsa (Jerusalem). He characterised other mosques as serving only the purpose of congregation. He argued that the Babri Masjid is not integral to Islam, but that the Ram Jamnabhoomi is essential to Hinduism.

Hindu Mahasabha’s arguments

This week, the court briefly heard two factions of the Hindu Mahasabha. Adv. Hari Shankar Jain for the first faction of the Hindu Mahasabha disputed the Sunni Waqf Board’s possession claim. He submitted that there exists no evidence of a mosque prior to 1855. Then, he argued that Babur as an invader could not be granted constitutional rights. He submitted that proof of a pre-medieval Hindu temple exists and that recognising a mosque would violate Hindus’ fundamental right to freedom of religion under Article 25 of the Constitution.

Adv. H.S. Jain sought to convince the court that the site could only be governed by Hindu law. He submitted that the nature of a Hindu temple is inalterable, even if it is destroyed and a mosque is built on top of it.

Next, the bench briefly heard the counsel for a second faction of the Hindu Mahasabha. The counsel submitted that adverse possession claims cannot be made against a deity. He requested the bench to take on the record his written submission.

Shia Waqf Board’s Arguments

Advocate MC Dhingra, appearing for the Shia Waqf Board argued that the Shia Board held exclusive possession of the disputed mosque until it was placed under the receivership of the State in 1949. He submitted that the last Mutawalli (manger of Waqf property) of the mosque was Shia. He emphasised that it is a Mutawalli, not worshippers, who can possess a mosque. Further, he argued that Allah does not possess the site as Allah is not a juristic person.