Week 5 in Ayodhya
In Week 5, Sr. Adv. Rajeev Dhavan argued for the Sunni Waqf Board, primarily focusing on disputing claims made by the Nirmohi Akhara
The Ayodhya dispute entered its fifth week of final arguments on September 2nd 2019. We maintain short weekly summaries of proceedings (here are Weeks 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10)
In Week 5, Sr. Adv. Rajeev Dhavan argued for the Sunni Waqf Board. He primarily focused on disputing claims made by the Nirmohi Akhara, although he did also argue against claims made by the other parties.
Court cannot rely on Vedic or Quranic Law
Sr. Adv. Dhavan argued that the court must rely on relevant law in assessing the claims of the Nirmohi Akhara and Ram Lala. Describing the evolution of Indian law from British law, he argued that the court should limit itself to the time period beginning in 1858 as “our law starts from 1858”. He emphasised that the court cannot rely upon Vedic or Quranic law to resolve this title dispute.
Sr. Adv. Dhavan questioned the nature of evidence relied upon by all the Hindu parties. He argued that Hindu scripture cannot be used to establish material fact, submitting that an occurrence of Swayambhu (self-manifestation of a deity) does not entitle any party to ownership of the land. Further, he argued that the precise location of Ram’s birth has not been clearly established, emphasising discrepancies between the areas of the claimed ‘Ram Janmasthan’ (birthplace) and ‘Ram Janmabhoomi’ (birthland). He argued that religious rituals like the path prescribed for performing Parikrama (circumambulation) fail to establish the precise location of Ram Janmabhoomi.
Sr. Adv. Dhavan placed limits on the use of historical texts as evidence, arguing that negative inferences cannot be drawn from historical texts. Sr. Adv. PN Misra for the Ramjanambhoomi Punarudhar Samiti (Ram Mandir Revitalisation Committee) had argued that historical texts like the 16th century Baburnama never mention a mosque at Ayodhya. Sr. Adv. Dhavan put forth that a missing reference in a historical text does not amount to the non-existence of the mosque.
Sr. Adv. Dhavan disputed the reliability of several witness statements relied upon by the Nirmohi Akhara and submitted on the credibility of evidence relied upon by the Sunni Waqf Board during the Allahabad High Court proceedings. Sr. Adv. SK Jain for the Nirmohi Akhara had earlier questioned the veracity of Islamic inscriptions at the site. Sr. Adv. Dhavan submitted that the Faizabad court had recorded the inscriptions.
The Nirmohi Akhara’s shebaitship
Sr. Adv. Dhavan recognised the Nirmohi Akhara as the rightful shebait (manager of the temple), while maintaining that the Sunni Waqf Board owns the inner courtyard. He argued that if the Akhara claims shebaitship, it cannot also claim ownership. He submitted that the Akhara, in their original suit, only sought access to the site to conduct prayer and that this did not amount to claiming possession of the site.
Sr. Adv. Dhavan contested the Akhara’s alleged rights over the inner courtyard, where the mosque was located, arguing that the Akhara had historically only managed the Ram Chabootra, located in the outer courtyard. He argued that the Akhara’s shebaitship only dates back to the 19th century, pointing to the lack of evidence establishing its presence at the site 700 years ago.
Sr. Adv. Dhavan maintained that the Nirmohi Akhara’s suit is barred by limitation. The Akhara filed its original suit in 1959, ten years after the Faizabad magistrate placed the site under state receivership. Under Article 120 of the Limitation Act, 1908, the limitation period for the Akhara’s suit was only six years. Sr. Adv. SK Jain sought to circumvent this by arguing that the Akhara had suffered a continuous wrong that kept refreshing the limitation period. Sr. Adv. Dhavan submitted that the Akhara was disallowed from conducting prayers by a single court order, so there was no ‘continuous wrong’.
Sr. Adv. Rajeev Dhavan had filed a contempt petition against a Prof. Shanmugam for allegedly threatening Sr. Adv. Dhavan for representing the Sunni Waqf board. This week the bench issued notice to Prof. Shanmugam.