Week 7 in Ayodhya

The week witnessed Sr. Adv Dhavan, appearing for the Sunni Waqf Board, continue his arguments

As the Ayodhya title dispute hearings enter the eighth week, we take a look back at the highlights from the past week. In a significant development, the Bench allowed the parties to continue mediation proceedings simultaneously, if they wished to. The Bench also set a timeline for the oral arguments and directed the parties to conclude them by October 18th.

The week witnessed Sr. Adv Dhavan, appearing for the Sunni Waqf Board, continue his arguments. He primarily focused his arguments on Ram Janmasthan’s identity as a juristic personality, location of the Hindu worship at the disputed site, and reliability of evidence to establish the existence of a mosque.

For an overview of the hearings from the previous weeks, see: weeks 12345689 or 10

Ram Janmasthan as juristic entity

Sr. Adv. Dhavan contested the claim that the Ram Janmasthan is a juristic entity, i.e. a deity with legal personhood. He agreed that deities can gain ‘juristic personality’ through self-manifestation (swayambhu), but submitted that the same had not taken place at Ayodhya. He said swayambhu required certain conditions such as ‘tangibility’ and ‘divine form’ that the opposing counsels had not shown. Moreover, Hindus are yet to recognise the Ram Janmasthan as a teerth sthan (holy sites where swayambhu has taken place). Further, he pointed out how teerth sthans have precise locations specified in religious texts, and the same was not demonstrated in the case of Ram Janmasthan.

He submitted that the site could also gain juristic personality through belief. However, he argued that mere belief is not sufficient and that ‘continuity in belief’ as well as ‘consecration’ are also required to be proved, which was not done in the present case.

Location of Hindu worship

Sr. Adv. Dhavan submitted that historically Hindu idols were only worshipped in the outer courtyard and that Hindus had no access to the inner courtyard. He argued that claims of Ram’s manifestations are limited to where Hindu worship took place. Given that the presence of Hindu idols in the inner courtyard was brought about as a result of an alleged illegal act, he argued that the plaintiffs in original suit number 5 could not claim ownership or management rights over the inner courtyard.

In relation to this, the Bench asked Sr. Adv. Dhavan about Hindu prayer offered at the railing installed by the British in 1855. The Bench asked if it was possible that prior to 1855, Hindus offered prayer in the central dome (inner courtyard). Sr. Adv. Dhavan stated that there was no reason to assume that prayer took place in the inner courtyard and the same amounted to conjecture. He informed the Bench of the context in which the British installed the railing. He described the high degree of animosity between Hindus and Muslims at the time, and submitted that a mindset of conquest prevailed between the communities. He stated that no evidence demonstrated that Hindu prayer was being offered at the railings, facing the central dome, prior to 1855. He further dispelled this argument by referring to relevant witness statements, which he claimed rebutted any existence of ‘unified belief’ that prayers should be offered at the central dome.

Expert witnesses

Sr. Adv. Dhavan contested the Allahabad High Court’s dismissal of a 1991 report by four historians. Their report had rejected claims that the disputed land is Lord Ram’s birthplace. The Allahabad High Court did not consider them experts under the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 and hence did not treat their report as evidence. Sr. Adv. Dhavan argued that the Bench should consider the four historians as expert witnesses and claimed that they are neutral, unbiased experts. Justice Chandrachud observed that at best, the Bench could consider their report, and other relevant testimony and opinions (not evidence). He stated that the four historians did not have access to the underlying relevant research, as the Archaeological Survey of India had not shared their findings with the historians. He said that the Bench would place more weight on the Archaeological Survey of India’s 2003 report.

Existence of a mosque

Sr. Adv. Dhavan took the Bench through exhibits to dispute the argument that the structure either lacked the features of a mosque or was somehow ‘un-Islamic’. He addressed the issue of whether certain un-Islamic features, such as decorative depictions of animals, indicate that the structure was Hindu. He submitted that the Nawab of Oudh had ordered various decorative inscriptions and the installment of 14 Kasauti stone pillars, which borrowed from non-Muslim aesthetics. He stated that while they indicate that the Nawab did not completely abide by the tenets of the Quran, they do not in any way suggest that the structure in entirety was not a mosque.

Sr. Adv. Dhavan also relied on certain Persian inscriptions found at the site to substantiate his claim that Mir Baqi, Babur’s general, constructed the mosque in 1528 (935 Hijri). He answered the Bench’s query about Sanskrit inscriptions and submitted that there existed mosques with Sanskrit inscriptions. Thereby, he suggested that merely because the disputed structure at Ayodhya has Sanskrit inscriptions, does not disprove that it is a mosque.