Know the Parties – Nirmohi AkharaAyodhya Title Dispute
Know the Parties – Nirmohi Akhara
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 series of posts 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 (type of temporary custody) of the State. In response, various litigants approached the courts claiming ownership of the site. Key suits were field by
- Gopal Singh Visharad (labeled original suit number 1 by the Allahabad High Court): claims the right to worship at the disputed site
- Nirmohi Akhara (original suit number 3): claims shebaitship – management and control – of the disputed site
- Sunni Central Board of Waqfs, Uttar Pradesh (original suit number 4): claims ownership of the inner courtyard, where Babri Masjid sat
- Bhagwan Sri Ram Virajman (original suit number 5): claims that the entire site is a divine juristic entity and hence, not subject to other parties ownership claims
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.
The Nirmohi Akhara (hereafter Akhara) is a Panchayati Math comprising of militant Ramanandi Varagis (ascetics devoted to Lord Ram). It claims to have existed in Ayodhya as a public religious establishment since at least 1400 AD. It asserts that it was always in ‘possession, control and management’ of the disputed site. It says that its mahant (chief priest) and sarbrahkar (administrator) have continuously managed the site and received offerings on behalf of Lord Ram since the middle ages.
The Akhara asserts that the site was originally Hindu by virtue of the alleged fact that an ancient Hindu temple existed where Emperor Babur chose to construct Babri Masjid in around 1526. Further, it claims that Babur’s construction is not a mosque as it does not conform to the principles of Islam. As such, it denies that Muslims continuously worshipped at the site and that only Hindus prayed inside the ‘three domed structure’ (i.e. mosque). It specifically asserts that after 1934 Muslims never entered the mosque.
It filed its original suit (instituted on 17.12.1959) in response to a Faizabad magistrate placing the disputed under the receivership of the State in December 1949. It claims that these Section 145 CrPC proceedings wronfgully deprived it of ‘management and charge‘ of the site. In its suit, it prayed for the court to issue a decree returning ‘management and charge‘ of the disputed site, from the State receiver to the Nirmohi Akhara’s mahant. Its suit was not only filed against the State, but also the ‘Muslim community‘ represented by defendants 6 to 8 (residents of Ayodhya).
In its 1959 suit, the Akhara primarily disputed the cause of action of the Section 145 proceedings. Namely, it claimed that the Hindu idols were never placed inside Babri Masjid on the night of December 22nd 1949, but rather that they had always been there. Further, it asserted that even if the idols were placed inside the mosque that night, the Akhara could rightfully do so, as the entire site belonged to it.
In 1992, the Akhara amended its original plaint after the demolishment of Babri Masjid. It submitted that the temples (which from its perspective included the masjid) at the disputed site had been demolished.
In 2010, the High Court dismissed the Akhara’s original suit for the restoration of its shebaiti (management and charge) rights. The High Court held that its suit was barred by limitation. Nevertheless, it awarded the Akhara roughly a third of the disputed site.
Following the High Court’s judgment in 2010, the Akhara filed a Special Leave Petition challenging the High Court’s division of the disputed property. It sought for the Court to restore the its shebaiti rights. Further, it prayed for the Supreme Court to grant the following interim relief for the duration of proceedings: (i) stay the operation of the High Court’s judgment insofar as it grants the three-domed structure to the Sunni Waqf Board and Shri Ram Virajman; (ii) direct all parties to maintain the status quo with regard to the disputed land, dating back to 1993 (pooja allowed and removal of deities prohibited).