Know the Parties – Sri Ram VirajmanAyodhya Title Dispute
Know the Parties – Bhagwan Sri Ram Virajman
The Ayodhya title dispute before the Supreme Court of India comprises 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 (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.
Sri Ram Virajman
The three plaintiffs in original suit number 5 (filed 01.07.1989) claim exclusive ownership of the disputed site. They are Bhagwan Sri Ram Virajman (idol), Sri Ram Janmabhoomi (birthplace) and ‘next friend’ retired judge Deoki Nandan Agarwala. Deities with legal personhood (juristic entities) must be represented by a ‘next friend’, as they are considered ‘perpetual minors’. In 2010, Triloki Nath Pandey took over as the ‘next friend’. Both Agarwala and Pandey are associated with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad.
The basis of the deities’ ownership claim is that the site is allegedly where Sri Vishnu first manifested himself as Sri Ram Virajman. The plaintiffs allege that the site has been worshipped as the birthplace of Sri Ram since ‘time immemorial’.
They claim that the site is itself a deity (Sri Ram Janmabhoomi) and has always been worshipped as such. In particular, they say that the building and adjacent area are an ‘indestructible’, ‘immovable’ deity. Therefore, they assert that no other party can assert ownership of the site, as it is a deity.
The courts historically have only recognized deities as juridical entities if they are physically manifested, usually in the form of an idol. In this case, the plaintiffs claim that Sri Ram Janmabhoomi gains legal personhood due to ‘constant, uninterrupted’ worship, despite the fact that it is ‘formless and shapeless’. They say that Hinduism doesn’t not require worship of physical manifestations, offering the Kedarnath and Vishnupad temples as examples.
They dispute that the building constructed by Emperor Babur in the 16th century is a mosque. They claim that the building lacks the features of a mosque under Islamic law, as it includes engravings of idols and lacks a vazoo. Further, they claim that the building was illegitimately dedicated as waqf, as its ownership rested with a Hindu deity. Finally, they assert that even if it was a mosque, it was pre-dated by a Gupta-era temple that was demolished by Emperor Babur.
While they do not explicitly dispute the shebaitship of the Nirmohi Akhara, they intend to construct a new temple that will be under management and charge of the Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas. The first trustee of the Nyas is Jagadaguru Ramanandacharya Swami Shivaramacharya, who heads the Ramananda Sampradaya. D.N. Agarwala (original plaintiff number 3) was also a trustee.
They dispute that the deities lost ownership of the site due to the 1949-50 Section 145 CrPC proceedings. In 1950, the site was placed under the custody of a State receiver. The plaintiffs assert that the State receiver merely took over as the shebait (manager) of Sri Ram Janmabhoomi, but that ownership remained with the deities.
Following the High Court’s judgment, they filed a Civil Appeal in 2010 wherein they assert that the site cannot be divided as it is a deity (indivisible). They prayed for the Supreme Court to stay the judgment insofar as it allots shares to the Nirmohi Akhara and the Sunni Waqf Board, for the duration of the current proceedings.
Their primary prayer is as follows: (i) decree of declaration stating that the entire site (building and adjacent area) belongs to the Sri Ram Virajman and Sri Ram Janmabhoomi; (ii) perpetual injunction against the defendants, prohibiting them from interfering in any manner in the construction of a new temple under the trusteeship of the Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas.