Three bulbous domes, two smaller ones flanking a grander dome, accentuating it. A long queue of karsevaks outside the south dome.
This picture is vividly etched on my memory since the day I first set foot in Ayodhya on December 3, 1992. The domes were unmistakably that of a mosque, which overlooked a platform known as Ram Chabutra. The entire area, measuring 2.77 acres, was caged by a grill fence with two gates and a narrow passage to funnel people out into the disputed plot.
The domed structure was a 464-year-old mosque believed to have been constructed by or at the instruction of the Mughal emperor Babur. Babri Masjid, the lone structure of significance to Muslims in the area, stood surrounded by holy buildings built by Hindus later – Manas Bhawan, Sita Rasoi and Ram Katha Kunj Sagar. The mosque had existed for centuries and Muslims offered namaz there. Soon after independence, in December 1949, Hindus discreetly installed an idol of the deity Ram Lalla under the central dome, persisting with their claim that the plot on which Babri Masjid stood was the birthplace of the Hindu god Rama.
The conundrum had begun. Who should get the land title, Hindus or Muslims? The case travelled for years through the judicial labyrinth until finally, on November 9 this year, the Supreme Court gave away the title to Hindus.
It took the five judges who decided the case to travel back in time to 300 BC to explain why the land “probably” belonged to Hindus. The court categorically said towards the beginning of its 1,045-page judgement: “The court does not decide title on the basis of faith or belief but on the basis of evidence…The law must stand apart from political contestations over history, ideology and religion.’’ Yet, it ended up doing just that. It went on to rule that Hindus had a stronger claim to the title because of their belief.
In all, it took the authority of the Supreme Court, four shlokas from the sage Valmiki’s Ramayana, 87 shlokas from Skanda Purana, Hans Bakker’s Ayodhya, oral evidence of octogenarian Hindu sadhus, a chronicle of Guru Nanak’s visit to Ayodhya, Goswami Tulsidas’s Ramcharitmanas, Ain-i-Akbari, findings of the Archaeological Survey of India, accounts of scores of foreign travellers, and British gazettes to decide the case in favour of Hindus. Strangely, Baburnama was missing from this list of documentary evidence. No one thought of considering this epic treatise on Babur’s administration and his conquests as evidence. Babri Masjid might have found a mention in it perhaps. All evidence was mainly from the pre-1949 period, that is, from before the birth of the Indian constitution and the Supreme Court.
Four shlokas from the Ramayana, recorded sometime in 200-300 BC show that Ram, as an incarnation of Vishnu, was born to King Dasrath and Kaushalya at Ayodhya. But the Ramayana doesn’t indicate Ram’s exact place of birth, the court concedes.
It is Skanda Purana that provides the location. Eighty seven shlokas from chapter 10, Ayodhya Mahatmya, state that Ram Janmasthan is to the east of Vighnesvara, to the north of Vasistha and to the west of Laumasa. Puzzling, isn’t it? But it was simple for Hindu sadhus Jagadguru Ramanandacharya, Swami Rambhadracharya, and Swami Avimuktaswaranand Saraswati.
In their submissions, they claimed to have travelled to Ayodhya, following the directions given in Skanda Purana, and discovered that a British official named Edward had put up stone slabs to mark the places mentioned in Skanda Purana. Swami Saraswati had seen the stones at Bara Sthan, Ram Janmabhoomi, Pindarak, Lomash, Vighnesh and Vashishtkund. These stones existed until 2001-2002, he claimed. But they don’t exist now. It’s not clear if any pictures of the stones exist either.
A historian named Sushil Srivastav appeared on behalf of the Hindu side. He said, “I agree with what is mentioned in Ayodhya Mahatmya about the birthplace of Rama.’’ He too did not clearly identify the boundaries of Ram Janmabhoomi. But it sufficed for the narrative that he gave indications about legends situated on the eastern, western and northern sides of the town to provide directions for reaching Ram Janmabhoomi.
The final nail in the coffin was Dutch scholar Hans Bakker’s book Ayodhya, originally a thesis submitted to the University of Groningen in 1984. “The original location of the Janmasthana temple is comparatively certain since it seems to be attested by the location of the mosque built by Babur, in the building of which materials of a previous Hindu temple were used and are still visible. The mosque is believed by general consensus to occupy the site of the Janmasthana.’’
The list of witnesses that endorsed the Hindu belief of Ram Janmasthan was endless. It included Tulsidas’s Ramcharitmanas, which says: “When Brahma appealed to Vishnu to relieve the Devas, Sages, Gandharvas and earth from the terror of the demon Ravana, Lord Vishnu said I will take a human form and be born to Dasarath and Kausalya in Kosalapuri.” Kosalapuri is another name for Ayodhya.
Ain-a-Akbari, written by Emperor Akbar’s minister Abul Fazl, claims that Ayodhya “was the residence of Ramachandra who in the Treta age combined in his own person both the spiritual supremacy and the kingly office”.
Then there is Father Joseph Tieffenthaler, who visited India between 1766 and 1771. In his travelogues, he provides the popular version of the Ramayana. He writes that it is not clear if Emperor Aurengzeb demolished the temple or replaced it with a “Muslim temple, with triple domes, constructed at the same place. Others say it was constructed by Babor”.
Then there are British gazettes from 1858 onwards. They always describe the disputed structure as “Mosque Janma Sthan”. This corroborates the belief that the mosque was constructed on the Janmasthan of Ram, the Supreme Court argues.
A historical sketch of Faizabad prepared in 1870 by P Carnegy, a British settlement officer, states that Ayodhya is to Hindus what Mecca is to Muslims and Jerusalem to Jews.
The Supreme Court also cites a report published by the Archaeological Survey of India in 1889. It claims: “Babar’s Masjid at Ayodhya was built on the very spot where the old temple Janmasthan of Ramchandra was standing.” The court quotes a couple more ASI reports from the 19th century endorsing this opinion. Then, several gazettes are cited to show there was a dispute over the structure even in 1858.
Rewind to 1992, when I went to Ayodhya in my quest for the truth. I worked for the daily Patriot at the time and reported on events leading up to the demolition of Babri Masjid on December 6.
None of the octogenarians who deposed in the Supreme Court gave us any evidence of Ram Janambhoomi then. I remember meeting Paramahans Ramchandra, who was one of the key figures addressing press conferences every day in Ayodhya in December 1992. They only had one slogan then: “Matti nahi khiskayenge, Masjid ko girayenge.” We will not shift the soil, we will demolish the mosque.
In fact, they would not have had the time to discuss evidence because there was such a frenzy in Ayodhya. The city was painted saffron. Karsevaks had shaved the hair on their heads in the shape of a trishul, swastika, or an image of Ram. In their mania, they were hostile to the media. In my reporter’s diary titled Operation Demolition: Brick by Brick, published in a monthly magazine, Link, I wrote on December 5 that 1.60 lakh karsevaks had arrived in Ayodhya. Forty two trucks carrying flour and rice, 38 trucks of sugar, and 11 trucks of dal had also arrived the same day to feed the massive gathering.
The principal characters in the 1992 episode included Paramahans Ramchandra, Ashok Singhal, Vishnu Hari Dalmia, and Acharya Dharmendra of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad; BL Sharma “Prem” and Uma Bharati of the Bharatiya Janata Party; Sadhvi Rithambara of the Durga Vahini. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s top leaders and BJP grandees such as LK Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi were also present, but they barely spoke with the press. Then there was an outfit called Kendriya Margdarshak Mandal, which would hold a press conference every day at 4 pm that Singhal unfailingly attended.
On December 5, Kendriya Margdarshak Mandal informed reporters that they would conduct a “symbolic” kar seva but not attempt to harm the Babri Masjid. I wrote in my diary: “The deception was rather complete. Not many who witnessed the unfolding of Ayodhya events until December 5 thought that there would indeed be a ‘real kar seva’ involving the demolition of the Babri Masjid.’’
I was atop Manas Bhawan when the masjid was demolished on December 6. I scurried down the stairs as karsevaks started pelting stones. Frantically, I entered the crowd in an attempt to move away from people chanting “Jai Sri Ram”. I exited Ayodhya and was walking towards Faizabad on foot when I saw an approaching convoy of the Rapid Action Force take a U-turn away from Ayodhya. The RAF is a specialised unit of the Central Reserve Police Force meant to deal with riots and crowd-control situations.
The RAF commanding officer, who was with Faizabad’s city magistrate, Sudhir Adeeb, intercepted me en route and offered me a lift in his Jeep. The conversations that ensued in the middle of the Faizabad-Ayodhya road went thus. “Why are you not moving to Ayodhya where the destruction of Babri Masjid is in progress,’’ I asked the two of them, with utmost curiosity. I believed the security forces could have salvaged the situation if they tried.
The officer quipped, “The RAF received orders from the state government to march to Ayodhya at 1 pm on December 6. Our convoy had reached Saket Degree College when we received another order from the government to go back to the barracks.”
Adeeb reacted defensively, “We don’t want a massacre of kar sevaks by sending the RAF troops, nor do we want that the RAF jawans get lynched by the frenzied mob.’’
The commanding officer asked Adeeb to give in writing that the RAF should return to Faizabad. Placing a blank piece of paper on the bonnet of the Jeep, Adeeb wrote: “The central forces could not move further beyond the Saket Degree college due to several roadblocks.’’
This was far from the truth. There were no roadblocks that would have kept them from reaching Ayodhya.
Dirty politics knows no religion. In 1992, while the BJP’s Kalyan Singh was the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, PV Narasimha Rao of the Congress was prime minister of the country.
The entire operation of December 6 was a ruse. It was the doubletalk of politicians and leaders of the Ayodhya as well as the frenzy that kept us, the mediapersons, from telling the truth of what was happening. Overnight, Ram Chabutra was extended over the land where the three domes once stood. A makeshift canopy was erected and the idol of Ram Lalla was placed on the same site. History was first rewritten on December 6, 1992.
After 27 years, the Supreme Court has settled the dispute once and for all. The court does find that the domes existed on the disputed plot for years and that they were illegally demolished. The court also admits that there was no abandonment of the mosque by Muslims.
Yet, Muslims couldn’t prove their exclusive possession of the three domes prior to 1857. Why weren’t Hindus asked to prove exclusive possession? Because the law requires only the prosecution – Muslims in this case – to prove their claim. They couldn’t prove their claim, so the land probably belonged to Hindus because of their belief, the court reasoned. The court, however, decided to compensate Muslims by giving them a five-acre plot to build a mosque somewhere else in Ayodhya.
The apex court could not confirm whether it was Babur who, through his minister Mohammad Mir Baqi, built the mosque in 1528 or whether it was Aurangzeb who demolished a temple and then erected the three domes of Babri Masjid. However, miraculously, the rest of the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle seemed to fit a narrative of “probable” which delivered the 2.77 acres of the disputed land to Hindus.
If age-old beliefs get preference over existing realities in this manner, I think history is ready to take a drubbing in the years to come.