Vineet Kumar Maurya’s petition, claiming Ayodhya is neither Hindu nor Muslim but the site of a Buddhist temple, has been accepted by the Supreme Court

As an Indian citizen and someone who belongs to Ayodhya, I believe the truth should be uncovered. So, if I have to make sacrifices, I am ready to do that because I have nothing to lose. I am fighting for the truth,” says Vineet Kumar Maurya.

The truth is something that comes up more than half-a-dozen times in the 25-minute phone conversation Mirror had with Maurya who, in March this year, filed a petition with the Supreme Court asking it to investigate whether the disputed Ram Janmabhoomi site at Ayodhya was originally Buddhist, and not Hindu or Muslim. The 46-year-old talks fervently about wanting to cut through the religious and political intrigue that animates the demand for building a Ram temple at the site. “I want things to be put in the right historical perspective,” he says. “I don’t want things to be mangled [in the name of religious and caste politics]. Let it be based on historical evidence.”

In July, a two-member bench of the Supreme Court heard the petition and saw enough merit in it to append it to the main petition, giving Maurya’s claim legal weight. “In my petition, I have not gone into the controversy of whether this belongs to the Hindus or the Muslims. All I have asked is that the artifacts you have found after digging 10 feet, who do they belong to? At one point, I was afraid that the court might penalise me or imprison me, but the court accepted that this is not necessarily Hindu or Muslim,” Maurya says.

A life-long resident of Ayodhya, Maurya, who is a Buddhist, says he lives beside the boundary wall of the site, and even worked as a labourer during the initial courtordered excavations in 2003. “If you ask anyone where the mad man stays, they will send you to my house,” he says. He takes Mirrorthrough the various digs at the site, from Japanese company Tojo-Vikas International’s initial survey through to the Archaeological Survey of India’s (ASI) investigation, whose discoveries were sealed off from the public by a court order. However, Maurya claims that the ASI dug up artifacts that relate to Buddha: walls and bricks from the time of Emperor Ashoka, as well as a stupa and pillars.

Not a new claim

In 2011, The Buddha Education Foundation (BEF) filed a Special Leave Petition challenging the Allahabad High Court’s 2010 decision that stated that the real claimants to the site are Buddhists and followers of Dr BR Ambedkar. The petition was based on the 2003 ASI report, as well a report written in 1870 by Patrick Carnegie, a British archaeologist who was the officiating commissioner and settlement officer of Faizabad district, where Ayodhya is located.

Udit Raj, chairman of the BEF, and currently a BJP MP, said in a press release at the time that “construction before the existence of Babri Mosque belongs to Bauddh Vihar. Justice Sudhir Aggarwal held that Kasauti Pillars of disputed structure strongly resemble Buddhist pillars seen at Varanasi. Justice SU Khan held that Carnegy [sic] has mentioned that the Kasauti Pillars, which were used in the construction of mosque, strongly resembled Buddhist pillars which he had seen at Banaras”.

In addition, according to a 2011 media report, a book by Ambedkarite scholar Balwant Singh Charvak, titled Ayodhya Kiski?Na Ram Ki, Na Babar Ki, advances the theory that the site once housed “a grand Buddhist temple, dedicated to a Shudra rishi, Lomash (later identified, he says, as a Bodhisattva)”. Charvak goes on to claim that that Buddhist temple was not torn down by Babur, but destroyed “by anti-Buddhist Brahminical revivalists”. All Babur did was use the remnants of the Buddhist temple to build the Babri Masjid.

A national heritage site

What riles up Maurya the most is how the site is being used to play votebank politics and set Hindus and Muslims against each other. In the process, he says, some people have benefited, but those who call Ayodhya home, have suffered. “What have the people of Ayodhya got from Ayodhya? They have wiped out the truth from Ayodhya.”

Maurya claims he has been offered land, and even a Rajya Sabha seat, if he drops his petition, and that he has been harassed by agents from the Intelligence Bureau and the state Local Intelligence Unit. “They keep questioning me,” he says. “I told them, ‘Why don’t you draw up an accurate report and let the government assess the artifacts for themselves’?”

He hopes that if the artifacts found at Ayodhya turn out to resemble those found at the Buddhist pilgrimage sites of Sarnath and Shravasti, then the court will declare Ayodhya a monument of national importance. “I won’t compromise [on this],” he says. If the court does not rule in his favour, he is prepared to appeal, but he says, “I have full faith in the court that it will declare this a national monument. They are taking a humanitarian view of this.”

Once Ayodhya becomes an official Buddhist site, Maurya believes it will entice foreign pilgrims who travel the Buddhist circuit. This, in turn, will inject foreign currency into the local economy, giving it a boost and benefitting those who live and work here. “Only then will respect for Ayodhya be restored,” he says.

Maurya, 46, filed the petition in March this year

Maurya meditates at an art gallery in Ayodhya

Mumbai Mirror