Senior advocate Zafaryab Jilani has been fighting the title suit for the All India Muslim Personal Law Board in the Ayodhya Babri Masjid dispute for 45 years. After the hearings concluded on Wednesday, he spoke to Rashme Sehgal.
On the very last day of hearings in the Supreme Court, news came that the Sunni Waqf Board was ready to relinquish claims in exchange for a cast-iron agreement that other mosques would not be disturbed. What do you make of this?
The Sunni Waqf Board is one among five claimants in this dispute. I have not had the opportunity to talk to the Sunni Waqf Board chairman, Zafar Ahmed Farooqui, on this issue, but I must point out that no agreement can be arrived if the others are not taken aboard. All this (talk about mediation) is meaningless now, as the Supreme Court has reserved judgement in the case. Now we all await its decision.
There was also a proposal from the retired Lt Gen. Zameeruddin Shah that even if the SC judgement were to go in favour of constructing a mosque on the disputed site in Ayodhya, given the prevailing majoritarian Hindu sentiment, there is little possibility of that happening on the ground.
Shah has no base in the community nor is there any justification for him to speak on behalf of the community.
But if Muslims do get the title, would they accommodate the aspirations of Hindus, given that Hindus are already conducting prayers at the site?
This is not something I can reply to at the present moment. First, let us receive the judgement then it is for the Shariat to take a decision on whether they will permit any kind of accommodation. Our body, the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB), will meet in the future and decide what course of action to take.
Today, a section of Hindus appears not to have any sympathy for their Muslim brethren. This perception has been strengthened by some obscurantist statements by the Babri Masjid Action Committee and AIMPLB. Your view?
On the contrary, members of the Babri Masjid Action Committee never took to the streets unlike the members of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. We have been fighting under the ambit of the law while they have been fighting on the streets.
The Ayodhya litigation is now 70 years old. You have been involved in this case for a very long time. What has the learning curve been for you?
I have been actively involved in the case for the last 30 years and, like other litigants, I wished from the start that matters could have been expedited. To put things in perspective, the actual case started in 1986. The arguments in the case started in 2008. Before that, (a great deal of time) had been given to produce evidence. A lot of time was also spent on the appointment of the receiver. One was appointed, who died, and then another had to be appointed before the case could proceed.
In 1989, the matter was placed before the Allahabad High Court, in 1992, the [Babri] mosque was demolished. After 1994, hearings began again. It was during the reign of [former prime minister] Atal Bihari Vajpayee that day-to-day hearings on this case were started in 2003.
The Allahabad High Court gave its judgement in 2010 but the verdict made it quite clear that none of the three petitioners, the Sunni Waqf Board, the Nirmohi Akhara nor Ram Lalla, possessed the property title to this disputed land.
The Allahabad High Court did not give a correct interpretation. The High Court separated the user from the title, but it is the user who is conferred the title of the land, as has been recognised by the Supreme Court. Here, historically it is the user who has used this mosque, this three-domed structure, and that has been the Muslim community.
To return to your earlier question; it was in 2017 that the Central government put pressure on the Court to get the matter expedited. A special bench of the Supreme Court was constituted in August 2017 and only then did it pick up speed. We had been asking for early disposal since 1986. We moved an application for early disposal and we are happy that the case is finally coming to an end.
Has this dispute expanded over time to become a dispute between Hindus and Muslims?
The dispute started in 1850 when some bairagis (sadhus) put a chabutra in the outer corridor. The magistrate ordered its removal, which was not implemented. Muslims appealed for dismantling of the chabutra. In 1885, Mahant Raghuvir Das of the Nirmohi Akhara, filed a suit seeking permission to build a canopy on the chabutra, but his plea was dismissed. He had laid claim to a construction of 21 by 17 feet next to the [Babri] mosque.
This suit was dismissed since the mosque was placed on the western side of the chabutra; [so it was held that] it was not okay to get permission. The court had apprehension of bloodshed. Das went into appeal and filed a case before the district judge in Faizabad, which was dismissed in 1886.
There was no title with the Hindus. They went into a second appeal before the judicial commissioner of Oudh, which was also dismissed. The Hindus were performing puja in the outer chabutra and there was no dispute on that. After Independence, murtis [statues] were placed surreptitiously in the central dome of the Babri Masjid with the connivance of the (then) district magistrate.
But Muslims also do not have the title?
No Muslim can ever say that he is the owner of a mosque. A mosque is owned by god almighty. The Waqf Board came into existence in 1936. The Supreme Court judgement clearly says that if evidence of a dedication is not available, the user of mosque will be sufficient proof of its dedication.
But there is a school of thought that says no prayers were being offered at this mosque?
Prayers were being offered all along, except in 1934, when there were riots and so no namaaz was offered there for a few days. The land belongs to the Waqf Board and the Waqf Act was passed in 1936. This law was passed by Parliament.
Have you shown the court documents that back your claim?
We have more than 150 public documents to back our claim. These include how, in 1860, the state gave Rs 302, 3 annas and 6 paise as maintenance grant for the mosque. Then, in 1934, the state gave money for its restoration. We have shown religious texts and other books to validate our viewpoint. These include the Ramcharitamanas, written by Goswami Tulsidas, which does not have even one stanza mentioning that a temple was demolished, although Tulsidas lived in Banaras. The Valmiki Ramayana also does not mention the demolition of a temple.
Similarly, there are several books written during this period and books written later as well, such as Temples of India and the Gazetteers, none of which mention this temple. The ASI or Archaeological Survey of India’s findings also do not show that this place was Rama Janambhoomi [birthplace of Rama] and the artefacts that the ASI recovered from the debris have not shown a single statue to corroborate this claim.
Do you feel the Supreme Court verdict will be weighed by the overwhelming sentiment that seems to have been built up at this time?
The Supreme Court is the custodian of all laws and is protector of the Constitution of India. If the Supreme Court cannot decide then which other body will decide? We have full faith in the impartiality of the Supreme Court and we believe it will decide according to the evidence put before it.
What if the judgement goes against you?
We will accept it. What else can be done? We can file a review petition, but we hope it will be in our favour.
But if the judgement goes against the Muslim side, the present government will kickstart other issues, such as implementation of a Uniform Civil Code, starting a National Register of Citizens and so on?
I am a Muslim. I have full faith in god almighty. We can make efforts. Whatever is in our destiny will happen. We will have to pay for it. We are not afraid of any government. We believe in the rule of law and secularism. We have to live in this country, and we cannot forget that.
Rashme Sehgal is a freelance journalist.