Ayodhya verdict: faith accompli?
One need not pore into the 8,000 or so pages of the Ayodhya verdict to figure out that the three judges were determined to go beyond the parameters of a mere title suit.
There is no doubt that the bench over-reached itself by design. They did so, in all probability, to bring about some kind of closure to the case.
From initial conclusions flashed on news screens to a laborious reading of the detailed judgements, my view was and remains the same — there are two ways of looking at the judgement.
As a legal verdict, it could be seen as atrocious and over-reaching – one that exceeds its brief. At the same time, the 2-1 majority judgement refrained from pronouncing a maximal ruling one way or the other, thereby avoiding a fresh wedge between Hindus and Muslims.
The judgement exceeds its authority as it goes beyond the 1994 directive of the Supreme Court for determining the title to the disputed site. Indeed, it does what the Supreme Court had itself refused to do; declare whether it is Ram Janambhumi.
Why did the judges take upon themselves the task of deciding issues other than that of title? I assume that as legal professionals, they first took up the issue of the title.
Both the claims to title of Nirmohi Akhara and Sunni Wakf Board were rejected.
Why a third of the land to parties who could not prove their title? Justice Khan relied on legal precedents to settle this: “If exclusive ownership is claimed but joint ownership is proved, suit can be decreed for joint ownership.”
The judgement quotes other legal precedents to show than vexed suits for exclusive titles can and has been converted into partition suits.
The verdict has pronounced the place under the central dome of now-destructed mosque as the birthplace of Lord Ram, “as per faith and belief of Hindus”. This reliance on faith is being made out to be the verdict’s greatest infirmity.
It is a well-settled norm, as pointed out by one of the judges, that in a situation when both the parties fail to prove initial title, it is possession and possession alone which decides the question of title, in accordance with Section 110 of the Evidence Act.
In the present verdict, however, the word “possession”, wherever it occurs, seems to have been replaced with “faith”.
Muslims have been disappointed because they considered the title suit case to be just that and expected an outcome along the lines of a cut-and-dried civil suit, while the judges clearly did not. Unlike most rulings, the Ayodhya verdict was not feral in character i.e. untamed and dispassionate.
The judgement does gloss over key issues, like the illegality of the surreptitiously placing the idols beneath the central dome. Even if the Babri Masjid was built after demolishing a temple, the judgment ignores the universal law of Adverse Possession.
However, here are some facts about the judgement we must not overlook.
The majority verdict makes Hindus and Muslims joint title holders — binding rather than severing one of them. It allows Muslim and Hindus both to continue to be stakeholders. More importantly, the verdict does not dispossess any party, even though none could prove their claims to title.