From August 6, the Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court started hearing the appeals in the Ayodhya-Babri Masjid title dispute issue.
What the top court is hearing is first appeals from the decree passed by the Allahabad High Court in four civil suits filed by Hindu and Muslim parties in the case.
The attempt here is to briefly explain the nature of the suits involved in the dispute.
First suit in 1885
It might be interesting to note that the first ever suit in respect of the Ram Janmabhoomi dispute was filed during British rule in 1885. It was filed by Mahanth Raghubar Das against the Secretary of State for India in Council seeking permission to construct a temple for Sri Ram at Ayodhya.
The trial court - Sub Court, Faizabad - endorsed the plaintiff's claim for building the temple at the site believed to be the birth place of Sri Ram. However, the Court declined permission citing concerns about communal riots. Public policy was against granting the permission, observed the court.
Although appeal was filed in the District Court, Faizabad, it met with no success.
"It is most unfortunate that a masjid should have been built on land specially held sacred by the Hindus, but as that event occurred 356 years ago it is too late now to remedy the grievance. All that can be done is to maintain the parties in status quo.", District Judge Faizabad said while dismissing the appeal.
Incident of December 23, 1949
The next crucial turn of events took place on December 23, 1949, when idols of Sri Ram happened to be found inside the Babri mosque. The then District Magistrate, Faizabad, K K Nayar, stated in his report that a crowd of about 50 to 60 persons had broken the locks put on the compound of the mosque and trespassed into it to place the idols.
Taking note of the communally charged situation which ensued, the Faizabad City Magistrate attached the property under Section 145 of the Code of Criminal Procedure and handed over the disputed site to the receivership of the then Muncipal Board Chairman Priya Datt Ram. (Sec.145 enables Executive Magistrate to take into custody land in dispute to prevent breach of peace. The custody will be subject to decision of a civil court regarding the title of the land)
Muslims have not offered prayers in the mosque after that date. Hindu priests were permitted by the Magistrate to go inside the place where the idol was kept to perform occasional religious ceremonies and general public was permitted to have darshan only from beyond the grill-brick wall.
First suit : 1950 - By Gopal Singh Visharad
After independence, the first Ayodhya suit was instituted on January 16, 1950 by a devotee named Gopal Sing Visharad. He claimed in the plaint that he was worshipping the Janam Bhumi, idol of Bhagwan Sri Ram Chandra Ji and Charan Paduka (foot impression).
The suit sought a declaration that the plaintiff, according to his religion and custom, is entitled to do worship and darshan of Sri Bhagwan Ram Chandra and others at the place of Janam Bhumi by going near the idols without any let or hindrance and that the UP Government and its authorities have no right to interfere in the said rights. Prohibitory injunction was also sought against defendants, which included the Executive Magistrate, UP Sunni Board, and also few Muslim residents, who were added as representatives of entire Muslim community.
The original plaintiff G.S. Visharad died and was substituted by his son Rajendra Singh in 1986.
Second Suit : 1959 - By Nirmohi Akhara
Nirmohi Akhara filed the suit in 1959 through its Mahant.
The plaintiff's case was that for a very long time in Ayodhya an ancient math and akhara of Ramanandi Varagis called Nirmohis existed which was a religious establishment of a public character. It was further pleaded that Janma Asthan or the Janam Bhumi, the birth place of Lord Ram Chandra, belonged to Nirmohi Akhara, which had always been managing and receiving offerings made there. It was also claimed that Asthan of Janam Bhumi was of ancient antiquity.
However, the suit was confined to inner courtyard and constructed portion. It was stated that Niromohi Akhara possessed the temple and none others but Hindus were allowed to enter and worship therein.
It was stated that due to wrongful attachment of the property by the Magistrate under Sec.145 CrPC, the plaintiff has wrongfully been deprived of management and charge of the temple.
The prayer in the suit is that a decree be passed for removal of the receiver from the management and charge of the temple of Janma Bhoomi and delivering the same to the plaintiff. Few Muslim parties were arrayed as defendants in the suit under Order 1 Rule 8 CPC.
Suit No 3 : 1961- By UP Central Sunni Board of Waqfs
This suit was filed by The Sunni Central Board of Waqfs, U.P. and 9 Muslims of Ayodhya. G S Visharad, Nirmohi Akhara, Faizabad Magistrate, UP Government etc., were arrayed as defendants in the suit.
In the plaint, it was stated that in Ayodhya there existed an ancient historic mosque commonly known as Babri Masjid built by Emperor Babar more than 433 years ago, after his conquest of India.
The mosque and the adjacent graveyard vested in Almighty; the Mosque had since the time of its construction been used by the Muslims for offering prayers. The suit was stated to be filed under Order 1 Rule 8 C.P.C. against Hindu public and for the benefit of entire Muslim community.
The relief claimed included a declaration of rights of Muslims in Babri Masjid mosque, delivery of possession after removal of idols etc.
Suit No. 4 : 1989 - By Bhagwan Sri Ram Birajman, the deity
This suit was filed by Bhagwan Sri Ram Birajman at Sri Ram Janam Bhoomi Ayodhya (the deity), Asthan Sri Ram Janam Bhoomi, Ayodhya (the birth place of Lord Ram) through next friend Deoki Nandan Agarwala, senior advocate and retired Judge, High Court.
Plaintiff numbers 1 & 2, the deity and the birth place, were stated to be juristic persons.
The suit was stated to be based on a continuing cause of action which has been accruing day to day ever since Hindus were obstructed from offering prayers at the site. The relief sought in the suit was for a decree of declaration to the effect that the entire premises of Sri Ram Janama Bhoomi at Ayodhya belonged to the deity and for a perpetual injunction against the defendants prohibiting them from interfering with, or raising any objection to or placing any obstruction in the construction of the new temple building at Sri Ram Janama Bhoomi Ayodhya, after demolishing and removing the existing buildings and structures etc.
This suit was filed after the incidents in 1986, when the gates of the mosque were opened for Hindus to worship the idols. This led to communal skirmishes catapulting the issue, which had till then been confined to Faizabad district, across the country. The gates were opened based on orders passed by Civil Judge Faizabad in an application filed by a devotee for permission to worship the idols placed inside the mosque.
The suits were consolidated and transferred to the Allahabad High Court by the Supreme Court.
In the judgment delivered on September 30, 2010, the HC ruled that the 2.77 acres of Ayodhya land be divided into 3 parts, with 1/3 going to the deity for the construction of the Ram temple, 1/3 going to the Muslim Waqf Board and the remaining 1/3 going to Nirmohi Akhara.
By a 2:1 majority, the HC bench of Justices S.U. Khan, Sudhir Agarwal and D.V. Sharma held that the portion under the central dome of the demolished Babri Masjid, where the idol of Ram Lalla had been kept in a makeshift temple, was the birthplace of Lord Rama "as per faith and belief of the Hindus."
In his dissenting judgment, Justice Sharma categorically stated that "the disputed site is the birthplace of Lord Ram" and held that Hindus had exclusive rights over the entire disputed site of 2.77 acres.