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Babri Masjid demolition
Don’t be surprised if Muslims lose the court cases
Legal activist Mushtaq Ahmad takes a close look at the current status of the various Babri Masjid cases and warns that,
due to Muslim leadership’s disintrestednes Muslims might end up losers despite their iron-clad case.
|The seventh anniversary of ‘6 December’ has just passed. There were protests and demonstrations by some Muslim organizations against the demolition of the five-hundred-year-old Babri mosque on 6 December 1992. Some Muslim leaders issued statements demanding the reconstruction of the mosque at the same site at Ayodhya as promised by the former Prime Minister PV. Narasimha Rao. Muslim organizations and secular forces commemorate 6 December as a black day. And that is all. The whole year passes without a murmur. The same ritual will be repeated next year. No one is interested in the court cases relating to the Babri mosque. The Muslim public is ignorant and hence unconcerned. Muslim organizations are aware of these cases but hardly do anything. This report aims at highlighting the nature of various court cases, their legal position in various courts and participation of Muslims, if any, in the hearings.
There are four types of cases relating to the dispute. Title suits pending in the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court. These suits are going on since 1950 -– earlier in the court of the district judge, Faizabad, and for the last seven years before a special bench of the Lucknow High Court consisting of three judges – Justices D.K. Trivedi, Syed Rafat Alam and J.C. Mishra. Though the advocates have taken an active interest on behalf of the Sunni Central Wakf Board and Hashim Ansari, the hearing is going on at snails pace. Recently the court issued a commission to examine the witness Pramhans Ramchandra Das without any obvious reason, since he is reported to be undertaking other activities and thus fit to attend the court at Lucknow. This move is a delaying tactic.
The second case is a criminal case filed by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) against 49 persons allegedly responsible for the demolition of the said mosque. This criminal case is pending in the court of J.P. Srivastva, Additional Sessions Judge, Lucknow. Some of the main accused are: 1. L.K. Advani (union home minister), 2. Bal Thackery (Shiv Sena leader), 3. Murli Manohar Joshi (human resource development minister), 4. Ashok Singhal (VHP acting secretary), 5. Kalyan Singh (the then chief minister of U.P.), 6. Ms. Uma Bharti (union tourism minister), 7. Sadhvi Rithambhra, 8. Vishnu Hari Dalmia, 9. Mrs Vijae Raje Sindia, 10. Giriraj Kishore, 11. Vinay Katiar (Bajrang Dal leader), 12. Pramhans Ramchandra Das (president, Ram Neyas Trust), 13. Mahant Avaid Nath, 14. Nritya Gopal Das, 15. R.S. Srivastva (the then district magistrate of Faizabad), 16. D.B. Rai (the then superintendent of police) etc. This case has been registered and filed under the following sections of the Indian Penal Code: section 147 (rioting), section 153A (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language etc and doing acts prejudicial to the maintenance of harmony), section 295 (injuring or defiling a place of worship with intent to insult the religion of any class), section 295A (deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs), section 505 (statements conducive to public mischief), and section 120B (criminal conspiracy). The said court has taken cognizance of the charge-sheet filed by the CBI but 33 out of the 49 accused have challenged the court’s order summoning them which has been admitted by the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court. The longer this case drags on, slimmer is the chance of the conviction of the accused persons. There are no checks and balances on this case. There is an urgent need on the part of the Muslim community to intervene in this case otherwise there is every likelihood that the case will be quashed by the High Court before going to trial.
The third is the contempt of court case pending in the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has suo motu issued contempt notice to (1) L. K. Advani, (2) M.M. Joshi, (3) Ashok Singhal, (4) Vinay Katiar, (5) Acharya Giriraj Kishore, (6) Moreshwar Save, (7) Sadhvi Ritambhra, (8) Uma Bharti, (9) R.N. Srivastva, (10) U.C. Tiwari (the then additional district magistrate, Faizabad), (11) Prabhat Kumar (the then principal secretary, Govt. of U.P. and now the cabinet secretary), (12) Yogesh Nandan (the then joint secretary Govt. of U.P.), (13) Alok Sinha (the then tourism secretary, Govt. of U.P.) and (14) Shekhar Agarwal (the then special secretary, Govt. of U.P.). This case has been pending in the Supreme Court since 1993 for no obvious reason, though subsequent contempt cases have been disposed of.
The fourth case is the Liberhan Ayodhya Commission of Enquiry which was set up in 1993 by the then Congress Government to enquire into the circumstances leading to the demolition of the Ram Janam Bhoomi/Babri Masjid complex, persons and organizations responsible, conspiracy behind it, role of the government, and government servants, security lapses and attack on journalists etc. The Commission is headed by Justice M.S. Liberhan, chief justice of the Andhra Pradesh High Court. This Commission worked at Lucknow for almost four years. Two leaders related to the Babri Masjid movement appeared before this Commission through their advocates and sought time to file affidavits. No affidavits were filed and just after 3-4 months they disappeared form the case. Thus the proceedings of the Commission were going on without any Muslim participation. The Commission shifted its office to the Vigyan Bhavan Annexe, New Delhi around 1997.
The writer of this article applied for being impleaded as a party which was resisted by others on the ground that since personal summons were issued to the concerned Muslim leaders, some of them appeared through their counsels, hence Mushtaq Ahmad or any other Muslim cannot now become a party. The writer of this report pleaded that since he is the author of a book, Babri Masjid, Secularism and Supreme Court, and he is in possession of material which will help this Commission in finding out the truths, the impleadment application was allowed. The writer has since then cross-examined important witnesses like Ashok Singhal, Kalraj Mishra, Pramhans Ramchandra Das, Acharya Dharmendra Dev etc. The other important witnesses examined are Mulayam Singh Yadav, Madhav Godbole (the then home secretary) and Syed Shahabuddin etc. Presently, SNP Sinha, director general (intelligence) is being examined. The next dates in the case are 16-18 December 1999. The important witnesses, ministers now, whom the commission wants to examine, have obtained stay orders excusing them from appearance before the Commission. The Commission has issued orders for the expeditious disposal of those cases but in vain. With a little effort on the part of the Muslims the stay orders could be vacated. But who will bell the cat? There is an urgent need to set up a separate secretariat with proper staff and paraphernalia for effective participation in this commission. The important evidences available here and there must be collected and presented before the commission.
Muslims fight their personal cases with all the force and interest at their disposal but here, there is no one to care for these cases. The glaring example of the Sikh community is there, who fought the 1984 anti-Sikh riots cases so successfully that many accused have been convicted, a powerful politician was sent to jail, families of each victim received a compensation of Rs three and half lakhs, they got their loans waived and are still fighting for more. Whenever their case is listed in the Supreme Court, hundreds of Sikh men and women are seen sitting in the lawns of the court. This is a reflection of their interest in the court cases.
The Muslims case is very strong on legal grounds. This can be gauged from the Supreme Court judgement of 24 October 1994 on the Presidential Reference and the Acquisition of Certain Areas at Ayodhya Act. The Supreme Court dubbed the kar sevaks as ‘criminals and vandals’ and said that ‘the miscreants who demolished the mosque had no religion. caste or creed except the character of a criminal and the mere incident of birth of such a person in any particular community cannot attach the stigma of his crime to the community in which he was born.’ The apex court upheld the acquisition by the Central Government of the Hindus’ land around the Babri mosque on the ground that in case the Muslims win the title suit, they would need this acquired land for free access to the mosque. The Supreme Court had returned the presidential reference saying, inter alia, that it was slanted in favour of the majority community.
The solution of this hydra-headed problem lies in expeditious disposal of all the cases. It has been the stand of all the prime ministers, right from P. V. Narasimha Rao to the present prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, that the court verdict shall be honoured. For an expeditious decision, all the cases can be referred to the Supreme Court under Article 138 of the Constitution of India. Since there is a BJP-led Govt. both at the Centre and the State, the agreement of the state government, which is essential for referring the matter to the Supreme Court, can be easily obtained. Muslim organizations should not hesitate in making such a request to the present government. There is an urgent need to fight all the cases with a well-thought-out strategy as, according to late H.M. Seervai, a great constitutional expert, no court of law can ignore the prescriptive and other legal rights of the Muslims on the disputed site.