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Published in the 16-30 Apr 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Taking ASI by the horns
By Rizvi Syed Haider Abbas

Lucknow: The tug-o-war between Archeological Survey of India (ASI) and Sunni Central Waqf Board (SCWB) continues unabated. The wrestling of facts from each other is a continuous phenomenon, since, the tabling of the 574 pages ASI excavation report of Ram Janambhumi / Babri Masjid site, Ayodhya, on August 22, 2003. The report constituted 10 chapters. 

Ayodhya Mosque of Begum Birlas made of calcrete stones and bricks

Ayodhya Mosque of Begum Birlas 
made of calcrete stones and bricks

SCWB is going in all guns blazing, shot off additional-objections yet again. These objections were in addition to those already filed against ASI report. These additional-objections were filed afresh before the Special Bench at Lucknow High Court headed by Justice Syed Rafat Alam Justice Khem Karan and Justice Bhanwar Singh and brought to notice ‘confusions, contradictions and discrepancies’ contained in ASI report. They were filed on Feb 3, 2004. 

It was pointed out at the very onset in the additional-objections that the papers submitted by the ASI did not contain essential document viz. the concordance of numbered layers in each trench with the periods attributed by ASI, to the same, in its report. It is, therefore, not at all clear as to how the ASI could make statements in its report about finds like pottery type, terra cotta artifacts, sculpture pieces and structural remains as belonging to a certain period. This is not possible without such a concordance covering all trenches. "If such a concordance does not exist and was not prepared at all, it would mean that ASI has made its statements about the period of structural remains and artifacts without any stratification just to please its masters. If, on the other hand a concordance was prepared and is now being withheld or has been destroyed it would suggest that the ASI itself feared that the same may go against their findings and as such they do not want their report to be tested on the basis of the same" said Zafaryab Jilani, the counsel for SCWB.

Ayodhya Wall of a mosque situated at Ram ki Pauri having calcrete stones and bricks

Ayodhya Wall of a mosque situated at Ram ki Pauri having calcrete stones and bricks

The objections raised serious doubts about the information / papers submitted by ASI and did not disbelieve that the said report could have been directly fed in the computer. It is quite unimaginable that the entire report of excavation was directly fed in the computer by the so-called authors without preparing any rough notes or draft reports etc. and the efforts made by ASI not to bring those rough notes and draft copies on record, raise grave doubt about the genuineness and correctness of the report "In respect the objections filed by us on January 20, 2004 against the reply ( Jan 19, 2004) of Hari Manjhi (Director Antiquity & Museum ) were moved under section 340 Cr.P.C may also be treated as part of these additional objections," said Jilani. Section 340 Cr.P.C provides that the court in which false evidence has been given may lodge a complaint against the person giving false evidence after recording a statement about the giving of false evidence.

Monument Sanghol site in Ludhiana district Punjab

Monument Sanghol site in Ludhiana district Punjab

What measures you took when you found ASI to be concealing something? "We initiated a perjury application against Hari Manjhi on Dec 3, 2003 praying that a complaint may kindly be made against him and he be prosecuted and punished under section 193 IPC," answered Jilani.

What merits attention is that the deponent of this Dec 3, 2004 application Hashim Ansari physically monitored the entire excavation. He has full knowledge that notes / charts of the objects / items of antiquity recovered during excavations were not filed by ASI. ASI team leader is of course expected to be aware about the notes / charts as he was himself present during the study / observation when the said notes / charts were prepared by ASI team members "In spite of the aforesaid notes / charts having not yet been filed and despite High Court orders Hari Manjhi filed an affidavit on November 12, 2003 stating that no more notes were with him in clear violation of court’s order dated August 29, 2003 and November 6, 2003. It was a false affidavit," pointed Jilani.

It may be known that the High Court on August 29, 2003 had directed ASI team leader to deposit notes, filed books and photos etc. within four days. ASI failed to comply with the same in four days. High Court on November 6, 2003 had directed ASI to file an affidavit that no paper / record or material prepared from the date of excavation, sketch or map or in any form is in their possession.

Coming back to additional-objections on the stand taken by ASI explaining the delay in depositing the photographs taken by digital cameras and digital cassettes of the same and the averments that the photography of the digital camera was done as a parallel recording with the manual photography and video film was also misleading and indicated negligence and carelessness of ASI team leader. 

"The very fact that digital cassette were said not to have been ever seen by Hari Manjhi goes to establish as to how and to what extent he was in control of the said excavation. Even the mention of wrong dates in these digital cassettes, as pointed out by us on December 4, 2003, filed against the response of ASI on December 1, 2003,was of much significance and the said reply may also be perused in this respect and for other incidental matters to show the incompetence of Hari Manjhi regarding the preparation of the report," countered Jilani.

Full blown five paragraphs were devoted to the additional-objections regarding the bones recovered from the excavation site. The application said that although the court had taken care to ensure that the bones and glazed ware etc. were to be preserved so that the same could be considered at the relevant time but from the affidavit of Hari Manjhi on November 12, 2003 it appears that apart from the sealed packet of bones preserved there were some other bones also which were mentioned in the register. But, the ASI report makes only casual and cursory reference about the said bones and perhaps no study and observation of the said bones was ever done by any member of the ASI team!. "This deliberate omission on the part of ASI team appears to be the result of some preconceived notions because the study of bones was bound to lead to the inference that the layer in which the said bones were found could not belong to any period during which the alleged existence of any temple could be claimed, as it was evident that in no temple, least of all in a Ram Temple, animal could be said to have been eaten and their bones left around," avered Jilani.

The additional-objections added that there is no chapter about the study of bones in the entire report and the casual reference to the bones on (P.270) in the chapter of ‘Summary of Results’ without mentioning the contextual relationship of the said bones with the structural remains including those which were attributed by the ASI to a temple goes to establish that the said conclusion made by ASI on (P.272) is totally unreliable, unfounded and incorrect.

"In this respect it is possible that the original report did not contain such a chapter or a sub-chapter regarding bones but such an information was bound to be inconvenient to the pre-determined assumptions of ASI, the same might have been deleted from the report," asserted Jilani.
"As the ASI has not offered any concordance of trench-wise layers with the periods assigned to those layers by the ASI it was difficult to be accurate about the said periods. This omission may be said to be on account of lack of professionalism shown by the ASI team but this may also be deliberate in order to evade any close checking of their claims and assumptions," he said.
The additional-objections raised from ASI’s own record where it was found that animal bones were present in the layers of Period VI (Early Medieval-Rajput period) in practically every trench whose layers have been attributed to specific periods by the ASI. A table enumerating eight-trenches (with their numbers) and corresponding to the layers and periods, in which they were found, was duly provided.

"How so many animal bones could have been scattered about in the layers of Period VI when allegedly a massive temple was claimed to exist in this very period is a question that has no answer in the report," questioned Jilani.

Furthermore, as to the claim of ASI that the temple was rebuilt in Period VII (Medieval-Sultanate period), resting on Floor No. 3, it is worth mentioning that animal bones were found in the layers of this period also. Again a table of four trenches corresponding to layers and Period VII in which bones were found has been given to support the argument of the plaintiffs.

"The animal bones evidence clearly refutes any suggestion that there could have been a temple at the site in question in the Period 11th to 16th century (ASI’s periods VI and VII) and that Floors 4 and 3 could have belonged to an alleged temple," contended Jilani.

The plaintiffs took a strong exception as to how ASI has shown the presence of glazed wares and glazed tiles. ASI in its report has explicitly and implicitly asserted that the kinds of glazed pottery and tiles found belonged solely to the period after the arrival of the Muslims i.e. from 13th century onwards.

Pointing towards ASI’s findings, the additional-objections raised in detail that in chapter V (pottery), in the section on Period VI (Medieval-Pre-Sultanate, 11th and 12th centuries according to ASI description and dating) not a single glazed potsherd is described under Period VI (P. 104 – 108).

The three Periods VII, VIII & IX (Medieval-Sultanate, Mughal and Late Mughal and Post-Mughal, 13th to 18th century) have their pottery described together (P.108 – 120). In the very beginning on page 108 ASI report says, ‘the distinctive pottery of these periods is the glazed ware made of well lavigated clay having ordinary terracotta core or whitish sandy core.’

Regarding the glazed tiles (P. 163 – 173) of ASI report it is firmly stated (P.163), ‘some of the glazed tile pieces have also been recovered from the depth which is lower than the disputed structure, but from levels of Periods VIII and IX only.’

What is the purpose of quoting from ASI report? "There seems to be a deep anxiety to project that all finds of glazed pottery and glazed tiles come from such levels which belong to the period after 1200 and preferably after 1526, so that none may think that there are glazed potsherd and glazed tiles anywhere in the levels, where the ASI alleges, a temple was first built and then rebuilt," elaborated Jilani.

What will ASI get with this? "The ASI will get away with this because nowhere in its report it provides any concurrence of its numbered layers trench-wise with periods," he answered.

Zeroing on the pillar-bases theory of ASI, the additional- objection pointed, that , while speaking about pillar-bases (allegedly fifty of them) the ASI does not produce a single instance of any pillar-base found anywhere else which might be of similar or identical appearance and may look like those which were claimed to have been discovered at Babri Masjid site. This was so, also, because no load bearing pillar could ever have stood on mere mud-bounded heaps of brickbats.

SCWB plaintiffs cited an example of Sanghol, Punjab and has given three photograph to illustrate how brick pillar bases should be constructed. Sanghol in Samrala Tehsil of Ludhiyana district was excavated between 1968 – 1990 by Department of Cultural Affairs, Archeology and Museums, Government of Punjab.

Sanghol, is a multi-period site with evidence of late Harappan Bara culture and Sunga, Kushan, Gupta and Medieval periods. The pillar bases in these photographs belong to a stupa – cum – monastery complex. The pillar bases are rectangular, made of large bricks neatly set in place with a depression in the middle to set the pillars. The contrast with the so called pillar bases at Ayodhya becomes more than apparent now. "At Ayodhya the alleged pillar bases have no means to secure and hold pillars in place and are all of varying dimension and materials and not in any accurate alignment. In short, they could not have, actually, been pillar bases," refuted Jilani.

SCWB castigated ASI for not even bothering to make a survey of other buildings made of calcrete and bricks, in Ayodhya itself, in order to appreciate the tentative period of the use of similar calcrete stone and bricks in Ayodhya.

The additional-objections, were therefore, supplanted by seven photographs which contained examples from the famous mosque of Begum Barlas and a mosque situated at Ram Ki Pauri, Ayodhya. It also carries a photograph of a wall made of calcrete and bricks situated at Mani Parbat in Ayodhya.

"The contradictions, variations and discrepancies will be pointed out in detail in our arguments. What has been mentioned as a ‘divine-couple’ in ASI report was an ordinary stone when it was found. How and by whom it was described as ‘divine-couple’ is not borne out from any record," retorted Jilani.

"By the latest points as well the points raised in earlier objections filed on Sep. 10, 2003, it is becoming evident that ASI report is full of confusions, contradictions and discrepancies and most of the finds / antiques have either been misinterpreted or ignored for arriving at the pre-determined conclusion. The report is liable to be rejected," he said confidently. 

Meanwhile, another application was put before the Special Full Bench for a change of date from March 16 to March 22. The date was for the start of arguments against ASI report. The application was given by SCWB on the ground that SS Ray (Ex. Indian Ambassador to US and SCWB counsel) was not available on March 16. The court was of the view that any other date may be fixed with the consent of all parties. All the parties agreed to April 12 to be fixed for the arguments of plaintiffs counsel. In yet another significant order the Special Full Bench on March 19th directed the leader and deputy leader of ASI (Hari Manjhi and BB Mani) to remain present on April 12, 2004.

Let’s see what will happen when the twain shall meet.

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