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

"Mandir" was demolished on Dec 6

Rizvi Syed Haider Abbas

Lucknow: There seems to be no calm ever on the Ramjanambhumi/Babri Masjid front. Nirmohi Akhara, one of the parties to the dispute would produce perhaps its third last witness before Hari Shankar Dubey Officer on Special Duty (OSD) appointed as Commissioner by the full bench of Lucknow bench of Allahabad High Court on Oct 13, 2004. The recording of the witnesses’ statement of the Muslim side is over and now the Hindu side too is in its last phase of producing witnesses.

Ram Milan Singh (75 years), the 19th witness of Nirmohi Akhara, was produced on Oct 13, 2004. During his examination, he had asserted that he had been visiting Ayodhya and the disputed site since 1940. He stated that he used to visit Ayodhya every year at least once or twice. Ram Milan is a resident of Village Haliyapur, Pargana Isauli, Tehsil Musafir Khana in district Rae Bareli, UP.

His statement began with the assertion that right from his first visit has had darshan and did puja of the idol of Shri Ram Lala kept under the middle dome of the disputed structure (Babri Masjid). He was first cross-examined by Vireshwar Diwedi, counsel for Ramesh Chandra Tripathi and Umesh Chandra Pandey, defendant No. 17 and 22 of suit No. 4 of 1989, during which he stated that it was when he was 10 years of age he had visited the site and also performed 14-kosi parikrama (28 miles walk) and at that very time he had come to know that Nirmohi Akhara was the owner of the disputed building and on inquiring from the devotees present at the disputed place he had come to know that all the Sadhus present over there belonged to Nirmohi Akhara. But when asked whether he had seen any document of ownership of the disputed building in favour of Nirmohi Akhara, he replied that he had not seen any such document. He could not tell as to who was the owner of Nageshwar Nath Mandir in Ayodhya. 

He was also cross-examined by Abdul Mannan on behalf of Farooq Ahmad, defendant No. 11 of suit No. 3 of 1989. During this cross-examination, the witness stated that Haliyapur was situated at a distance of about 57 kms from Ayodhya and that in 1940 he had visited Ayodhya along with his father by bullockcart. He stated that in 1940 he had not seen the mosque at the disputed site but rather he had seen a temple over there. "I did not see Babri Masjid. Babri Masjid had not been demolished but a temple was demolished by Hindus on Dec 6, 1992," he said before the court. "The next day (Dec 7, 1992) I got the information that a temple had been demolished," he said in answer to a query. He was present in his village on Dec. 6,1992, he said adding that when he visited the site after demolition he had seen the idols kept under a tent which were previously kept in the temple.

The next to cross-examine him was Zafaryab Jilani on behalf of Sunni Control Waqf Board (SCWB). During this he stated that after having failed in High School examination he had not appeared in any other examination and that his father had about 20 bighas of land in the same village. He further stated that he was a devotee of Lord Shiva and Nageshwar Mandir was the oldest temple of Shivaji Maharaj. He further stated that he had not seen any mosque either at Sultanpur or at Faizabad or at Ayodhya (all in UP). "In my entire life I did not see even a single mosque in Sultanpur and on my visits to Faizabad (at least 500 times) I never saw any mosque at Faizabad Chowk," he answered. By answering in the negative of having never seen a mosque in his life he could conveniently deny sighting Babri Masjid in Ayodhya and therefore applied the same yardstick for Faizabad and Sultanpur too. Interestingly, the mosque in Chowk, Faizabad is one of the most prominent religious buildings of the Nawabi period. 

He further said that he used bullockcart to visit Ayodhya until 1942 and thereafter visited Ayodhya on foot. The time taken by bullockcart was one and a half-days and only 15 hours on foot. Yes, it took him lesser time to walk to Ayodhya, he claimed. Until 1948 he visited Ayodhya on foot and thereafter he started visiting Ayodhya on a cycle. On the question as to when Babri Masjid was locked, he said that on Dec 23, 1949 when the disputed building was attached and locked no one was allowed to go inside the three-dome structure and that when the locks were opened about 40 to 45 years back [the locks were actually opened on Feb 1, 1986] it had triggered a wave of happiness and celebration amongst the Hindus. He denied that any untoward incident had taken place after the locks were opened. He also denied knowledge of any curfew being clamped in Musafir Khana, Sultanpur. He did, however, say that after the opening of locks he went for darshan in 1972(!). And at that time there was no restriction for going below the three domed structure. First he said that after three-four years from 1972 he had gone below the domed structure, then the next moment he said that he had never gone below the domed structure after 1972 but in fact he had gone there in 1940, 41 & 42. This meant that he had never gone below the domed structure.

He was also shown several photographs of the mosque and different portions of the mosque but he could not identify them or say where they belonged to. However, he identified some of the photographs wrongly. When the photographs taken in 1950 were shown to him he stated that the idols were kept at a wooden rectangular piece and he could not identify the staircase (minber where the Imam stands to deliver the sermon) at the top of which those idols were kept. He stated that along with the idols of Ram, Lakshman and Hanuman, a statue of Baba Baldeo Das also appeared to be there (Baldeo Das was described by him as the pujari of the said building until 1941) and also that an idol of Kaushalya (mother of Rama) was also there (while no such idol of Baba Baldeo Das or Kaushalya were ever there according to other witnesses of the Hindu side).

While replying to a query as to who had constructed that three-domed structure, he said that in his opinion it was constructed by Raja Dashrath (father of Rama) and that a Sita-kup (well) in Ayodhya was also made by Raja Dashrath.

The counsel of SCWB tried to suggest to him that he had never visited the disputed place prior to 1950 and very predictably he denied the suggestion. But, in the same breath he did admit that he had never visited the three-domed structure prior to 1986! He further stated that namaz was never offered in his presence but he cannot say whether namaz was offered in his absence or not.

Thereafter, he was cross-examined by MA Siddiqui, counsel of Hashim Ansari, plaintiff No. 7 of suit No. 4 of 1989. During this examination, he reiterated that he had never seen any mosque either at Ayodhya or at Faizabad and that he had no knowledge of a Gurudwara of Sikhs at Ayodhya. About the photograph of Thakur Guru Dutt Singh (the then city magistrate who had attached the mosque and whose photograph was stuck on the wall of the domed structure) he stated that it was fixed in front of the outer wall of the mosque. He was shown some documents of a case filed by Nirmohi Akhara in which the word Babri Masjid was used but he denied having any knowledge of Babri Masjid and said the word was wrongly used and that he had never seen the Babri Masjid.

The incident of Dec 6,1992, according to him, was for the renovation of the old temple and this came his claim; "to my knowledge Muslims do not consider the disputed structure as a mosque, nor do Muslims claim to have ever offered namaz in the same disputed structure." Elaborating, he said that four to six years back he came to know that there was a case concerning the disputed structure.

As claimed by the Nirmohi Akhara, there are only two or three more witnesses to be produced by it. Mahant Raja Ram Chandra Acharya, 76, was produced again on Oct. 27 and his statement is being recorded as of now before OSD Hari Shankar Dubey in Lucknow. Interestingly, Nirmohi Akhara is the last plaintiff to produce evidence. Hence the production of witnesses from both sides is now coming to an end. The Muslim side has already finished with its 28 witnesses. Thereafter, the arguments would start and the out come of the title suit may soon be decided thereafter.

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