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Published in the 1-15 Nov 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Curtains drawn on ASI report

By Rizvi Syed Haider Abbas

Lucknow: The absolutely new chapter added to the title-suit dispute of Ramjanambhumi/Babri Masjid was the order for the excavation of the RJM/BM disputed site at Ayodhya, Faizabad, UP- passed by the full bench headed by Justice Syed Rafat Alam, Justice Khem Karan and Justice Bhanwar Singh at Lucknow bench of Allahabad High Court on March 5, 2003. Archeological Survey of India (ASI) was assigned the duty to excavate the disputed site.

This order had come in the wake of submission of Ground Penetrating Radar Report (GPPR) before the full bench on Feb 17, 2003. ASI could table the excavation report to the full bench on Aug, 22, 2003, and thus triggering, the Muslim side filing its objections against it from Oct 8, 2003 onwards. The arguments against the ASI started from April 12, 2004 and lasted until July 15, 2004. Once after the conclusion of arguments of the Muslim side, it zeroed on to the Hindu side arguing for upholding the ASI report. The ASI report ran into two-volumes and contained 570 pages. 

The Hindu side arguments, however, did not last for long as within two-months time, the ASI-report debate seemed to have come to it’s last phase. The Hindu side presenting it’s argument for the acceptance of ASI report finally came to an end when Vireshwar Diwedi, counsel of Umesh Kumar Pandey stood before full bench on Sep 27, 2004 4 at Lucknow bench of Allahabad High Court. UK Pandey became famous for the application which led to opening of locks of Babri Masjid on Feb 1, 1986.

Starting with his arguments Vireshwar Diwedi submitted that the Commissioners appointed by the court were public servants and they’ve submitted the report in the discharge of their official duty and as such the report was a public document and was liable to be accepted as having been prepared in accordance with law. He further submitted that the time given for submission of report was very short but still the report could be finalised in a meticulous manner. His further submission was that there was no law requiring the parties to file objections against the Commissioner’s report and as such the report was liable to be taken as evidence and the objections if any, could be considered only at the time of the final hearing.

During the course of his arguments he referred to the finds of Markar Parnala in Table 23 of the report. The report has 735 tables in it. Makar Parnala is a crocodile shaped water suite and regarding the same he said that it’s face was towards North (while the fact is that it was found in the foundation-wall of the mosque and was not used as a Parnala and it was facing towards East) and it had a religious significance and was liable to be accepted as a part of the temple of Lord Shiva. He further argued that motif of shrivasta, amlaka, ghata shaped pit and circular shrine etc. (Amlaka-page 141, Shrivasta-129, ghata shaped pit-121-122 and circular shrine-70) were all indicatives of existence of a temple. His further argument was that the finds of bones at dozens of places could not be said to be an indication of the theory of negation of temple because Hindus were also meat eaters and bones might have belonged to dead animals which were used for sacrifices by Hindus in some temples.

Similar arguments regarding bones and so-called religious motifs and pillars etc. were advanced by Ranjana Agnihotri, counsel for defendant No. 20 (Ramjannambhumi Punarudhar Samiti, 1989) with the only difference that she argued that bones could not be of any sacrificial animal as no animal sacrifice is offered in a Vaishnawa temple. She however supported her contention of meat being eaten by Hindus even during the period of Lord Rama and referred to certain extracts of Ramacharitramanas and Valmiki’s Ramayana (both Hindu epics on Lord Rama).

This was followed by Puttu Lal Misra, counsel for the plaintiff of Suit No. 1 1989 (Gopal Singh Visharad). He did not argue for long and just supported the arguments already advanced by the Hindu side and as such the arguments from the Hindu side were closed on Sep 30, 2004.

In reply to the arguments from the Muslim side started on Oct 1, 2004 by Mr. Abdul Mannan who said that the report was liable to be rejected and the same was not supported by evidence and was also submitted under the influence of the BJP government. In a further reply to the arguments of Hindu side it was argued on behalf of Sunni Central Waqf Board (SCWB), through Zafaryab Jilani. 

Jilani said that the reference of Ramcharitrimanas and Valmiki’s Ramayana was totally irrelevant as the period of Lord Rama could in no way be set to be of less than 9 lakh years! And no witness of Hindu side has stated this period to be within 9 lakh years. Jilani further argued that while the relevant period is of 11th and 12th century and that no book had been filed or referred to show that Hindus of Ayodhya used to take meat as their food during 11th and 12th century.

The Muslim side was also represented by former Indian ambassador to USA SS Ray who scripted the epilogue of Muslim arguments. Starting with the same on Oct 4, 2004, as another counsel for SCWB he argued that from the historical background and conditions prevailing in northern India at end of 12th century and the beginning of 13th century it could not be said that it was a period of constructing the new temples because at that time-Muslims had conquered entire north India and it was basically a period of protecting the existing temples. In this respect he cited the extract from Vinston Smith’s History of India (in its 30th edition).

He also referred to all the three orders of the court dated Aug 1, 2002, Oct 23, 2002 and Mar 5, 2003 in order to establish that ASI was required to submit the report regarding any alleged demolition of temple and construction of mosque at the site of such alleged temple as well as about the foundation of any such demolished temple to be found. "The ASI should have reported that there was no sign of demolition of temple and in case no proof of any such demolition was found the ASI should have reported that there was no sign of demolition of temple." ASI therefore, has submitted its report against the direction of the court and hence ASI report is liable to be rejected on this very ground alone," he said. He further submitted that the objections against the ASI report are being heard by the bench since April 12, 2004, and as such the matter cannot be deferred till the final hearing likely to be held after the year or so.

He cited the rulings of Supreme Court and High Court in order to show that the commission’s report could not be relied upon without disposal of objections filed against the same. While referring to that so-called pillar bases he argued that the same were neither in alignment and nor the distance in-between them was equal and nor could it be said that they had become functional in any particular period. In this respect the details about the said alignment and distances were pointed out to the court by actual measurement of the site-plan filed by the ASI-along in the report and, it was shown that these distances vary from two-meter to five-meter. A chart showing these distances was also filed before the court.

It was also pointed out that it was evident from the report. that the level of these so called pillar bases as given in the report was also not based upon the entries regarding the same in several site note books. Regarding the so called circular shrine Ray argued the walls existing on both sides of this structure belong to the Gupta period as per the report of the ASI itself and as such how could it be believed that the structure found between these two-walls could be treated as belonging to the tenth century.

He further pointed out that the said structure was so small that no one could easily enter the same and there was no space for doing abhishek (water sprinkling) and as such it was quite possible that the same might have been a Buddhist Stupa in which worship was done from outside. He further argued that by making such arbitrary and baseless observations the ASI will be deemed to have acted in bad faith and the report stood vitiated on that account.

Ray closed his argument on Oct 6, 2004 with the request that the details about the different portions of the report will be placed by the set of counsel assisting him and as such court was shown extracts from the book of Percy Brown (Hindu Architecture) as well as from the books cited by the other side that the pillars found in Hindu temples were all in one alignment and with equal distance between them. 

About the ghata shaped pit it was pointed out that the pavement in which the said structure was found belonged to the Mughal period as a coin below it belonged to Akbar’s time. As such the so called ghata shaped pit could not be said to be a part of any temple.

Regarding the relevancy of bones it was pointed that the ASI itself had filed papers in the court on April 12, 2004 saying that some bones required proper analysis by an expert and along with this application ASI had enclosed letters dated Aug 14, 2003 and Sep 17, 2003 and Dec 24, 2003 and from all those letters it was evident that the ASI itself considered the analysis of the animal bones to be essential, but still, ASI has not given any details and impact of the said finds of bones perhaps for the reason that the said finds of bones could not fit in the theory of temple with which the ASI was proceeding in a pre- determined manner.

Regarding the finds of so called religious nature it was pointed that amlaka, divine-couple and or black schist pillars etc were all found from the debris of the mosque and as such they could not be attributed to the remains of any alleged temple existing at the site. It was also pointed out from the record that there was no shortage of time for submission of report as the ASI itself had asked for two-months time on May 31, 2003 and the time given had expired on Aug 7, 2003.

It was strenuously urged that the destruction of notes and draft-report within 24 hours of the preparation of final report was in itself indicative of some kind of an attempt to conceal the real position and by the destruction of these important papers the ASI had virtually made the final report to be of doubtful nature. It was therefore urged that taking into account the ASI report, in the background of all the submission advanced from the Muslim side the report was liable to be rejected.

M.A. Siddiqui, counsel of M. Hashim also supported the arguments of SS Ray and Z. Jilani and further pointed out that the description of a large area of the excavated portion as Ram Chabutra was also a manifestation of bad faith on the part of ASI. He said that the report was literally arbitrary and no portion of the report throws any light upon the plea of the Hindu side regarding the alleged demolition of any temple of the period of Vikramaditya.

The arguments finally saw the curtains drawn on the most virulent debate of whether there existed a temple below the site of Babri Masjid or was there any temple demolished before Babri Majid was constructed on it in 1528 under the first Mughal king Babar? The arguments came to an end on Oct 8, 2004 and now full bench has reserved the order. Ironically, it was the same date last-year when Muslims had started their set of objections against the ASI report. The next sitting of the court is scheduled for 1 November.

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