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A History of the Dispute in Ayodhya

The dispute over the land where the Babri masjid stood dates back to 1857 when the mahant (or chief priest) of Hanumangarhi, a centre of Vaishnav Bairagis, took over the eastern part of the masjid courtyard, building the Ram Chabutra (a platform on the spot said to be Ram’s birthplace) on the south-eastern side. In the same year, a petition was submitted to the magistrate by Maulvi Muhammad Asghar, the muezzin of the Babri masjid, complaining of a forcible takeover of the courtyard. The British government built a wall in 1859, separating the place of worship for Hindus and Muslims. The Hindus then entered from the east gate and the Muslims from the north. Similar petitions were filed by the Muslims in 1860, 1877, 1883 and 1884 but each of them was rejected. Finally, in 1885, Mahant Raghubar Das filed a suit to gain legal title to the land and for permission to construct a temple on the Chabutra. What was significant about this suit was that (a) Mahant Raghubar Das claimed to be the mahant of the janmasthan (birthplace) Ayodhya; (b) the janmasthan was claimed to be the chabutra; and (c) no claim was made that any temple had actually stood where the mosque did. The suit as well as appeals was dismissed in 1886.

Between 1870 and 1923, several official publications, such as gazetteers, began to record that at least three temples in Ayodhya had been destroyed and mosques constructed on their sites, and among these was the Babri masjid. This official view was endorsed by placing a stone marker which read “No 1 Rama Janmabhoomi” at the main entrance of the mosque. In mid-December 1949, a nine-day recitation of the Ramcharitmanas by Tulsidas was organised by the Akhil Bharatiya Ramayana Mahasabha and at the end of it, on the night of 22-23 December, idols of Rama and Sita were placed inside the Babri masjid. On 29 December 1949, the Babri masjid was declared a disputed property. An order was passed by which Muslims were forbidden from even entering the masjid. Locks were put on the main gate. On the other hand, Hindus gained permission for a darshan (devotional glimpse) of the idols from a side gate. Four pujaris (priests) were employed and they had free access to the idols.

On 16 January 1950, a civil suit was filed by Gopal Singh Visharad (a member of the Hindu Mahasabha) asking for worship without obstruction and a perpetual injunction against the removal of the idols. In 1959, the Nirmohi Akhara filed a suit claiming that the entire mosque be handed over to it as it was not a mosque but a temple. On 18 December 1961, the Sunni Central Board of Waqfs filed a suit claiming that the Babri masjid be handed over to it. On 7-8 April 1984, at a session in Delhi, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) called for the removal of the mosques in Ayodhya, Mathura and Kashi, but said it would first take up the case of Ayodhya (for more details, see Panikkar 1991).In 1986, the locks on the Babri masjid were opened, and, in 1987, the suits were withdrawn from Faizabad and transferred to the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court. The suit filed by Visharad came to be known as Suit 1. Another suit (Suit 2), filed by Paramhans Ramchandra Dass, was subsequently withdrawn.Suit 3 was the one filed by the Nirmohi Akhara and that filed by the Sunni Central Board of Waqfs was Suit 4. In 1989, Suit 5 was filed in the name of Rama Lalla Virajman by Deoki Nandan Agrawal, a retired Allahabad High Court judge and vice-president of the VHP. This suit was filed by him as Rama Lalla’s sakha (“next friend”, a representative in law). After his death, T P Verma became the sakha. When he fell ill, Triloki Nath Pandey, a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) pracharak (activist), now residing in Karsewakpuram, became the sakha. The senior counsel for Suit 5 was Ravi Shankar Prasad of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

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