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Friday 3 July 2020

Muslim ‘evidence’ contested by SC judges; CJI urges completion of Ayodhya case hearing by 18 October

Justices Bobde and Chandrachud noted that the Allahabad HC had rubbished a historians' perspective as 'perfunctory' even as CJI Gogoi urged all sides to help complete the hearing by 18 October

New Delhi: Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi on 18 September appealed to all the parties during the hearing in the Ayodhya case to complete all arguments within a month. The Chief Justice hoped that the hearing of this issue would be completed by 18 October even as a vital argument of the Muslim side lay in tatters.

On Tuesday, as the hearing was going on, CJI Gogoi made some important remarks on the Ayodhya case. He said that the Supreme Court hoped that the hearing, in this case, would be completed by 18 October.

All the parties will have to make efforts to complete the hearing in due time, the CJI urged.

By October 18, if the hearing is over, the apex court will get four weeks to write the verdict, the CJI said.

The CJI said that, even as arguments and counter-arguments were going on, the highest court received a letter for mediation anew. If another mediation process is initiated — the previous one failed for lack of convergence of opinions of the three parties to the dispute — all the parties can negotiate among themselves. Confidentiality about the details of the mediation process will be maintained, the CJI assured.

If required, the CJI said, the court hearing could be extended for an hour every day. The case can be heard on Saturdays as well, he said.

Hearing in the Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid land title dispute has been going on daily since 6 August. The case is being heard five days a week. Earlier, this hearing was being held for three days a week but later the court decided to hear it five days a week.

In the hearing so far, the lawyers of Ram Lalla, Hindu Mahasabha and Nirmohi Akhara have presented their side while the lawyers of the Muslim side are responding to the points. Senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan is representing the Muslim side in the court.

The constitutional bench of the Supreme Court is hearing this matter. Apart from Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, the bench comprises Justice SKA Bobde, Justice DY Chandrachud, Justice Ashok Bhushan and Justice SKA Nazir.

An important development during the hearing yesterday was the intervention by Justices Bobde and Chandrachud. As Dhawan went on with selective quotations from medieval history to suit his side, the judge noted that the 1991 report by four historians that had challenged the claim that the site where the Babri structure stood until 6 December 1992 was the birthplace of Ram, was no better than an “opinion” and that could not be accepted as “evidence” to decide the Ayodhya case.

“At the highest, it would be an opinion,” Justice Chandrachud told Dhavan, who is representing the Sunni Central Wakf Board. This was the court’s response to Dhavan’s act of drawing its attention to the report, “Ramjanmabhumi-Babari Masjid, A Historians’ Report to the Nation”, authored by RS Sharma, M Athar Ali, DN Jha and Suraj Bhan. Justice Chandrachud said that the Allahabad High Court had not considered the report while deciding the case, “probably because DN Jha had not signed it”.

“Who asked them to (prepare the report)? Were they commissioned by the government,” Justice Bobde asked Dhavan.

Senior counsel Zafaryab Jilani took exception to this court observation, claiming that “they (the named historians) had participated in a discussion” and “volunteered” to prepare it. Dhavan added, “It’s certainly not a view. It’s expert history.”

But when Dhavan started reading out the credentials of the historians, the court noted that these intellectuals had responded to the stand of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) rather than reports of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). Justice Chandrachud said, “This was in response to Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s (VHP) stand during talks…. Just like what VHP says can’t be evidence before us, this also can’t be. It would have been different if the historians had responded to the evidence cited by the Archeological Survey of India” which excavated the site on the order of the high court.

Citing the Allahabad High Court verdict, Justice Chandrachud noted that the historians’ methodology was found “very perfunctory”.

While Dhavan referred to floral designs as part of medieval Persian architecture, Justice Bobde pointed at the ‘simha dwar’ (lion gate), with a bird between two lion heads. Justice Bobde asked, “What is that? Is it Garud?” He reminded Dhavan that senior advocate CS Vaidyanathan, appearing for Ram Lalla, had stated that “it is Garud”.

The advocate for the Muslim side said his side had contested the claim and posited that even some navvabs used such emblems and that there was “no direct evidence of the image of God on them”. But Justice Bobde said the argument that a mosque could not have such images was stronger.

To that, Dhavan cited images of the kasauti pillars inside what was the Babri structure and wondered where they had come from. “Some say it came from Sri Lanka, some say Nepal; some say from a mine, some say it was lying there,” he submitted. He argued that the lotus motif found on them did not prove they belonged to a temple.

Justice Bobde then inquired whether there was evidence of such images being found in other mosques. To that, Dhavan took recourse to legality, saying, “We were not asked to produce such evidence.” Muslims were praying at the western wall and that did not have any images, he submitted. But that begs the question whether those Muslim worshippers were using one side of a Hindu temple for their prayers.

The Muslim side also rejected the Shia wish to hand the site over to Hindus, but from the arguments the judges had had with Dhavan and Jilani on Tuesday, the Babri Masjid Action Committee appears to be fighting a losing battle.

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