Ayodhya, Dec 06, 2017: A Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dipak Misra began hearing appeals on the Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute on a regular basis starting Tuesday.
The hearings got underway on the eve of the 25th anniversary of Babri Masjid’s demolition in Ayodhya.
Here’s all you need to know about one of modern India’s longest running disputes:
What is the dispute about?
The Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute has played out for almost seven decades, climaxing in the late 1980s and early 90s.
At the centre of the bitter battle is the belief that Hindu god Lord Ram was born at that particular location. The belief is that the birthplace of Lord Ram is the room located under what was Babri mosque’s sanctum sanctorum or the central dome.
On December 6, 1992, kar sevaks (activists) demolished the Babri mosque in an event that triggered riots across the country.
Earlier this year, the Apex Court ordered reopening the criminal conspiracy charges against senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders such as former deputy Prime Minister LK Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and Uma Bharti, in the demolition case.
History of the dispute
In 1525, Mughal emperor Babur invaded and conquered large parts of north India. Three years later, Babur’s general Mir Bagi came to Ayodhya, supposedly destroyed a pre-existing temple dedicated to Lord Ram and built ’Masjid-i-Janmasthan’ (mosque at the birthplace) at the same site.
An idol of Lord Ram was secretly placed under the main dome of the mosque in 1949. The following year, a suit was filed in the Faizabad court seeking rights to perform a puja there. Another suit was filed seeking continuation of the religious rituals and keeping idols in the structure.
Ten years after the idol was first placed there, Nirmohi Akhara, a Hindu denomination and stakeholder in the dispute, filed another suit, seeking direction from the court get charge of the disputed site.
In 1986, a district court ordered reopening of the site for Hindu worshippers after which the state government acquired land around the site for devotees’ convenience.
In 1993, a year after the mosque was demolished, the Centre took over 67 acres of the land around the area and sought the top court’s opinion on whether a Hindu place of worship ever existed there before the mosque was built.
The Ayodhya Act 1993 also legitimised the practice of a lone priest was allowed to worship in the makeshift temple built at the site.
In 2003, the Allahabad High Court asked Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) to carry out an in-depth study and an excavation survey of ascertain what was under the site.
An ASI report indicated the presence of a 10th century temple under the site and human activity at the site dating back to the 13th century BC. Muslim groups immediately disputed the ASI findings pointing towards the lack of evidence. However, the report was upheld by the High Court.
What is happening now?
In 2010, the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court ordered the division of the site occupied by the Babri Masjid into three equal parts, among Nirmohi Akhara, Ram Lalla (the deity) and the Uttar Pradesh Sunni Central Wakf Board.
Following appeals by the Wakf board, the Supreme Court stayed the orders of the High Court and ordered all sides to maintain the status quo.
The campaign to build the Ram Temple on the disputed land has gained momentum over the last few years. The ruling BJP had also put construction of the temple in its 2014 General Election manifesto and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has been advocating for a Ram Temple since assuming power earlier this year.
In accordance with the Ayodhya Act 1993, a lone priest is still allowed to worship inside the makeshift temple site. The complex remains heavily guarded.
In 2015, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) launched a nationwide campaign to collect stones for construction of the Ram temple. Later in the year, two trucks of stones arrived in Ayodhya. However, then Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav blocked the stones from getting closer to site. Earlier this year, three more trucks arrived in Ayodhya and the stones are being kept in private premises.
Out-of-court settlement attempts
Earlier this year, the top court had asked the stakeholders to explore options for an out-of-court settlement while the case was still on.
Various attempts have been made in the last few months to reach an out-of-court agreement. On such negotiation was learnt to have been led by spiritual guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.
In November, the Shia Wakf Board filed an application in the top court.
Board chairman Syed Waseem Rizvi told news agency ANI, "Shia Wakf Board and Hindu groups are at the same platform now. Now, the court will take the decision on this matter".
The Board also said that it had prepared a proposal according to which a Ram Temple would be built in Ayodhya and a mosque would be built in Lucknow. However, the move is facing stiff opposition from the Sunni Wakf Board.