A petition from a number of eminent Indian seeks to intervene in the Babri Masjid dispute, which the Supreme Court is set to hear on a day-to-day basis from December 5. The plea, filed by civil society members like director Shyam Benegal, writer Kiran Nagarkar and many others, calls on the apex court to direct that the disputed site be used for a non-religious public use, no matter what it actually decides regarding the ownership of the land.
“The rationale for a group of public intellectuals, activists and citizens intervening is simply an attempt to ensure that fissures caused by the cataclysmic event do not shake the foundations of India,” the petition says. “It is to reiterate the fundamentals of the Indian Constitution, committed to the rule of law and equality for all that theapplicants have collectively intervened.”
The Babri Masjid was a medieval mosque that was, on December 6, 1992, demolished by thousands of Hindutva activists who believe it had been built exactly on the site of the birthplace of Ram. The demolition was the culmination of a long campaign spearheaded by the Bharatiya Janata Party. The destruction of the mosque sparked off riots across India. The promise to build a temple on the spot was part of the BJP’s election manifesto in 2014. In 2010, the Allahabad High Court accepted that the disputed site was the birthplace of Ram, and so awarded two-thirds of the land to Hindu organisations while giving the rest to a Muslim organisation.
Starting December 5, the Supreme Court is set to hear final arguments in the matter, after it suspended the High Court judgment earlier. This fresh civil society petition spearheaded by the activist organisation Citizens for Justice and Peace asks to be made a part of the proceedings and calls on the court to make it clear that the site will be used for non-religious public use, no matter what decision the court actually arrives at regarding the legal ownership of the land.
“It cannot be denied that, with the unrest in the atmosphere as is present today, there is still an evident possibility that adjudication upon the present dispute is likely to cause unrest and disturbances of violence in the country. There is also a possibility that there still exist elements who are likely to exploit the controversy,” the petition said. “Thus, it makes it even more significant, that this Hon’ble Court may take into consideration that, the issue in the present appeals is not just a dispute over property between the Plaintiffs and the Defendants but has several other issues which will have far reaching effects on the secular fabric of the country.”
The plea claims that all groups, political or otherwise have been manipulating secularism. “Muslims claim special privileges in the name of secularism, Hindus demand a reversion to a time that exists only in the political imagination,” the petition said. It claims that it seems like the High Court attempted a compromise solution that, however, did not put the “festering wounds caused by this conflict to rest.”
Considering the potential that any decision in the case may not end the religious and political bickering over the spot, the civil society members suggest that it the court should go above and beyond immediate legal considerations. “The only [solution] lies today in each of us Indians rising above narrow confines of class, caste, community and gender and dedicate the spot that has come to signify conflict to a constructive non religious purpose,” the petition said.
The civil society members are also running a signature campaign along with Citizens for Justice and Peace calling on Indians to support their effort to intervene in the matter. “Our contention is that this case should not be treated like some property dispute. Instead, the Supreme Court should take cognizance of the fact that religion cannot dictate the fate of what happens to this disputed piece of land,” the website for the campaign says.
This late intervention in the matter comes after Art of Living head Ravi Shankar, known to his followers as Sri Sri, attempted to mediate in the matter in the hopes of arriving at a solution before the court took it up. Shankar also maintained that a court decision was unlikely to settle the matter and so sought to arrive at a negotiated agreement, although few of the actual litigants went along with his effort, which did not result in a deal.