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Ayodhya Ram Temple: Struggles, controversies, conflicts mark its history

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Ayodhya: The Ram temple, consecrated in a grand ceremony in this holy city of Uttar Pradesh on Monday, has been the centre of a long-standing religious and political dispute that saw the ultimate success of a determined movement built up for over one and a half-century for its construction.

But it also triggered protracted legal battles, communal strife, riots, and bloodshed and remained a burning election issue for decades.

The temple, which is built on the long-disputed site where a 16th-century mosque had once stood, is ready for devotees after January 22. But its long history marked by various bends and turns deserves a lookback on th grand occasion.

Historical texts show that Mir Baqi, a commander of the founder of the Mughal emperor Babar, razed atemple in Ayodhya to build Masjid-i-Janmasthan (Babri Masjid), which stood on the site for centuries until it was demolished in 1992 by Hindu karsevaks (religious volunteers), triggering widespread violence and communal tension in the country.

The Ayodhya dispute revolved around the ownership of the site where Masjid-i-Janmasthan stood and whether it was the birthplace of Lord Ram.

The first glimpse of controversy regarding the mosque appeared 300 years after its construction.

Between 1853 and 1855, a group of Sunni Muslims attacked the Hanumangarhi temple and claimed that the temple was built by demolishing the mosque. However, no evidence of this was found.

For the first time, in 1858, an FIR was lodged against an incident wherein a group of Nihang Sikhs entered Masjid-i-Janmasthan and performed havan (religious ritual where offerings are made to a consecrated fire) claiming that Lord Ram’s name had been written on the walls of the mosque and a platform had been built next to it.

In 1859, the British government built a wall so that the Hindu and Muslim sides could worship and pray at different places. It was from here that the word Ram Chabutara came into use for the first time.

The temple-mosque dispute reached the court for the first time in 1885 when Mahant Raghuveer Das of Nirmohi Akhada filed a petition to build a temple on Ram Chabutra, but the Faizabad District Magistrate rejected the plea.

Thereafter, Das filed a petition before the Faizabad court, which too rejected it.

Das, however, did not give up and filed an appeal before the judge of the British government, but the plea was turned down yet again.

For the next 48 years, the matter remained in abeyance and sporadic peaceful protests continued.

Nevertheless, a new chapter of Ayodhya began in the 1930s. For the first time, a fight emerged between two Muslim communities – Shia and Sunni. Both were asserting their rights on Masjid-i-Janmasthan. Waqf boards of both communities took up the matter and fought a legal battle for 10 years. However, the court rejected the claims of the Shia community.

The nature of the Ayodhya movement changed after the partition and India’s independence. According to Krishna Jha and Dhirendra K Jha’s book Ayodhya – The Dark Night, the then ruling Congress made Ram Temple an issue for the first time in subsequent years and won the election in Faizabad.

By now the situation had become quite bad. One night in 1949 it was claimed that a Ram idol was found inside Masjid-i-Janmasthan in 1949. The FIR into the incident said that a crowd of 50 or 60 persons had broken the locks put on the compound of the Babri Mosque by climbing the walls by ladders illegally, and placed the idol of Sri Bhagwan there.

Thereupon, the situation worsened and the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had to interfere in the matter. Masjid—Janmasthan was locked within just 6 days.

In 1959, two separate cases were filed in Faizabad court and the Hindu side sought permission to worship Ram Lalla. Although the court gave permission, the inner gate was kept closed.

In 1959, Nirmohi Akhara filed a third lawsuit, seeking rights over the land of Masjid-i-Janmasthan.

Similarly, in 1961, the Muslim side filed a case in which the Uttar Pradesh Sunni Waqf Board argued that they wanted the rights over the Babri Masjid structure and that the idols of Ram be removed from there.

In 1984 the matter heated up again when the Ram temple movement was launched under the leadership of senior BJP leader Lal Krishna Advani.

In 1986, on the orders of the Rajiv Gandhi government, the gate inside Masjid-i-Janmasthan was opened. A petition was filed by advocate UC Pandey in the Faizabad Sessions Court seeking the opening of the gate. The judge allowed the Hindus to worship and have a darshan, but the Babri Masjid Action Committee protested against it.

In 1989, the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi permitted Vishwa Hindu Parishad to lay the foundation stone at the disputed site. After this, for the first time, the name of Ram Lalla reached Allahabad High Court, in which Nirmohi Akhara and Sunni Waqf Board presented their claim on Ram Lalla Janmabhoomi.

In 1990, Advani started a Rath Yatra from Somnath Temple in Gujarat to Ayodhya. There were communal riots on the route of the rath-yatra in various parts of the country

On December 6, 1992, Masjid-i-Janmasthan was razed by Karsevaks who built a temporary temple there.

Ten days after the demolition of the mosque, Prime Minister Narasimha Rao formed a committee led by retired High Court Justice MS Liberhan to look into circumstances leading to the demolition of the mosque and the communal riots.

On January 7, 1993, the Narasimha Rao Government issued an ordinance acquiring 67.7 acres of land (Site and adjoining areas). Later it was passed as a law to facilitate the acquisition of land by the Central government.

In 1994, the Supreme Court by a majority of 3:2 upheld the constitutionality of the law on grounds that every religious immovable property is liable to be acquired.

The SC adjudged that offering namaz at the mosque was not integral to Islam unless that mosque had any particular significance in Islam. There were no reviews filed against this verdict.

The Ayodhya title dispute started in April 2002 and the hearing started in Lucknow bench of Allahabad High Court.

In August 2003, the ASI (Archaeological Survey of India) began excavations at the site of the mosque and claimed to have found evidence of a 10th-century temple beneath it.

In 2009, 17 years after its formation, the Liberhan Commission submitted its report. However, what was in this report was not revealed.

Till now, every party has demanded the land of Ayodhya for itself, but Allahabad High Court divided this land into three parts. Under this,

one-third share each was given to Nirmohi Akhara, the Sunni Waqf Board and Ram Lalla Virajman.

This decision gave rise to controversies across the country. Once again a petition was filed against this and in the year 2011, the Supreme Court stopped the ruling of the Allahabad High Court.

By the year 2017, Chief Justice Jagdish Singh Khehar asked all three parties about an out-of-court settlement.

In 2018, the Supreme Court gave its decision. However, it was not made public.

Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi formed a bench of 5 judges in the year 2019 and rejected the old 2018 decision.

In November 2019, the Supreme Court gave its verdict in the interest of the Hindu side and ordered the Ram temple to be built through a trust. With this, 5 acres of land were given to the Sunni Waqf Board, where a mosque was to be built in Ayodhya. By December, several petitions were filed on this issue and the Supreme Court rejected them.

Shri Ram Janmabhoomi Teerth Kshetra Trust was established in February 2020. The Sunni Waqf Board accepted 5 acres of land and in August 2020, Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid the foundation stone of the Ram temple.

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