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Why Ayodhya needs a negotiated settlement after the High Court verdict?

15 October 2010 View Comments

Sixty long years after the legal dispute began between Hindus and Muslims for a piece of land in Ayodhya, the High Court (HC) recently pronounced its verdict – trifurcating the disputed land equally among the three litigants ( 2 Hindu & 1 Muslim organisation). Most Hindus have welcomed the verdict as they are seen to have gotten a better deal than the Muslims. Muslims, even though they are dissatisfied with only 1/3rd of the land being alloted to them, have reacted cautiously. Most disappointed are the political parties which are self appointed benefactors of Muslim community. They are the ones who are vociferous in egging the community on to go in for an appeal before Supreme Court (SC) so that ‘justice’ is done to them.

While its easy to pick faults in the  verdict, we do need to be mindful of the extreme tightrope that the judges had to walk. Two of the Hindu judges (Justice Agrawal & Justice Sharma) ruled that the disputed site was indeed the birth place of Rama and the Mosque was built at the site of an earlier temple. Justice Khan was of the view that the evidence for the site being the birth palce of Rama was inconclusive and the Mosque was not built after destroying a temple, althoug it could have been the site of ancient ruins of a temple. The three jusdges had a hard time separating fact from fiction with majority of the evidence buried under 500 years of history. They also had to walk a personal minefield of faith and biases because as individuals and families they are part of the same society and community that they set out to judge. It was difficult for the Hindu judges (unless they were atheists) to  question the birth place of Rama. The Muslim judge had an even more daunting task of reposing faith in the birth and  existance of a Hindu God ( blasphemy as per his own religion). In the end all the  3 judges agreed to allot a minimum of 2/3rd of the land to the Hindus (One of them Justice Sharma ruled that the entire land be given to the Hindus). By split decision of 2:1, they agreed to allocate 1/3rd of the land to the Muslims also. Some people have criticized the verdict and termed it as an effort to play peace maker instead of going strictly by the law. Others have criticisized the verdict on grounds that it glorifies the Ram Mandir agitation of 1992. Why is playing peacemaker such a bad thing in a dispute that is short on evidence and high on sentiment? The agitation which culminated in the demolition of Babri Mosque is already being tried separately and should not be viewed from the prism of this verdict.

The perils of going in for an appeal against this verdict are manifold and should be clearly understood by all. An appeal will keep the issue alive for decades more and still not settle it to everyone’s satisfaction. If the SC upholds the verdict, it will further alienate the Muslim community. For Hindus the HC verdict has raised the bar of their expectations. Any reversal later by SC will be much harder to stomach as majority community. Prior to this verdict, Hindus were largely muted in their support (except for the brief period of agitation) as  it was their faith against the physical structure of  Mosque that existed earlier. But after the High Court validation, their claim has acquired new legitimacy. Those favouring an appeal in SC need to mull as to how the SC can better the HC verdict. After all this is a zero sum game where any gains for a community will have to come at the expense of another community. If in case the SC rules in favour of one community and throws out the claims of another community, it will only pave the way for future unrest. Recall the extreme discomfort of the Central as well as the State government before  the verdict. Frantic attempts were made to put it off on one pretense or the another. Everyone heaved a sigh of relief when the verdict passed off peacefully. However it shouldn’t be lost on any of us that the nature of the verdict had a lot to do with the peaceful passing away of the event. The fact that there were no clear winners prevented either community from going overboard. Who amongst us is prepared for a divisive verdict that lands the country in another throes of violence? Hence it is essential that a negotiated settlement be reached now, where both communities can attempt to settle the dispute honourably. The high court decision allows this luxury whereas the SC verdict will leave the aggrieved party with no other recourse but to agitate. A reconciliation has a better chance now in the backdrop of the HC verdict which has set an outer limit for the expectations of either community. Both side will need to climb down from their earlier stance. The secularists need to understand that this dispute is not a creation of  BJP alone. It has existed for centuries before them. The BJP on the other hand needs to climb down from their earlier stance of  Barbri Mosque being a symbol of national shame. After all, we justifiably share the pride of Taj Mahal, which was built by another Mugal emperor. In Ayodhya, there will be no justice  without reconciliation.

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