Ayodhya case: A brief history of India’s longest running property dispute

NEW DELHI: One of the longest-running battles in India’s legal history has just concluded. The first case in the Ayodhya title dispute was filed 134 years ago. Over the decades, it has wound its way up through the legal hierarchy, starting from Faizabad Civil Court to Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court to the Supreme Court, even as India went from being a colony ruled by the British to an independent republic, with its own fault lines.

Here are some of the important milestones of the case, which also saw the birth of one of the most significant political mobilisations in modern India, in the form of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement.

Before Independence

The first recorded legal history in Ayodhya dispute dates back to 1858. An FIR was filed on November 30, 1858, by one Mohd Salim against a group of Nihang Sikhs who had installed their nishan and written “Ram” inside the Babri mosque. They also performed havan and puja. Sheetal Dubey, the thanedar (the station house office of yore) of Avadh, in his report on December 1, 1858, verified the complaint and even said that a chabutra (platform) has been constructed by the Sikhs. This became the first documentary evidence that Hindus were present not only in the outer courtyard but also inside the inner courtyard.


The legal fight began in 1885, when Mahanth Raghubar Das filed a suit (No. 61/280) against Secretary of State for India in Council in the civil court of Faizabad. In his suit, Das claimed that he was a mahanth and was located at the chabutra in the outer courtyard and should be permitted to construct a temple there. The suit was dismissed. In 1886, a Civil Appeal (No. 27) was filed against the 1885 judgment. District Judge of Faizabad, FER Chamier, decided to visit the spot before passing the order. He later dismissed the appeal.


A second Civil Appeal (No. 122) was filed against this dismissal, which was also dismissed by the court of Judicial Commissioner. For the next 63 years, there was no legal progress in the case. In 1934, a riot took place in Ayodhya and Hindus demolished a portion of the structure of the disputed site. The portion was rebuilt by the Britishers.

Idol Appears

In the intervening night of 22 and 23rd December of 1949, idols were found inside the central dome of the mosque. Then Faizabad DM KK Nayar on December 23 morning informed UP chief minister Govind Ballabh Pant about a group of Hindus entering the site when it was deserted and placing the idol. An FIR was filed in the case and the gates were locked the same day. On December 29, the city magistrate passed an order under Section 145 CrPC to attach the entire property and appointed the Nagar Mahapalika president Priya Datt Ram as receiver. A week later, on January 5, 1950, Priya Datt Ram took charge as receiver.

Foundations of the Present Case

On January 16, 1950, Gopal Singh Visharad of the Hindu Maha Sabha became the first person to file a suit in independent India in the case. Gopal Visharad filed a suit against five Muslims, state government and the district magistrate of Faizabad praying for the right to pray and conduct pooja in the inner courtyard. On the same day, the civil judge passed an order of injunction and allowed the puja.

On May 25, the second suit was filed by Pramahans Ramchandra Das against Zahoor Ahmad and others and it was similar to that of the first suit. Nine years later, on December 17, 1959, Nirmohi Akhada filed the third suit to take over the management from the receiver.

Two years later, on December 18, 1961, Sunni Central Waqf Board along with all those defendants named in the earlier suits, filed the fourth suit in the court of civil judge, Faizabad, praying for removal of idols and handing over the possession of mosque. On March 20, 1963, the court held that the entire Hindu community can’t be represented by a few persons. It ordered for a public notice to implead Hindu Maha Sabha, Arya Samaj and Sanatan Dharma Sabha as defendants to represent the Hindu community.

On July 1, 1989, a fifth suit was filed by former Allahabad High Court Judge Deoki Nandan Agarwal as “next friend” of Ram Lala Virajman (the deity, deemed a minor legal person) before the civil judge in Faizabad. It prayed that the whole site be handed over to Ram Lala for the construction of a new temple. In 1989, Shia Waqf Board also filed a suit and became a defendant in the case.

Pandora’s Box Opens

On January 25, 1986, Umesh Chandra Pandey, an advocate, filed an application with Munsif magistrate, Faizabad, praying that the locks should be opened and people should be allowed to have darshan of the idols that had been found inside. The Munsif magistrate rejected the application saying files related to the matter are before the high court. Pandey appealed the order in the Faizabad district court on January 31, 1986.


On February 1, both DM and SP of Faizabad admitted in the court that there won’t be any problem in maintaining peace if the locks are opened. The court ordered the opening of the locks and it were opened on the same day. That was a turning point in Ayodhya dispute and it altered India’s political course. After the locks were opened, the Muslim leaders met in Lucknow on February 6 and a Babri Masjid Action Committee was formed with Zafaryab Jilani as the convenor.

On July 12, 1989, the Allahabad High Court passed an order transferring all the suits to a three-judge bench of the high court.

On October 7 and 10, 1991, the BJP state government acquired premises in dispute along with some adjoining area (total 2.77 acres of land) to develop it for tourism purpose under the land acquisition Act.

This acquisition was challenged by Muslims through six writ petitions. The acquisition was quashed by the high court on December 11. On December 6, 1992, the mosque was demolished despite interim orders passed by the Supreme Court and the high court, and 49 FIRs were registered against several people, including BJP leaders, in the demolition case.

Demolition Aftermath

On December 21, 1992, Hari Shankar Jain filed a petition in the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court that it was his fundamental right to worship Lord Ram. On January 1, 1993, the high court held that every Hindu has the right to worship at the place believed to be the birthplace of Lord Ram.


However, sensing further trouble, the central government on January 7, 1993, promulgated an ordinance — the Acquisition of Central Area at Ayodhya — and acquired 67 acres of land, including the disputed site and the areas around it. Also the central government sent a reference to the Supreme Court to determine whether there was a temple prior to the construction of the Babri mosque.

Immediately after the acquisition by the government, Mohd Ismail Farooqi filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court challenging it. The SC constituted a five-judge bench to hear the reference. On October 24, 1994, the apex court held that the acquisition was valid.


Thirteen years after the Allahabad High Court took the case in March 2002, hearing began for the title suit of the Ayodhya dispute. In July 2003, the Allahabad High Court ordered excavation at the disputed site. The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) did the excavation and submitted its report on August 22, 2003. In its report, ASI said that there was a massive structure beneath the disputed structure and there were artifacts of Hindu pilgrimage.

Three-way Split

On September 30, 2010, the three-judge bench of Justice Dharamveer Sharma, Justice Sudhir Agarwal and Justice SU Khan of the Allahabad High Court gave its judgment in the title suit. It divided the disputed land into three parts, giving one each to Ram Lala, Nirmohi Akhada and Sunni Waqf Board.


All the parties — Ram Lala Virajman, Sunni Waqf Board and Nirmohi Akhada — appealed in the Supreme Court against the Allahabad High Court judgment.

On May 9, 2011, a bench of Justices Aftab Alam and RM Lodha, admitting a batch of appeals from both Hindu and Muslim organisations, stayed the 2010 judgment of the Lucknow Bench of the high court and directed the parties to maintain the status quo at the site.


The Countdown

On 8 January this year, the SC set up a five-judge bench to hear the title suit in Ayodhya. Two days later, Justice UU Lalit rescued himself from the five-judge bench. In February this year, Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi formed a five-judge bench under him, along with Justice Ashok Bhushan, Justice Nazeer, Justice Bobde and Justice Chandrachud.


The bench proposed a court-monitored mediation Former SC Judge Justice FM Kalifulla, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and senior advocate Sriram Panchu were in the mediation panel. The mediation began on March 13 at Awadh University in Faizabad. Seven rounds of discussion took place but it didn’t yield results. On August 2, the court decided to start regular hearing from August 6.

The apex court heard the case regularly for 40 days and in the last 11 days one extra hour was given for parties to complete their arguments. The arguments from all the sides in the case was completed on October 16 and the judgment was reserved.


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