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Take Land But Protect Our Mosques: Muslims Forfeit Claim on Babri Masjid Land

India media reports indicate that the Sunni Waqf Board has exhibited its willingness to drop its claim on the Babri Masjid as long as the center ensures that all other mosques across India will be protected.

Babri Masjid

In a surprising development on the last day of the hearings, the primary Muslim contestant in India’s Babri Masjid land dispute case has informed the Supreme Court of India of its willingness to drop the claim, reported Indian media.

For decades, the Sunni Waqf Board has laid claim to the land that has housed the historic Babri Masjid for centuries. In 1992, the mosque was demolished by Hindutva leaders and activists, claiming it to be built after the demolition of an ancient Hindu temple Ayodhya, by the late Mughal King Babur. In a surprising turn of events, the Sunni Waqf Board is now willing to drop the Babri Masjid land claim if New Delhi is willing to guarantee the safety of all other places of worship in India from similar encroachment.

After this unusual development, the five-judge constitution bench of the Indian Supreme Court has reserved its judgment on the matter.

Babri Masjid Land Claim

Speaking to media on Wednesday, a source close to the Babri Masjid proceedings said, “Settlement has been filed. I cannot say more now.”

The Supreme Court of India continued with the hearings, and towards the end of the proceedings, it declared the decision to reserve its judgment. The Sunni Waqf Board announced its willingness to drop the land claim on the last day of the hearings.

For the past few weeks, the Supreme Court of India has been conducting day to day hearings on the matter that has been a bone of content between the two dominant religious groups of India. The five-judge constitutional bench, led by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, had heard the arguments presented by the two Hindu contestants in the case, the Ramjanmabhoomi Nyas, led by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, which is a front of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.

Read more: Babri Masjid case: BJP leaders charged for criminal conspiracy

The Nirmohi Akhara is the other Hindu litigant in the case, alongside the Sunni Waqf Board. Chief Justice Gogoi is due for retirement in mid-November, and the five-judge constitutional bench is expected to deliver its judgment in the high-profile case before that.

Sources cited by India media reveal that the Sunni Waqf Board and some, but not all, of the Hindu claimants, have signed the settlement proposal, which was put forward through the three-member mediation group that had been established by the court earlier this year.

More importantly, the RSS-backed Ramjanmabhoomi Nyas has rejected the terms of the settlement.

Mediation Proposal

In a forward-looking approach the settlement promises concrete safeguards for all other mosques across India, alongside foreseeing the renovation of 22 existing mosques in Ayodhya, permission to construct another mosque in place of the Babri Masjid at some other location, and the permission to worship in several historic mosques which fall under the protection of the Archaeological Survey of India.

The mediation panel, led by a former judge of the Indian Supreme Court, Justice (retd) F.M.I Khalifullah, informed the court that the three parties embroiled in the Babri Masjid dispute failed to reach an out-of-court settlement.

The Nirmohi Akhara and Nyas claim the land for the construction of a Ram temple, claiming that the site is the birthplace of the Hindu deity. The Nirmohi Akhara was earlier unwilling to submit any of the conditions put forward by the Sunni Waqf Board as part of a compromise. Principal amongst all these was the pledge that the Hindutva organizations will drop their claims on other Muslim places of worship, particularly in Varanasi and Mathura, which were to be converted to Hindu temples.

Earlier in September, the mediation panel informed the Supreme Court of their decision to give mediation another chance, largely due to the willingness of the Sunni Waqf Board and the Nirmohi Akhara.

Sources cited by Indian media reveal that now that the settlement proposal has been formally submitted, the Indian Supreme Court will decide further. “They could decide that having heard arguments for 40 days, they should adjudicate anyway. Or they may use the settlement agreement as to the contours of their final orders.”

Read more: Ayodhya: the history of a 500-year-old land dispute between Hindus and Muslims in India

Responding to a question of whether the bench could still rule in favor of the Muslim litigants who lay claim on the disputed land despite the willingness of the Waqf Board to compromise, the source revealed that the bench can dismiss the settlement entirely, and proceed as it deems fit.

In 2010, the Allahabad High Court had discovered merit in the claim of each of the three litigants in the title suit dispute, and the 2.77 acres land of the Babri masjid was equally divided between all three claimants.

Constructed by the Mughal Emperor Babar in the 16th century, the Babri Masjid has been a subject of Hindu-Muslim strife since the British colonial period. After Independence, the Hindu government desecrated the mosque by placing idols of baby Ram and Sita and in December 1949, the UP state government locked the premises.

In February 1986, Rajiv Gandhi’s government reopened the Babri Masjid, practicing a policy of exploiting communal politics for electoral victories. This strategy was later adopted by the BJP, and the RSS-controlled Ramjanmabhoomi was used to religiously polarize the Indian society, and enlarge the electoral support base of the BJP.

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