Strange turn in SC's order

Kashmir Times. Dated: 3/10/2019 11:58:09 PM

The Supreme Court's attempt at mediation on the Ayodhya-Babri Masjid dispute goes against the spirit of 2010 judgment

Calling for mediation at the instance of the Supreme Court is a welcome option for all the parties involved in the protracted civil dispute over Ayodhya-Babri Masjid, which has become a bone of contention among the two major communities. Reaching a compromise on this issue is preferable to an order of the court that may leave one side aggrieved. However, it is questionable whether this principle can be applied to all long-drawn disputes and in all situations, when the contentions of the parties involved in it have been maintained by all the three parties and refused to budge on any of the issues. The Supreme Court's order appointing three mediators to find a solution to the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute is quite strange and incongruous, given that all such previous attempts have ended in a failure. Now another question arises that this order has been passed by the apex court at a time when the case is ripe for final hearing and not all the parties involved in the dispute favoured mediation. The dispute over the site at Ayodhya, where a 16th century mosque stood until it was brought down by Hindutva fanatics in December 1992, has remained intractable since 1949. This development had its fall out on the parties involved in the dispute all across the country. Moreover, its demolition led to unfortunate and sad turn of events that triggered communal riots in the country. In fact, it had its impact in the neighbouring countries also when religious places in Pakistan and Bangladesh were targeted forcing some of the affected people to flee their own countries. It was immediately after the demolition of the Babri Masjid that the President referred to the Supreme Court the question whether there was a temple to Lord Ram before the mosque was built at the site. The court, in a landmark decision in 1994, declined to go into that question. More important, it revived the title suits and, thereby, restored due process and the rule of law. The present attempt of the SC to give mediation a chance within a narrow window of eight weeks goes against the spirit of the 1994 decision. After all, it was that verdict that made possible the 2010 judgment of the Allahabad High Court, which favoured a three-way split of the site among Ram Temple, the Sunni Wakf Board and the Nirmohi Akhara, which is under appeal.
The only welcome aspect of the court-mandated mediation attempt is that it will not consume much time; the same eight weeks are needed for preparation for the final hearing of the case in the Supreme Court. The confidentiality rule will be helpful as none would want the atmosphere to be vitiated by premature disclosures when the country is in election mode for General Elections to Lok Sabha. However, the inclusion of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, known for his bias on many issues amid his involvement in petty politicking on religious issues, as one of the mediators is controversial. In the past, he has made remarks to the effect that Muslims ought to give up their claim and that the failure to find a negotiated settlement will result in 'civil war'. It is true that the prolonged problem has had an adverse impact on the body politic and some 'healing and reconciliation' are required. But the injury to the country's secular fabric was caused by fanatical Hindutva groups, backed by Sangh Parivaar that launched a regressive campaign on the plea that some temples had been turned into mosques by invaders in the medieval period in India. The only way to heal this festering wound on the body politic is to render complete justice not only in the civil case, but also for the criminal act of the demolition. No one must be left with the impression that the exercise is aimed at privileging and favouring the faith-based argument that the mosque stood at the exact spot where Lord Ram was born over the legal question on who holds the title to the land. Apart from this, justice should also be seen as delivered to the satisfaction of all the parties involved in the dispute.



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