Supreme Court of India rules on Ayodhya dispute: Siddiq v Das

In a guest post, Neil Addison comments on the end of a long-running interreligious dispute in India. 

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The Supreme Court of India has given judgment in the case of M Siddiq (D) Thr Lrs v Mahant Suresh Das & Ors [2019] SCI Civil Appeal Nos 10866-10867 of 2010.

The judgment itself is 1045 pages long but, then again, it covers a dispute that stretches back centuries. The case centred around a dispute between the Hindu and Muslim communities of India, both of whom claimed ownership over a piece of land measuring 1500 square yards in the town of Ayodhya. The Hindu community claimed it as the birthplace of Lord Ram, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu. The Muslim community claimed it as the site of the historic Babri Masjid built by the first Mughal Emperor, Babur, some time after 1526.

The BBC gives a good summary of the complex history of the site here but, in brief, Hindus claimed that the land was the site of a Hindu temple which was demolished by Babur and which should be returned to Hindu use, whilst the Muslims claimed that the site had for centuries been used for Muslim worship and so should remain in use as a mosque.

In a riot in 1992, the Mosque was in fact demolished and the land has remained disputed since then with neither a Temple nor a Mosque on it. In its unanimous decision, the Supreme Court has given the land to the Hindus for the building of a Temple with the Muslim Community being compensated by the building of a new Mosque elsewhere. The Court has primarily based its decision on the results of a survey by the Archaeological Survey of India which found evidence of a pre-Islamic Temple under the ruins of the Mosque which in the Courts view supported the Hindu claims to ownership of the site.  The Court did, however, condemn the destruction of the Mosque in 1992 as being contrary to the rule of law and it is implicit in the judgment that had the Mosque still been standing then Muslims would have retained ownership of the land.

The judgment is clear and well reasoned, If extremely long, but it is unlikely to satisfy Indian Muslims, so further violence at the site is a distinct possibility, especially once construction begins on the new Hindu temple. The case is, of course, dependent on its own peculiar facts but it has some resonance in current disputes in Europe.  The main mosque in Istanbul was once the Church of Hagia Sophia (the Holy Wisdom) and the largest church in Orthodox Christianity, while the Cathedral of Córdoba, in Spain, was once the site of a mosque – though prior to that it was the site of a Visigothic Arian Christian church and probably before that it was the site of a pagan Ibero/Roman temple. Historically, many places of worship were built on the sites of earlier places of worship – though it is unusual for a modern court to have to decide a dispute that goes back as far as in this case.

Neil Addison

Cite this article as: Neil Addison, “Supreme Court of India rules on Ayodhya dispute: Siddiq v Das” in Law & Religion UK, 13 November 2019, https://www.lawandreligionuk.com/2019/11/13/supreme-court-of-india-rules-on-ayodhya-dispute-siddiq-v-das/#more-54036.

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