Ayodhya dispute

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The Ayodhya dispute is a political, historical and socio-religious debate in India, centred on a plot of land in the city of Ayodhya, located in Faizabad district, Uttar Pradesh. The main issues revolve around access to a site traditionally regarded among Hindus to be the birthplace of the Hindu deity Rama, the history and location of the Babri Mosque at the site, and whether a previous Hindu temple was demolished or modified to create the mosque.


Rama leaving from Ayodhya.
Rama Sita in Ayodhya
Rama in Ayodhya
While a temple was going up in Ayodhya, a communist temple was being demolished five thousand miles away in Europe. If this is not history, I do not know what is. - Jay Dubashi
  • On the very same day the first brick of the Ram Shila foundation was being laid at Ayodhya, the Berliners were removing bricks from the Berlin Wall. While a temple was going up in Ayodhya, a communist temple was being demolished five thousand miles away in Europe. If this is not history, I do not know what is. (...) The post-Nehru era began at Ayodhya on November 9, and it will gather momentum in the years to come, just as the post-communist era in Europe and elsewhere.
    • Jay Dubashi, From Shilanyas to Berlin Wall in The Road to Ayodhya (also [1]), quoted from Elst, Koenraad (2014). Decolonizing the Hindu mind: Ideological development of Hindu revivalism. New Delhi: Rupa. p.302-3
  • The Muslims, in my opinion, should show magnanimity and [make] a noble gesture of gifting away the mosque.
    • Asghar Ali Engineer. Communalism and Communal Violence in India (Ajanta Publ., Delhi 1989), p.320. Quoted from Elst, Koenraad (1991). Ayodhya and after: Issues before Hindu society.
  • Future historians will include the no-temple argument of the 1990s as a remarkable case study in their surveys of academic fraud and politicized scholarship.
  • At a time when Native Americans, New Zealand Maoris and Aboriginal Australians were frequently (and often successfully) going to court to reclaim sacred sites and other heritage items, it should not have been too difficult to explain to the international public the reasonableness of Hindus claiming a Hindu sacred site, all the more so because the contentious building with mosque architecture was already in use as a Hindu temple since 1949... Yet, the net result was the exact opposite... It is not really exaggeration to say that the BJP's Ayodhya campaign was the public relations disaster of the century.
    • Elst, Koenraad (2014). Decolonizing the Hindu mind: Ideological development of Hindu revivalism. New Delhi: Rupa. p. 246-7
  • During the scholars’ debate in 1990-91, the VHP-mandated team had discovered no less than 4 documents on which references to the “birthplace temple” had been altered or removed, or which had been removed from public access (and those were only the ones where the foul play was discovered; who knows how many times the tampering succeeded?). ... Given that Prof. Harsh Narain, Dr. Arun Shourie and others have discovered attempts to conceal or alter Muslim documents confirming the temple tradition, we cannot exclude that in some cases, similar attempts at concealment of highly informative documents have succeeded and remained undiscovered.
    • Koenraad Elst, Ayodhya, the Finale (2003)
  • Our party is for the building of the temple to Lord Ram, and we should, if possible, work towards an amicable settlement which, while upholding the principles of secularism, enables the construction of the temple to start, with the approval and support of all concerned. ... The key issue appears to be whether or not there was a temple erected to Lord Ram at the site where the Babri Masjid stands today. This question of historical fact would appear to hold the key to a resolution of the problem to the satisfaction of all reasonable, secular-minded persons of all communities.
    • Rajiv Gandhi 1990, [cit. Indian Express, 2 Dec. 1990, repr. Aggarwal & Chowdhry 1991:123]. Quoted from Elst, Koenraad (2012). The argumentative Hindu. New Delhi : Aditya Prakashan. Chapter: Ayodhya’s three history debates.
  • [The Ayodhya movement for the liberation of Rama's supposed birthplace was] the largest mass movement in India since Independence. At its height, more people were detained by the police than during the course of the Salt March and the Quit India movement combined.
    • Edward A. Gargar, quoted from Elst, Koenraad (2001). Decolonizing the Hindu mind: Ideological development of Hindu revivalism. New Delhi: Rupa. p. 152
  • Several thousands of karsevaks brutally demolished the Babri Masjid, refusing to listen to RSS cadres, who were acting as the last ramparts of the paternalist perspectives. Numerous comments showed clearly that for the academic and establishment commentators, the most insupportable thing was that uneducated youngsters, without any letters of introduction or written authorisations, had intervened to change the course of things. ... “the way in which the RSS was overwhelmed by a thousand determined youngsters on 6 December 1992 is telling. The sect is worthless in street combat... its manifestations remind us more of the boy scouts than of mass politics.”
    • Gérard Heuzé: Où va l’Inde moderne? L’Harmattan, Paris 1993, Quoted from Elst, Koenraad (2002). Ayodhya: The case against the temple.
  • It is indisputable that the Ramjanmabhumi/Babri Masjid debate has bee dominated by a handful of historians from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), Delhi University and Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), with stray participation of one or two other universities. The historians involved have been of Marxist orientation, some admittedly even card-holding members of the two Communist parties, the CPI and CPM. Their writings on the issue have appeared in the official publications of these parties--New Age and People's Democracy respectively, and also been published by Left-sponsored publishing groups like People's Publishing House, Sahmat and Tulika Books. Perhaps that could explain why their stance has often seemed more driven by ideology than academic deliberation. Yet, some of these academics, who even appeared as BMAC (Babri Masjid Action Committee) experts during negotiations between the VHP, BMAC and the Government in 1990-1991, claimed to be "independent historians", and demanded that they be recognized as such. A perusal of their writings and statements reveals an unswerving resolve to deny any possibility of a temple beneath the Masjid and, thus, fixity of purpose. So they initially pronounced Rama to be a mythic figure; questioned the identification of present day Ayodhya with Valmiki's Ayodhya; touted little remembered variants of the Rama story to counter Valmiki's version; declared Ayodhya was better known as a sacred city of the Buddhists and Jains; and even ruled out the existence of a Rama cult at Ayodhya prior to the eighteenth century. The belief in a Janmabhumi temple being destroyed by Babar they attributed to British machinations in the nineteenth century. For long, Marxist historians insisted that the Babri Masjid was built on virgin land.
    • Jain, Meenakshi. Rama and Ayodhya (2013, pp. 154-155)
  • In its presentation of evidence in the Government sponsored scholars’ debate in December 1990, the VHP scholars have pointed out 4 cases of attempted fraud by their opponents, attempts by BMAC sympathizers to conceal, obliterate or change evidence: removing relevant old books from libraries, adding words on an old map. Recent editions of Urdu books (by Maulvi Abdul Karim and by Shaikh Md. Azamat Ali Nami) have suppressed chapters or passages relating the temple destruction on Ramkot hill which were present in earlier editions or in the manuscript. In an English translation of a book by Maulana Hakim Saiyid Abdul Hai, the relevant passages present in the Urdu original had been censored out, and an effort was discovered to remove all the copies of the Urdu original from the libraries... On maps included in the Settlement Record of 1861, which describe the disputed area as Janamsthan, “birthplace”, someone had added “Babari Masjid”; the interpolation was obvious after comparison with a copy of the document kept in another office.... In my opinion, these petty and clumsy attempts to tamper with the corpus of evidence, are child’s play compared with the concealment of evidence by professional scholars sympathetic to the Babri Masjid cause. In their publications on this dispute, A.A. Engineer and Prof. S. Gopal have simply kept all the inconvenient (mainly pre-British) testimonies out of the picture, and just acted as if these did not exist. In his reply to the anti-Janmabhoomi statement The Political Abuse of History by 25 historians of JNU, Prof. A.R. Khan shows grounds to accuse the eminent JNU historians of “not only concealment but also distortion of evidence”.
    • Quoted from Elst, Koenraad (2002). Ayodhya: The case against the temple. quoting Prof. A.R. Khan: “In the name of ‘history’” (originally published in Indian Express, 25-2-1990) and in History vs. Casuistry, app.2, and in S.R. Goel: Hindu Temples, vol. 1, 2nd ed. (Voice of India, Delhi 1998), p. 243-263.
  • [The controversy is] "paying the way for a movement [in India] for an independent and liberated Islamic country within India".
  • It would thus appear that the four historians who wrote the 'report to the nation' were really experts nominated by All India Babri Masjid Action Committee and were not independent. But they always pretended to be impartial professional historians. In fact, in their 'report to the nation' they criticized the claims of V.H.P. only and made no comments on the documents submitted by A.I.B.M.A.C. Had they really been truly impartial historians, they would have commented on the evidence submitted by both parties and presented their report to the nation or M.H.A. without any bias or prejudice.
    • Kunal, K. Ayodhya Revisited (2016, p. xl) (Kunal was the Government official appointed to mediate between the two parties)
  • Recent events about Ayodhya are well-known. Long before the structure was pulled down, Muslims in Bangladesh had destroyed more than 200 temples in November 1989 (reacting against the Shilanyas at Ayodhya). In November 1990 another 50 temples were razed or burnt, not to mention about the women raped and men killed. So also was done in Pakistan. The Kashmir Samiti has produced a report titled Riots in Kashmir, listing 85 temples destroyed, and claiming that 550 people had been killed in the Islamic purification campaign in 1990. ... Those who cannot forget 6 December 1992, should also remember another date, 9 April 1669. On this day Aurangzeb issued a general order "to demolish all schools and temples of the infidels and to put down their religious teaching and practice". Much vandalism had preceded this order and reckless destruction of shrines followed.
    • Lal, K. S. (1999). Theory and practice of Muslim state in India. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan. Chapter 6
  • The responsibility for what has happened in Pakistan and Bangla Desh is entirely that of the Union and U.P. governments. They have been making so much anti-Hindu propaganda on this issue that those countries are getting all the excuse for this.
    • Vijay Kumar Malhotra, BJP national secretary, Times of India, 2/11/1990. Quoted from Elst, Koenraad (1991). Ayodhya and after: Issues before Hindu society.
  • I had written: "I can reiterate this (the existence of a Hindu temple before it was displaced by the Babri mosque) with greater authority - for I was the only Muslim who had participated in the Ayodhya excavations in 1976-'77 under Prof BB Lal as a trainee. I have visited the excavation near the Babri site and seen the excavated pillar bases. The JNU historians have highlighted only one part of our findings while suppressing the others..." ... By JNU historians, I meant the Leftist historians such as Irfan Habib, Romila Thapar, DN Jha, Bipin Chandra and RS Sharma who do not want to see a solution to the Ayodhya issue. Till the Allahabad High Court judgment came out on September 30, 2010, these historians maintained that there was no temple beneath the Babri mosque.
  • Mr. Mahadevan's comments were really an objective analysis of the archaeological data. I can reiterate this with greater authority, for I was the only Muslim who had participated in the Ayodhya excavation in 1976-77 under Professor Lal...I was at the Hanuman Garhi site, but I have visited the excavation near the Babri Masjid and seen the excavated pillar bases. The JNU historians have highlighted only one part of our findings while suppressing the other. ... Ayodhya is as holy to Hindus as Mecca is to Muslims. Muslims should respect the sentiments of their millions of Hindu brethren and voluntarily hand over the structure for constructing the Rama temple.
    • K.K. Muhammad (deputy superintending archaeologist), commenting on Iravatham Mahadevan, who held the JNU historians guilty of "political abuse of history". Indian Express. Quoted from Elst, Koenraad (1991). Ayodhya and after: Issues before Hindu society.
  • The sacred spot in Ayodhya, worshipped by Hindus since time immemorial, (…) has unfortunately been made the subject of a contrived and unnecessary controversy in the last three decades.
    • Prof. Saradindu Mukherji, from the Preface in Anuradha Dutt’s book Sri Ram Mandir, published by Shubhi Publications (Gurgaon 2016). Quoted from Elst K.:Chronicle of the Ayodhya controversy, The Pioneer,April 2016.
  • For the poor of India to identify something like this, pulling down the first Mughal emperor’s tomb, is a marvellous idea. I think in years to come it will be seen as a great moment.... It would be a historical statement of India striving to regain her soul. What puzzled me and outraged me was the attitude that it was wrong, that one must not undo the [Muslim] conquest. I think it is the attitude of a slave population.
    • V.S. Naipaul, Quoted in The World Is What It Is: The Authorized Biography of V.S. Naipaul By Patrick French
  • What is happening in India is a new, historical awakening. ... Today, it seems to me that Indians are becoming alive to their history. This has not happened before. ... Now, however, things seem to be changing. What is happening in India is a mighty creative process.... But every other Indian knows precisely what is happening: deep down he knows that a larger response is emerging even if at times this response appears in his eyes to be threatening. ... But the sense of history that the Hindus are now developing is a new thing. Some Indians speak about a synthetic culture: this is what a defeated people always speak about. The synthesis may be culturally true. But to stress it could also be a form of response to intense persecution. ... In Ayodhya the construction of a mosque on a spot regarded as sacred by the conquered population was meant as an insult. It was meant as an insult to an ancient idea, the idea of Ram which was two or three thousand years old. ...One needs to understand the passion that took them on top of the domes. The jeans and the tee-shirts are superficial. The passion alone is real. You can't dismiss it. You have to try to harness it. .... There is a big, historical development going on in India. Wise men should understand it and ensure that it does not remain in the hands of fanatics. Rather they should use it for the intellectual transformation of India.
    • “An area of awakening” (Interview with V.S. Naipaul), Dileep Padgaonkar The Times of India Date: July 18, 1993 [2] Also referred to and quoted in part in Elst, Koenraad (2001). Decolonizing the Hindu mind: Ideological development of Hindu revivalism. New Delhi: Rupa.
  • It is the duty of every nationalist Indian to protect the birthplace of Lord Rama to save India's honour, prestige and cultural heritage.... Anti-national and communal activities of Muslim fundamentalists are a blot on the entire community... It is the duty of all nationalist Muslims to expose such designs and accept the truth.
    • Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi. Indian Muslim Youth Conference president . Indian Express, 21/9/1990. Quoted from Elst, Koenraad (1991). Ayodhya and after: Issues before Hindu society.
  • "Many mosques and monuments were erected on sites where temples existed earlier. I also agree with what Muhammed has said about Prof. Irfan. It was during his tenure as chairman of ICHR [that] the democratic functioning of the institution was destroyed. It [was] very difficult to work with him. I have my own bitter experiences. It was he and his team that had branded me an RSS man. It was he and his team that turned Jawaharlal Nehru University and the ICHR into a den of Marxist historians," MGS said.
  • The Hindus have been so much humiliated and insulted since 1947 that sometimes it seems doubtful whether they are living in their own country adding that in Kashmir & Punjab Hindu blood is being shed so much so that even in Ayodhya unarmed Kar Sevaks including the Sadhus were brutally killed.
    • From a speech by Sadhvi Ritambhara, which was considered to be actionable, objectionable under 153-A of Indian Penal Code 'on the ground of inciting the Hindus in the context of construction of Shri Ram Temple at Ayodhya and attempting to spread feelings of animosity against the Muslims'. Quoted from ' The Case of Sadhvi Ritambhara', in Goel, Sita Ram (ed.) (1998). Freedom of expression: Secular theocracy versus liberal democracy. [3]
  • Not even a bird shall be able to enter Ayodhya. ... We will crush them.
    • Mulayam Singh Yadav, comments against the planned demonstrations by kar sevaks (activists) in Ayodhya. Quoted from Elst, Koenraad (1991). Ayodhya and after: Issues before Hindu society.
  • These leftist ‘historians’ had attended the initial meetings. They had put together for and on behalf of the Committee ‘documents’. It had been a miscellaneous pile. And it had become immediately evident that this pile was no counter to the mass of archaeological, historical and literary evidence which the VHP had furnished, that in fact the ‘documents’ these guides of the Babri Committee had piled up further substantiated the VHP’s case. These ‘historians’, having undertaken to attend the meeting to consider the evidence presented by the two sides, just did not show up!
    It was this withdrawal which aborted the initiative that the government had undertaken of bringing the two sides together, of introducing evidence and discourse into the issue. Nothing but nothing paved the way for the demolition as did this running away by these ‘historians’. It was the last nail: no one could be persuaded thereafter that evidence or reason would be allowed anywhere near the issue. ... His bias is evident in the fact that he totally blacks out the absolutely disgraceful concoctions that the Marxist historians put together for the All Indian Babri Masjid Action Committee – … the shameful way they dodged the archaeological evidence, pretending that they had not examined it, that they had not met the archaeologists concerned – when in fact they had met the principal one just the day before, and how, when it became evident to all that the ‘documentary evidence’ which they had complied for the Babri Action Committee just did not match what was submitted on behalf of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, they just failed to turn up at the final meetings. It was this failure to turn up for the meetings that led to the breakdown of negotiations, and killed all prospects of a negotiated settlement.
    • Shourie, Arun (2014). Eminent historians: Their technology, their line, their fraud. Noida, Uttar Pradesh, India : HarperCollins Publishers.
  • “On reading the papers the BMAC had filed as ‘evidence’, I could only conclude, therefore, that either its leaders had not read the papers themselves, or that they had no case and had just tried to over-awe or confuse the government etc. by dumping a huge miscellaneous heap.”
    • Arun Shourie: “Take over from the experts”, syndicated column, 27-1-91, included in History vs. Casuistry as appendix 1. Quoted from Elst, Koenraad (2002). Ayodhya: The case against the temple.
  • Meanwhile in Uttar Pradesh, chief minister Mulayam Singh Yadav was playing it rough. He pre-emptively arrested all leaders of organizations involved in the Ram Janmabhoomi movement. In order to prevent Kar Sevaks from going to Ayodhya, he suspended all public transport in the state, blocked roads, and imposed curfew in a number of cities. House-to-house searches for hiding Kar Sevaks were carried out, the borders were sealed, and massive numbers of Hindus (as well as a number of Muslim Kar Sevaks) were jailed. The numbers cited vary between one and eight lakhs, which is a lot more than during the Emergency or the Quit India movement in the whole country. On October 30, when according to Mulayam's boast, no bird would be able to fly into Ayodhya, thousands of Kar Sevaks broke through the police defenses thanks to their sheer numbers... Gradually, the police forces regained control and drove the Kar Sevaks out, arresting many, and killing about 10, others cite figures from 5 to 50.... On November 2, the Kar Sevaks came back. As they were sitting or standing in the narrow lanes near the Janmabhoomi site (secularists say they were slowly moving towards it), the police opened fire... The death toll is a matter of dispute, as many of the bodies have been carried off in Army vans, and unceremoniously disposed of in an unknown place... The BJP appealed to the president to depose Mulayam, and cited the figure of 168 people killed. Some days after, the VHP claimed it could substantiate a death toll of about 400, or as many as were killed by general Dyer at Jallianwala Bagh.
    • Quoted from Elst, Koenraad (1991). Ayodhya and after: Issues before Hindu society.
  • Another startling fact is that the English-language papers refused to come up with the correct figures of the Kar Sevaks killed in police firing. In the afternoon of November 2, I was visiting someone who has connections with a well-known daily. He called the office and was told by one staff reporter that the death toll was already 125. Now, if a reporter of a secularist paper says 125 got killed, no one is going to make me believe that the number is less than 125. Yet, the following day, the headlines of the same paper put the death toll at 17. I have inquired about the massacre among many people in Ayodhya. Common local people, including eyewitnesses, said invariably that thousands had been killed : two thousand, five thousand. I guess that even eyewitnesses were not in a position to count very accurately. However, the different accounts given to me by hospital personnel, policemen, Hindu activists, converge to a death toll of about 400. The official death toll of 45 for the different days of shooting together is quite untenable, considering that the VHP cremated 76 bodies, of which the ashes were taken in procession through India, while some bodies had been taken in procession through India, while some bodies had been taken for cremation by the families, and many more had been collected and taken away by the security forces (three trucks full, according to VHP sources). The figure of 168 which the BJP gave the day after, gives the correct order of magnitude, but probably on the low side. So, if some papers stick to figures below 20, they are just telling lies. Some of them have been so adamant in their misinformation campaign that they refused to mention any other figure even when quoting from speeches by BJP or VHP people, replacing"500 were killed" with " a number were killed". Yet, it seems no one has had the courage to file a plaint with the Press Council against this blatant misinformation. On the contrary: two months after the massacre, the Press Council has condemned the dailies that gave three-digit figures (even if as low as 120).
    • Quoted from Elst, Koenraad (1991). Ayodhya and after: Issues before Hindu society.
  • In November 1989, Muslims in Bangla Desh destroyed more than 200 Hindu temples, on the pretext of reacting against the Shilanyas in Ayodhya... Moreover, during this anti-Hindu violence, many women were raped, some people killed and many wounded, and many shops looted and burned down. In November 1990, another forty or fifty temples were razed or burnt down in Bangla Desh. Or at least, those are the figures given by the secularist press. The Hindu-Buddha-Christian Oikya Parishad, the Bangla minorities' association, reported that in the a village in Chittagong district more than fifty Hindu women had been raped, two killed, and that hundreds of temples had been damaged or burnt down. ... Both the opposition parties and the Hindu-Buddhist- Christian Unity Council of Bangla Desh have alleged a strong government involvement in the communal violence...: "We directly blame the president for these heinous anti-human incidents... they were staged in a planned way under a blueprint in co-operation with law-enforcing agencies." ... In Pakistan too, Muslims used the Ayodhya news as an occasion for temple-burning, rape, murder, and looting... in Dera Murad Jamali, "the police was unable to control the mob", which ransacked fifteen shops belonging to Hindus and set a temple on fire. Little was said about the large-scale outbursts in sindh. In Latifabad and Hyderabad , at least three temples were destroyed, in neighbouring Siroghat the Rama Pir temple was looted and set on fire, etc. Islamic student organizations also took the occasion to attack a Christian school and church in Peshawar.... In Nepal, the Hindu kingdom, some five Hindu temples were burnt down by Muslim gangs, who had probably come over from Bihar. No official protests from any side have been reported.
    • Christian Unity Council of Bangla Desh , Pioneer, 10/11/1990. Quoted from Elst, Koenraad (1991). Ayodhya and after: Issues before Hindu society.
  • If the question referred is answered in the affirmative, namely, that a Hindu temple/structure did exist prior to the construction of the BM, then government action will be in support of the wishes of the Hindu community. If in the negative (...) government action will be in support of the wishes of the Muslim community.
    • Sollicitor-General, 14 September 1994, [cit. A. G. Noorani 2003:II:259]. Quoted from Elst, Koenraad (2012). The argumentative Hindu. New Delhi : Aditya Prakashan. Chapter: Ayodhya’s three history debates.
  • When Hindus believe that the place of birth of Lord Rama was within the disputed site of the Ayodhya temple, such belief partakes the nature of essential part of religion and is protected under Article 25 of the Constitution (right to profess one’s religion), the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court has held. ... Such an essential part of religion is constitutionally protected under Article 25.
    • J. Venkatesan, 2 October 2010, quoting the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court. The Hindu: “Hindus’ belief about Lord Rama’s birthplace protected under Article 25” [4] Also quoted in Elst, Koenraad (2012). The argumentative Hindu. New Delhi : Aditya Prakashan. Chapter: Ayodhya’s three history debates.

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