On Saturday, the Supreme Court rung down the curtain on independent India’s most controversial legal question, ruling that a Ram temple should be built at the spot where, till 1992, the 16th-century Babri Masjid stood.
The judgment was unusual in many aspects: it placed faith over law, put almost the entire burden of proof on the Muslim side and, in effect, rewarded attempts to repeatedly challenge Muslim worship at the Babri Masjid since the 19th century.
Moreover, the court did not stop at deciding the ownership of the land – the only legal question at play. Going beyond its role as a court of law, the Supreme Court ordered a Union government trust to build the temple and then awarded a five-acre plot on which a mosque will be constructed to replace the Babri Masjid, demolished by a Hindutva mob 27 years ago.
While Muslims have emphasised that they will abide by the court verdict, prominent voices have rejected this offer of five acres of land, describing it as a patronising gesture.
First off the block was Asaduddin Owaisi, the chief of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen. “In spite of the fact that the Indian Muslim is weak today, he has not fallen so low that he cannot buy five acres of land for a mosque in Uttar Pradesh,” said Owaisi, whose party has two MPs in the Lok Sabha. “We were fighting for our legal right. We don’t need charity in the forms of these five acres of land. Don’t patronise us.”
Much the same point was made by the Muslim petitioners in the case. “The way they have dealt with us is similar to giving a lollypop to a child,” petitioner Haji Mehboob told the Telegraph.
Zafaryab Jilani, the legal counsel for the Muslim parties said, “Five acres has no value for us.”
Another counsel for the Muslim side, MR Shamsha argued in the Mumbai Mirror that the five acres should also be donated for the temple. “The Supreme Court gesture to balance equities by giving five acres of land to Muslims is completely misplaced and further reflects how an unjust resolution can be imposed on a community,” wrote Shamshad. “It was not a matter of making a grand mosque, but a matter of legal right on that place.”
Echoing the petitioners and politicians, Muslim intellectuals also made much the same point as part of their first reactions to the verdict.
Writing in the Hindustan Times, Mohammed Sajjad Professor of Modern and Contemporary Indian History at Aligarh Muslim University made an appeal to reject the five-acre award. “If at all I am entitled to make an appeal, my personal suggestion to the Muslim petitioners would be not to accept the five acres of land offered to them to build a masjid,” said Sajjad. “Who knows, sometimes in future, that too may become a disputed site.”
Syeda Hameed, women’s right activist and a former member of the Planning Commission called for Muslims to “clearly, politely and unequivocally refuse the offer of five acres of land in Ayodhya”.
Instead, Muslims need assurance: “Then they should say to the powers that be: ‘Since you have in one voice given the judgment that the demolition and placement of idols was illegal then don’t give us substitutes like pieces of land; we reject such offers. In the spirit of your judgment, just give us one assurance that this will never happen again.’”
However, some Muslim politicians from mainstream parties disagreed with this.
Salman Nizami from the Congress argued that the land should be used to build a mosque as well as a school.
Majeed Memon from the Nationalist Congress Party disagreed with Owaisi. However, he did not lay out an opinion on what is to be done with the land, preferring to let “community leaders” decide.