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SC on matters of faith

Sentinel Digital DeskBy : Sentinel Digital Desk

  |  26 March 2017 12:00 AM GMT

Should courts rule over matters of religion and sentiment? This poser by the highest court in the land set the cat among the pigeons. In the latest hearing on the long pending contentious Ayodhya dispute, the Supreme Court recently said that it would be better if the parties concerned resolve the matter amicably. “These are issues of religion and sentiments. These are issues where all the parties can sit together and arrive at a consensual decision to end the dispute... If required, you must choose a moderator to end the dispute,” observed Chief Justice JS Khehar, even offering his services or that of other SC judges for the purpose. The Supreme Court asked petitioner Subramanian Swamy to consult the other parties and explore the possibilities of a negotiated settlement, as well as mes of persons who may represent the parties and act as mediators. However, the Babri Masjid Action Committee is not at all sanguine about the prospects of an out of court settlement; its convenor Zafaryab Jilani has mentioned earlier failed attempts at negotiations. In fact, there have been at least nine such attempts earlier, all of them coming to nought. What is remarkable in the latest development is that for the first time, it is the apex court that has made an offer to thrash out a negotiated settlement. The SC bench of Chief Justice JS Khehar, Justice DY Chandrachud and Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul made it clear during the hearing on Tuesday last that it is unwilling to pass an order that would be binding on this sensitive issue. The apex court’s reluctance is hardly surprising. Back in November 1994 when the then PV rasimha Rao government at the Centre sought the Supreme Court’s opinion under a presidential reference, the judges had then pointedly asked the government whether its opinion will be deemed an order and implemented. When the government hemmed and hawed, the SC bench rejected the presidential reference.
In the latest instance, there have been mixed reactions to the Supreme Court’s offer to mediate on the issue while keeping out the judicial side. Terming this offer ‘superfluous and unwise’, the CPI(M) has insisted that the apex court must first decide who has title to the land where the Babri Masjid stood. All India Muslim Persol Law Board (AIMPLB) member and AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi too has voiced opposition, pointing out that the Ayodhya case is about the land title which the Allahabad High Court had ‘wrongly decided as a partnership case’. His reference is to the 2010 High Court ruling parcelling out the disputed 2.77 acres plot in Ayodhya with one-third going to Hindu Mahasabha for construction of Ram temple, another one-third to Islamic Sunni Waqf Board to build a mosque and remaining one-third to the Hindu religious denomition Nirmohi Akhara. The crux of this ruling was the HC bench’s acceptance of evidence furnished by Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) that ‘a Hindu religious structure pre-dated the mosque’ at the site, though the three judges differed as to whether that ‘structure’ was demolished to build the Babri Masjid. But the veracity of the ASI’s excavation findings was itself questioned. With none of the parties satisfied by this ruling on a case composed of rivaling title suits since 1950, the Supreme Court stayed the verdict in May 2011. While the hearings continue in this case, there is now the CBI’s plea to revive the case against senior BJP-VHP leaders in the conspiracy to demolish Babri Masjid in 1992. Considering the difficulty of resolving a case on a matter of faith that has long divided two communities, one can understand why the apex court now wants leaders and disputing parties to talk and hammer out a settlement. Shahi Imam of Delhi Syed Ahmed Bukhari and some other Muslim leaders have expressed confidence that discussions can yield fruit if carried out with right intent. Let us remember that when the Supreme Court’s verdict against bull taming sport in Tamil du can be openly flouted because it is perceived to be against ‘popular sentiment’, the SC judges are right when they wish to stay away from matters of faith.

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