Legal or Political Justice


The Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court has finally pronounced the much-anticipated judgment in the 60-year-old title suit of Ram Janma Bhoomi-Babri Masjid between Muslims and Hindus. The historic judgment has split the disputed 2.7 acres of land into three, two parts of it going to Hindu organisations and one to the Muslim body fighting the case. However, the judgment seems not to have brought about a closure to the issue just as yet. At least two parties, one Muslim and the other Hindu, have chosen to take the matter to the Supreme Court to challenge it. All the same the general mood is that although the judgment has not completely settled the matter just as yet, it has shown the way to it. Apart from the incorrigibly fanatical, the general public were looking forward to an amicable settlement, and if this can be brought about by through a judicial process, all the better. Which is why, although there are still so many issues contested in the judgment, needing to be straightened out, there is still a sigh of relief from practically everybody regardless of religious affiliations that there is little or no explosion of destructive energy at the verdict. Some are even optimistic, just as a TV commentator pointed out, that even though the Allahabad High Court judgment may have left many things to be desired, the issue being adjudicated may be heading towards where it deserved to be – just another property dispute in a north Indian town.

There are others who are of the opinion that the case should come to a closure with today’s verdict, and that certain party prolonging the conflict by taking the case to the Supreme Court is unfortunate. The counter to this argument is even more relevant. It says that the court ruling today was actually trying to be politically astute by attempting to please everybody, and also unconsciously falling to the all pervading and dominant ethos of “majoritism”. Disregarded in the process somewhat is the vital attribute of a democracy of resting its fundamentals on the solid platform of constitutionalism. A court judgment from this vantage is about interpreting any particular conflict using the established democratic constitution as the yardstick and not indulging in political arbitration. Perhaps political and social arbitration would have to be ultimate resort in settling this kind of dispute, but it is not for the court of law to resort to this method. This is why the issue is unlikely to see a closure despite the ruling of the Allahabad High Court today, and that there is justification in the aggrieved parties deciding to contest further in the Supreme Court.

Another controversial area is, the verdict gave credence to treating myth and religion as real. Timeless God Lord Ram of the Hindus has in this sense been literally calibrated on a temporal chronological scale. It is almost as if he is a historical character, entitled to private property etc. Religion and religious icons have been thus transformed from the realm of metaphors and symbols, to the temporal and literal. While there is nothing wrong with this, what is questionable is, should it be the court of law, which is the agent for this transformation? Probably this is where the Supreme Court would be called upon to intervene. But as so many observers have pointed out, the Allahabad High Court, even though arguably it may have jumped the briefs of a constitutional democracy, may have indeed shown the way for a larger political and social reconciliation. In an unintended way, by exposing court of law’s limitations in settling long standing, emotional, disputes of the political and religious nature, another strong statement may have become evident that such matters are best settled mutually amongst the disputing parties through a spirit of give and take, rather that look for the legalistic definition of justice in black and white terms. All the same, whatever said and done, there is a sigh of relief that none of the anticipated violence resulted out of the verdict. This may have been because the stronger section got the lion’s share of “justice” and that things may have been a lot different had the balance been tipped the other way. However, it must be admitted that it is yet too early to say anything definitively. In the worst-case scenario, even a spark in the next few days can still plunge the nation into a raging inferno. While we hope that this does not come about, we are of the opinion that the final seal of adjudication must come from the Supreme Court: an intervention which does not undo the Allahabad High Court ruling altogether but puts the adjudication process on the constitutional track. Only this can assure all parties in the conflict are left with a sense of justice done to the best possible extent.


  1. This is an interesting way to look upon it, another property dispute in a north indian town. This does put the problems of Manipur into context. In essence they are property disputes. Sometimes armed insurgents think that what you have is really their property, sometimes the paramilitaries think that, and at other times some sections of Manipur believe other sections are on their property. But then the problems of the Palestinians are just property disputes. Presumably if the Israeli courts ruled that the west bank was illegally possessed given that there is archaeological surveys done by Jews and rich documentation written by Jews stating that God who is apparently a legal entity gave them the land. That would also resolve the problem of the dome of the rock.

    Of course back in the real world.

    Anyway your editorial has reassured me, if I was planning on staying in India for any length of time, Manipur is probably as stable as any other place. And if the Manipuri NGO didn’t do its homework correctly and tried to build a peace ashram over land that was once danced upon by any number of the possible Hindu Gods, or Sanamahi deities or Buddhist avatars, well they’d only have themselves to blame when an incensed mob burnt the place down and claimed it for God’s people because Indian courts clearly are on the side of the Gods.

    So you guys weren’t serious about that secular state thing. Just asking. I’ll make sure the Peace Ashram isn’t built on land sacred to anyone then. I like your honesty but.


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