Babri Masjid was built in 1528 by Babur on the spot which Hindus believe was the birth place of their God incarnate Ram and remained undisturbed during the 350-year span of Mugal Empire. In mid-19th century, trouble started when a separation wall was erected within the courtyard allowing the inner court to be used by Muslims and the outer court by the Hindus.
Legal war over ownership of disputed began in January 1885 Mahant Raghubar Das, claiming to be the Mahant of the Janmasthan, filed a Civil Suit No. 61/280 of 1885 in the Court of Sub Judge of Faizabad for a decree for awarding permission to construct a temple over the Chabutara Janmasthan situated in the complex.
The Sub Judge of Faizabad, Pandit Hari Kishan Singh dismissed the suit on 24 December 1885 with the observation that if permission is given to Hindus for constructing a temple, then one day or the other a criminal case will be started and thousands of people will be killed.
The plaintiff appealed to the district judge, Faizabad on 18th March 1886, which was also dismissed stating that it was too late to remedy the grievance of the petitioner and any innovation could cause more harm and derangement of order than benefit. Mahant pursued the case by filing an appeal in the highest court in the province of Oudh on May 25 1886. The Judicial Commissioner W Young also dismissed the appeal on November 1 1886.
Trouble erupted in the wake of Partition when idols of Ram and others were placed in the central dome of the structure by Hindus. Hindus had claimed that the idols of Ram and Sita had miraculously appeared in the Janmasthan on December 23, 1949. Following this, devotees started thronging the place.
The subsequent legal proceedings led to the lockout of the shrine and the attachment of the site. Additional city magistrate Markanday Singh ordered the attachment saying that the dispute between Hindus and Muslims over the rights of proprietorship and worship in the building may lead to breach of peace. Priya Dutt Ram, chairman, Municipal Board, Faizabad cum Ayodhya was later appointed as receiver on December 29 1949.
Following this, the Muslims were forbidden entry in the mosque. The party, which took over the site forcibly and surreptitiously acquired access to the structure. According to the receiver’s scheme, the Muslims were altogether forbidden to pray in the mosque, and Hindus were permitted to offer Puja and have darshan of the idols from a side gate and make offerings through four pujaris employed by the receiver.
The legal battle saw revival in January 1950 when Gopal Singh Visharad filed a suit in the Court of Civil Judge, Faizabad with a prayer for right to worship and visit the idol of Ram installed at Asthan Janmabhumi, and a perpetual injunction restraining the defendants from removing these idols.
On January 16, 1950, the civil judge NN Chadha granted an interim injunction as prayed for. After a modification application, the order was modified on January 19 1950 restraining the parties by means of the temporary injunction to refrain from removing the idols in question from the site in dispute and from interfering with the puja etc., as at present carried on.
This interim injunction was later confirmed by the civil judge on March 3 1951 with the observation that idols of Bhagwan Ram and others did exist on the site and that worship was being performed by the Hindus including the plaintiff, though under some restrictions. The high court confirmed this order on April 26 1955, in effect sanctifying the forcible dispossession.
The first Civil Suit on the issue was filed by the Sunni Central Waqf Board on December 18 1961 and it was followed by a series of suits. All these suits were grouped together and transferred to the High Court of Allahabad. However, the attachment of the site and permanent injunction by the civil judge in March 1951 continued as such till 1 February 1986, when the locks were removed and Hindus allowed to offer worship in the site.
The Allahabad High Court ordered maintenance of status quo in respect of the disputed structure on August 14, 1989. After the opening of locks, massive mobilisation started by both, Muslims and Hindus. A call was given by the Hindu organisations for kar sewa to begin on 30 October 1990 for building the Ram Temple and it culminated into the demolition of the mosque on December 6, 1992.
The Centre subsequently took over the 67 acres of land around the area and sought the Supreme Court’s opinion on whether there existed a Hindu place of worship before the structure was built. A number of writ petitions, including one by Ismail Faruqui, are filed at Allahabad High Court challenging the court order.
On October 24, 1994, the Supreme Court observed that in the historic Ismail Faruqui case that a mosque was not integral to Islam. The final round of the legal battle began in April 2002, when the Allahabad High Court began hearing to determine who owns the disputed site.
A special full bench of the High Court ordered a three-way division of disputed area between Sunni Waqf Board, the Nirmohi Akhara and Ram Lalla on September 30, 2010: The Supreme Court stayed the Allahabad high court order on May 9, 2011. The apex court constituted a three-judge bench on August 7, 2017 to hear pleas challenging the 2010 verdict of the Allahabad High Court.
Supreme Court starts hearing the civil appeals on February 8, 2018. A plea to refer the case to a five-judge Constitution bench was declined by the apex court on September 27, 2018. However, the top court took a relook into the plea and notified the constitution of a five-judge bench led by the Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi on January 8, 2019.
On January 10, 2019, Justice UU Lalit recuses himself from the case and the top court reschedules the hearing for January 29 before a new bench. The top court on January 25, 2019 reconstituted the five-member Constitution bench to hear the case. The new bench comprises Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justices SA Bobde, DY Chandrachud, Ashok Bhushan and SA Nazeer.
The Supreme Court proposes a court-monitored mediation process between the Hindu and Muslim parties litigating the Ayodhya dispute on February 26, 2019 and gave eight weeks for the Muslim appellants to examine the official translation of Ayodhya case records.
After the mediation panel informed its failure to resolve the issue on August 2, 2019, the court decides to conduct daily hearings from August 6. The Constitution bench begins hearing the cross-appeals filed by the Hindu and Muslim sides challenging the three-way partition of the disputed 2.77 acres of the land on the appointed day.
The apex court completes the marathon 40-day hearing on October 15, 2019 and reserved its order (with inputs from Firstpost and Scroll.in)