|About the Book
Cases of the Ramajanma Bhumi--Babri Masjid had been rotting in the courts for over forty years. The controversy had led to great tension. The structure had been demolished. The President referred the core question to the Supreme Court. In spite of the way the matter had been handled earlier, a great deal was expected of the Supreme Court. After deliberating over the matter for seven months, the Court eventually decided not to decide. Several questions hit one at once. Evidence of various kinds, and of unanswerable authenticity showed that the question that the President had referred to the Supreme Court deserved but one answer: Yes, there was a temple at the site. Would the Court have returned the question unanswered had the evidence weighed as heavily on the other side -- if it was as clear from it that there had been no temple at the site? On the other side, the Court's judgement marked an important reaffirmation: in the eyes of law, the Supreme Court declared, a place of worship like a mosque is a piece of property and as such is subject to the normal civil laws which apply to any other piece of property. Would the Court have reaffirmed this fact as unambiguously if the structure had still been standing? Was the Court's approach unduly legalistic? Did it reflect the colonial predispositions which the Indian elite has internalized? How could one square its observation that the Kar Sevaks who destroyed the building had no religion, that they were just criminals, that an entire community cannot be held responsible for what a few did, with its declaration that Hindu society must carry the cross of consequences on its chest as the ones who destroyed the structure are suspected to be persons professing to practise the Hindu religion ? Had the Court missed an opportunity to help solve a national problem? Or had it been right in keeping itself away from a problem which was in any case not amenable to judicial determination? Is it really the case that the question could only be settled by archaeologists etc., and that the judges, not being specialists in these fields, could not adjudge the evidence? Do they not routinely weigh evidence on matters on which they are not specialists -- they are not surgeons, yet they decide whether a surgeon has been negligent; they are not experts in aviation, yet they affix responsibility for a crash; they are not irrigation engineers, yet they apportion river waters between states; they are not technologists, yet they determine what effects some change in the location or technology of a refinery shall have, on its economics, its throughput, on the environment. Similarly, courts -- the Supreme Court in particular -- routinely ask experts to assist them. Could the judges not have sought the assistance of experts this time round? In any case, was the evidence all that complicated? What sort of evidence would the Court have encountered had it examined the question? The cases got nowhere after being knocked about the courts for 42 years. Will the decision to send them back to the same courts help solve the problem, or does it amount to planting a time-bomb for the future? The immediate question of the temple aside, what general principles emerge from the Court's judgement? Do these take us a step towards true secularism? If so, will the courts, indeed the Supreme Court itself, have the courage to abide by them? Leading thinkers -- a former Chief Justice of a High Court, a senior advocate, an archaeologist, writers, and journalists -- take up these and other questions, and thereby provide a weighty critique of the Supreme Court's judgement.