Media Trial in Ayodhya Case Must be Carefully Watched

babri masjid

The Ayodhya case is now ready for hearing by the Supreme Court from October 29, 2018. This is happening after a hiatus of almost eight years when the legal proceedings was last heard with a shoddy judgment pronounced by the  Lucknow bench of Allahabad High Court in 2010.

This time when the uninterrupted hearing is going to happen, it’s for sure that this case would attract widespread publicity and media attention. It is necessary to warn on media blabbering as the recent botched up media trial on the SC judgment on the reference of this case was misleading.  Therefore media trial in the run up to the final judgment in the Ayodhya case must be carefully watched.

Court Trial So Far

The Lucknow bench of Allahabad High Court in 2010 gave the dubious judgment that the contentious plot on which Babri masjid once stood ‘belongs one-third to the Muslims ‘to the extent possible’; one-third to the deity and one-third to the Nirmohi Akhara.’

This ruling was unacceptable to Muslim party because a mosque is a mosque otherwise it’s no mosque. They challenged the ruling with an appeal in the Supreme Court. Since the procedural formalities and the paper work were enormous for the preparation of the court battle, an extra ordinary delay took place in the hearing of the case.  The Supreme Court has now set ball rolling and it’s expected that the trial will be speedy.

Earlier this year in March, a three member bench comprising of outgoing Chief Justice of India, Justice Deepak Mishra did some serious efforts hearing the ‘reference’ of this case; “whether a mosque is an essential part of Islam and thus protected by the constitution.” Thereafter a conflicting judgment emerged in the three members (2: 1) and it was not refer to higher bench as prayed by the Muslim party.

According Rajeev Dhavan, the senior counsel for the Muslim appellants in the Ayodhya civil dispute case, the three member bench asked to hear the ‘reference’ first then gave two differing judgments thus refusing to send to the larger bench has put a big question mark on this issue that has a huge relevance on this case.

The Lucknow bench of Allahabad High Court in 1994 through Ismail Faruqui judgment, made a strange judgment that ‘a mosque can lose title by adverse possession (limitation) or acquisition, and in such case there can be no reason to hold that a mosque has a unique or special status and make it immune for acquisition by the prerogative power of the state.’

The dangerous part in Faruqui’s judgment was: “A mosque is not an essential part of the practice of the religion of Islam and namaz (prayer) by Muslims can be offered anywhere even in open.”

This judgment was demeaning for Muslims because it devalues their constitutional rights of prayer in a mosque and derecognizes all mosques from constitutional protection guaranteed under article 25 of the constitution.

At the heart of the Faruqui’s judgment was the flawed phrase; “comparative significance” of the un-built temple and the destroyed Babari mosque. In simple words, the judgment said that Muslims should forfeit their claim as Babari masjid cannot be compared to the Lord Ram birth place, irrespective of whether Lord Ram existed or was born on exactly that spot.

This judgment had pre-emptively knocked the bottom out of the Muslim case. It gave the Hindu group a license to trespass into what essentially is a mosque and deny the Muslims the right to prayer the claim of its ownership.

The Muslim party was obviously unhappy with the judgment and had gone on an appeal in the Supreme Court with a request referring this matter to a seven member bench.

During the argument advocate Rajeev Dhavan, cited several cases to point out that an ‘essential practice’ cannot be decided by the court without a detailed examination of the beliefs, tenets and practice of the faith in question and only a larger bench is competent to address such matter.

He called the three member bench judgment denying reference to higher bench as ‘fatally flawed.’ He held the view that since the sacrality of the faith of Muslims in India was at stake, who are the third largest Muslim population in the world, certainly this issue has to be resolved first by a larger bench.

Media Trial and the SC judgment

The media trail on the Supreme Court judgment reference of the subject “whether a mosque is an essential part of Islam and thus protected by the constitution” was outlandish.

In order to generate public interests on the Ayodha case, the media twisted the facts and presented to the public that the Supreme Court of India is now going to legislate whether 1.8 billion Muslims of the world can pray in a Mosque or not?

In the build up to the SC judgment on the ‘reference,’ it created a hype turning facts into fiction to churn out a juicy story.   Since it was an emotional issue, there were large followers for this news and the media trial was just for wringing enough money from this news story.

The damaging Media trial was misleading, instilling fear among the Muslims that there is little hope for them even from judiciary in India. The mischief of the media trail was blatant as without understanding the complexity of the matter it was explaining a different version that was not the case.

The Apex court was actually looking at the 1994 judgment on the legality of the government to acquire the disputed land in Ayodhya. The Supreme Court refusal to refer the case to the larger bench indicated that the further elaboration on the ‘reference’ is not necessary at the moment and the actual trail of the case must begin.

What media was trying to say that by refusing to refer to a larger bench the SC was endorsing the 1994 judgment. There was sarcasm in the media trial as it was evident when it brought different kinds of opinion on the TV debate, with one person saying that all the mosques should be locked in India and henceforth Muslims should pray in their houses. They can download the ‘Azan App’ on their mobile phones and individually hear the Azan and pray accordingly.

This was too much playing to the Hindu fundamentalists’ gallery, making Supreme Court as an alibi and roughing the sentiments of the Muslims.  The Muslim community was very upset on the media trial and those watching such TV debate wondered why such intimidating content was allowed to go on air and why not it’s subjected to any legal scrutiny.

The bottom line of this story is media today has little regard to ethical journalism and can go to any extent to make money. This is a dangerous trend and before it does more harm it should be subjected to legal scrutiny.

A statutory should be brought in to record all the news bulletins and news-views programmes. Then a separate judicial court should be established to file cases on the objectionable news and view content by certain media outlet. And any one indulging in in creating enmity among people or playing foul with the judicial system should be simply taken off from the air.

Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at [email protected]


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