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Mediation in Ayodhya Case: An order by the Supreme Court, A Judgement for the Nation




Introduction


On 5th March 2019, the Hon’ble Supreme Court gave an order directing the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid Case to be heard by a mediation panel headed by Justice Kalifulla and also comprising of Mr. Sriram Panchu and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar by invoking Section 89 of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908[1] was considered to be one of the exceptional steps taken by the apex court in dealing with such politically delicate matters.


Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid Dispute


The dispute between the two religions can be dated back to a 16th-Century mosque that was demolished by raging Hindu mobs in 1992, sparking riots among the groups that killed around 2,000 people. Many Hindus are of the belief that the Babri Masjid was actually constructed on the ruins of a Hindu temple that was demolished by Muslim invaders. On the other hand, Muslims are of the view that they offered prayers at the mosque until December 1949, when some Hindus placed a statue of Ram in the inner courtyard of the mosque and began to worship them. Over the years since, the Hindus and Muslims went to court many times over who should own and control the site. However, the dispute started to aggravate since the Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi-led Hindu nationalist BJP first came to power in 2014. Since then, India has seen deepening religious and social divisions. The demand for the construction of a Hindu temple on the disputed land had grown extremely loud throughout the nation, and were often sparked by ministers, MPs and leaders from BJP since 2014. However, the decades-old dispute finally reached its conclusion, when a 5 Judge Constitutional Bench of the Supreme Court decided upon the dispute on 9th November 2019 unanimously, keeping in mind the interests of both the parties and the repurcussions that may take place.[2]


Importance of the Supreme Court Order Dated 05.03.19


One of the prime aspects of the order was that the case was sent for mediation for a settlement. This decision made by the court can be considered important for two main reasons –

(1) The scope of Mediation is expanding: Mediation is considered to be an alternate dispute resolution process and is applicable in family and commercial matters only. Mediation was also considered as an option in private property disputes. However, with this order, it can be interpreted as mediation can also be done in high-profile public land and property cases which are also politically and religiously sensitive and have the capability to spark a civil war in the country. This implies the positive authority of the mediation and paints a picture that a solution is possible between two communities by holding peaceful talks and exploring amicable solutions for both the parties.

(2) Mediation as an Alternate Dispute Resolution is growing in popularity in India: Over the 21st Century, there were concerns raised regarding the added burden on the Judiciary and how the Courts are unable to cope up with the speed of the society and the economy and therefore, a need of an alternative method was seen. Mediation and Arbitration were seen as the answer to the problems. However, Mediation never gained as much acceptance as Arbitration. However, with the reference to Mediation in what is arguably the judgement of the year, it can be seen as a positive outlook for the process.

Choosing the right panel for resolution of such disputes is very essential. Thus, due credit should be given to the Constitutional Bench, who chose three mediators, keeping in mind equal representation of both parties and a neutral party expert mediator, who has important experience in the field. Disputes involving religious beliefs and practices require expert individuals, who are well versed with the knowledge of their religion, and can make an attempt in understanding the opposite religion’s point of view and incorporating them in the settlement.[3]


The mediation between the representative parties went on for more than the initial stipulated time. An extension was sought after the eight week period initially allotted by the Hon’ble Supreme Court, and the mediators, in multiple media reports stated that they were positive of a settlement from this Mediation. However, the proceedings did not go as planned by the Mediators. Tensions arose among the parties, when the question of truth arose regarding the issue of who has the first right on the piece of land and on what historical or archaeological.[4] Since, the matter could not be decided by the parties, the mediation process failed. However, the judgment emphasizes heavily on the report sent by the panel of the mediators to the Constitutional Bench.[5]


There is a case for mediation, dialogue and compromise between Hindus and Muslims, but it cannot be done if the idea is to bury the past as if it did not happen. A compromise can only be built on a solid foundation of truth, and only truth can be the basis for genuine reconciliation.[6]


Conclusion


For the likes of all the critics against mediation in such a political sensitive case, the mediation could not be concluded on a positive note. This cannot be concluded as a negative impact on Mediation. On the contrary, it can act as a spark that Mediation required in India, to grow in popularity and solve such disputes, which should never have went to mediation in the first place. Mediation is a process, where the parties themselves decide the outcome of the settlement, keeping in mind their needs and interests. If the parties cannot reach an amicable settlement, the court is always approachable to determine their rights over the dispute. Like the judiciary, mediation is always an option which is available as to the parties to resolve their conflict, irrespective of the stage of the proceedings.[7]


[1]The Code of Civil Procedure (Amendment) Act, 2002, No. 22, Acts of Parliament, 2002, § 89.

[2]Ayodhya dispute: The complex legal history of India’s holy site, BBC News, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-50065277.

[3]Ayodhya, the Babri Masjid, and the Ramjanmabhumi Dispute, Hindu Nationalism, 279–301 (2009).

[4] Sorry but the mediation deal on ram mandir is simply not good enough, Swaraj Yamag, https://swarajyamag.com/politics/sorry-but-the-mediation-deal-on-ram-mandir-is-simply-not-good-enough.

[5] M Siddiq (D) Thr Lrs v. Mahant Suresh Das & Ors.

[6] supra note 4.

[7] Alternative Dispute Resolution: Why It Doesn’t Work and Why It Does, Harvard Business Review, https://hbr.org/1994/05/alternative-dispute-resolution-why-it-doesnt-work-and-why-it-does.


Author Details: Rohan Bangia (Institute of Law, Nirma University, Ahmedabad)

The views of the author are personal only. (if any)


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