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Ayodhya Dispute- I: Fighting Eminent Historians

Ayodhya Dispute- I: Fighting Eminent 


Ayodhya Dispute- I: Fighting Eminent Historians



In the legal fight to reclaim the Ram Janmabhumi in Ayodhya, the discussion on Left Historians is a must.




In the legal fight to reclaim the Ram Janmabhumi in Ayodhya, the discussion on Left Historians is a must. While the perception created is that the participation of these eminences was to add nuance to the subject, nothing is far from truth. When it comes to pushing and setting a narrative on Ram Janmabhumi, Jawahar Lal Nehru University (JNU), Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) and couple of other university professors, posing as historians, have played a large role. They appeared on behalf of the Babri Masjid Action Committee (BMAC) as experts, which in itself is not an issue by any means, nor is the fact that many of them are card carrying members of communist parties, but it is important to examine whether they have adhikara i.e. competency in this matter.

I would want to take this forward in two parts – first discuss the main arguments, pronouncements and testimonies of these Marxist Historians and archaeologists in this matter, and then highlight in second part the struggles and milestones achieved by the Historians on the Ram Janmabhumi side.

The stand of left historians had been driven by ideology from the start. The attacks and commentaries by them in publications, which went on to create the popular anti – Ram Janmabhumi mandir narrative were not based on evidence, facts or historicity, but on creating an emotional appeal for Babri masjid. The main arguments in almost all the writings by this cabal had more or less the following declarations:

  • Rama is a mythic figure, belief cannot be legitimate history
  • Identification of present day Ayodhya with Valmiki’s Ayodhya is incorrect
  • Variants of Rama story are proof that Valmiki version is not accurate
  • Buddhists texts state Kosala and not Ayodhya as Ram Janmabhumi
  • Ayodhya is a sacred place of Buddhists and Jains and not Hindus to that extent
  • Ayodhya has not been a place of pilgrimage for Hindus for a very long time
  • There was no Rama cult before thirteenth century
  • Babri masjid was built on virgin land
  • The remnants discovered from beneath the structure are of non-religious nature
  • The architectural remnants are brought from elsewhere and planted
  • Possibly an idgah or qanati mosque lays below Babri masjid
  • Babri masjid does not stand on birth place of Rama
  • There is no reference to demolition of Ram Janmabhumi temple at Ayodhya before nineteenth century
  • It is an assumption that Muslim rulers were invariably and naturally opposed to the sacred places of Hindus
  • It is nothing but colonial scholarship and visual media (Ramayana on Doordarshan) projections
  • Ram Janmabhumi area should be declared a national monument

As the case progressed, the positions kept on changing. The archeological artifacts, literary evidences and documentations kept them busy – partly in trying to refute the evidence, but largely in making a louder emotional case for national monument, which they thought is the solution in this case.

What was being evaded through the emotional appeal in national and international editorials was the central most important property rights issue: Did Babri Masjid replace a pre-existing Hindu temple?

Four eminent BMAC historians – R. S. Sharma, D.N. Jha, Suraj Bhan and Athar Ali – insisted that they be treated as independent historians, but the VHP team refused to agree to this demand. There were evidence exchanges (details and milestones of which we will discuss in the next part) but it helped little in shaking the determination of the proponents of Babri Masjid. The coterie kept repeating the same raga with little variation in op-eds. The gang had power and the establishment supported it. What the gang did not have was solid evidence on their side or the scholarship to refute the pro – Ram Janmabhumi evidences.

The court observed ‘lack of requirement to qualify (them) as expert’, ‘reckless and irresponsible statements’, ‘lack of proper investigation’ and ‘failure to inspire confidence’ etc. from their court testimonies. Counter questioning kept bursting the bubble of their knowledge and also refuted all false claims and opinions. Judgment from Honorable Justice Sudhir Agarwal is the longest – 21 volume – 5000 pages – and is a gold mine of interesting information. In this part, since the focus is on showcasing the humongous inadequacy and complete dishonesty of the Pro-Babri experts, nine surreal testimonies from the Waqf board brigade are offered as examples:

1. Suvira Jaiswal, Former Professor of JNU. She did her Ph.D. under R.S. Sharma.

“I have read nothing about Babri Mosque. I did not study thoroughly, therefore, I cannot say as to when Babri Mosque came into existence. I cannot say as to what was there at the site before coming into existence of Babri Mosque.

In my knowledge, no such evidence is found which may indicate that Babri mosque was constructed after demolishing Sri Rama’s temple.

Whatever knowledge I gained with respect to disputed site, was on the basis on newspaper or what the others told, i.e., from the report of historians. By historians’ report I mean ‘Historians Report to Nation.’

It is correct to say that I am giving statement on oath regarding Babri mosque without any probe and not on basis of my knowledge, rather I am giving statement on the basis of my opinion.”

[Page 3634 – 3639 para 3617]

2. S.C. Mishra, Satyawati College, Delhi University. He did his Ph.D. under D.N. Jha

“I have heard of Jaziya tax. At present I fail to recollect when and for what purpose it was levied. I do not remember that the Jaziya was levied only on Hindus.

It is wrong to say that Aurangzeb built the Gyanvapi mosque by demolishing half of the Kashi Vishwanath temple.”

[Page 3596 para 3602]

“I have read many books written from the time of Babarnama to 1989, regarding construction of Babri mosque. I do not remember the name of any book right now.”

[Page 3599 para 3602]

“I have done deep study about Babri mosque, after the beginning of this dispute… In my studies no evidence was found about the existence of any temple at this place.”

[Page 663 para 471]

3. Shireen Moosvi, Professor AMU

“In my view, to ascertain whether it is temple or mosque, it was not necessary to see the disputed site. I had historical literary evidence, on going through which, I reached the conclusion that this disputed structure was mosque or mosque was not constructed demolishing temple.”

[Page 3641-3645 para 3627]

“..I had deciphered the epigraph on the disputed site between 1975 and 1980… The study of those epigraphs was not necessary for my research.”

[Page 1518-1520 para 1365]

“During my studies I have not come across any such evidence or proof of medieval period to suggest that Babri mosque had been built by destroying any temple.”

[Page 693 para 483]

4. Sushil Srivastava, Ph. D. Allahabad University

“From the research carried out by me, I found no such evidence regarding this disputed site to suggest that this mosque had been built after demolishing temple.”

[Page 666 para 473]

“Neither I can read nor write Persian. I can also not read Arabic… I have no sound knowledge of Sanskrit also. It is correct that my father-in-law (S.R. Farooqui) helped me a lot in reading and writing…”

[Page 1487 para 1350]

“I have no knowledge of Epigraphy. I have no knowledge of Numismatic. I did not acquire any specialization in archaeology. I did not acquire any knowledge about survey of land… The title of my book is ‘The Disputed Mosque, A Historical Inquiry’… Except this book, there is no other research of mine nor published, about medieval history.”

[Page 1495-1496]

“It was only after 1988 publication that my luck brightened… Became reader and was conferred Ph.D. degree, Sri Wahiuddin Malick was the Vice Chancellor of Allahabad University. It is also correct that, at that time the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh was Mulayam Singh Yadav.”

[Page 1488]

“…my wife is Mehar Afshan Farooqui.. I have adopted Islam religion at the time of my Nikah… I was given new name Sajid. Presently, I am neither a Hindu nor a Muslim… I made nomenclature of my children in Persian language.”

[Page 1504-1505]

“It is true that after 11 years of continuous efforts, I secured Ph.D. degree in 1989.”

[Page 1505]

5. Suraj Bhan, Retd. Professor, Kurukshetra University. Sent report to ICHR, then headed by Prof. Irfan Habib on the disputed site. In 2003, he along with the other 3 BMAC historians and Irfan Habib questioned the objectivity of the ASI in its ability to conduct “rigorous, scientific and impartial excavations”.

“.. I did not try to know what is written in the Ramayana by Tulsi Das…”

“I did not read what features a mosque may not have. I am not a specialist in epigraphy and numismatics… I am not a geologist… I am not a student of History… I am not a specialist in architecture. My specialty was field archaeology.”

[Page 3628-3631]

“Nobody forbade me from observing the potteries in the pottery yard but no archaeologist was there to help me in my study.”

[Page 3953 para 3826]

“I did not make any study of any recorded history with regard to the disputed subject.”

[Page 3633 para 3615]

At the time of my exploration at the disputed site, Prof. Irfan Habib was Chairman of the said institution. It is true that we had received grant for the exploration of the disputed site through this very institution.

[Page 4848]

6. R. C. Thakran, Delhi University. He was a student of Suraj Bhan and also part of the coterie that attacked ASI in 2003

“In newspapers and magazines, I have read Babur had built a mosque in Ayodhya. As a historian, I consider newspapers and magazines to be a source of knowledge… I did not certify the authenticity of these articles and monographs. This fact has already been certified by the historians. I have not read a book of any historian in this regard.”

[Page 1538 para 537]

“I myself never did any excavation in any field… It will be wrong to say that I am not a field archaeologist; rather, I am just a table archaeologist … I have not studied in any particular book on this subject. I have not gained knowledge of it in any science laboratory too but I have this knowledge on the basis of my experience and study.”

[Page 3853-3856 para 3800]

7. D. Mandal, Retired Professor, Allahabad University. He is not a Ph.D. but many Ph.D. were awarded under him. He was a communist Party card holder and wrote book Ayodhya: Archaeology After Demolition, 1993 which is based chiefly on the photograph depicting excavation undertaken by Prof. BB Lal. Sketches used in the book were hypothetical, he told the court later.

“I never visited Ayodhya.

I do not have any specific knowledge of history of Babur’s reign.

Whatsoever little knowledge I have about Babur is only that Babur was ruler of 16th century.”

[Page 3646-3647 para 3628]

“Since it was not the issue of my research to see whether these stones can be part of the mosque, I did not make any research on them, and for this very reason I did not make any research to see whether they may be of the temple… It is true that human figures are engraved on the stones shown in paper nos., 118C-1/44&46.”

[Page 3652-3653 para 3628]

“I have no knowledge that this square place was used as ‘Vedi’ of ‘Yagyashala’. In this behalf I would like to say that no archaeological evidence has been found about this place being the ‘vedi’ of ‘yagya’.”

“I neither know the meaning of ‘yagya’ nor of ‘vedi’.”

[Page 3848 ]

8. Ashok Dutta, Calcutta University. He was part of the eight member team of Waqf and Left Historians that questioned ASI capabilities in 2003.

“…As an archaeologist at least I have that amount of knowledge to differentiate between mosque and temple.”

“I don’t have any idea whether this type of stone slabs having decorative motif were used in the mosque or not.”

[Page 4193-4194 para 3913]

“As I have mentioned that the Muslim people do not believe in idol worship, hence there is no question of associating terracotta figurine with Muslim culture.

Makar Pranal is one part of Hindu temple architecture.

I am not very sure whether Makar Pranal has any association with mosque or not.”

[Page 4260 para 3953]

9. Supriya Varma, Ph. D. from JNU. She had done her Ph.D. under Prof Shireen Ratnagar, JNU who in turn had written introduction to Prof. Mandal’s book.

I think very categorically it is very difficult to say that some of the finds of ASI relate to Hindu religious structures because these finds could well have been part of palaces, Buddhist structure, Jain structure and Islamic structure.”

[Page 3868 para 3806]

“It is wrong to say that use of ‘Yaksh’ or ‘Yakshi’ is only limited to Hindu Dharmashastra. In fact, it is also associated with Buddhist religion.”

“I cannot say whether the word ‘Yaksh’ or ‘Yakshi’ is referred or mentioned in any religious book of Buddhism.”

[Page 4257-4258 para 3957]

These and several other testimonies which are in public domain, highlight how the cabal for their ideological agenda, tampered with history and tried to create a false narrative yet again. This is recorded in the history of our times as academicians pulling huge con with the religious, cultural sentiments and property rights of the Hindus. The attempt to manufacture consent was partially successful too, but the heroes from the Pro – Ram Janmabhumi side put a great fight, details of which, we will discuss in the next part.


Jain, Meenkashi 2013 Rama and Ayodhya, Aryan Book International

Decision of Hon’ble Special Full Bench hearing Ayodhya Matters,

Disclaimer: The facts and opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. IndiaFacts does not assume any responsibility or liability for the accuracy, completeness, suitability, or validity of any information in this article.



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Babri demolition: How HC verdict discredited 'eminent' historians


By R Vaidyanathan

It runs to more than 8,000 pages and it contains is a marvelous set of documents on the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri case. On the 20th anniversary of the demolition, it is worth looking at some aspects of the judgment delivered by the full bench of the Allahabad High Court in September 2012.

The judgment, which awarded two parts of the disputed land to Hindu groups and one to the Muslim one, is now being contested by the parties in the Supreme Court, but it offers an extraordinary insight in to our culture, history, and civilisational ethos. It dwells at length on Persian sources, German writings, French observations, Urdu literature and, of course, Sanskrit evidence. It deals with archeology, history, linguistics, anthropology, zoology, literature, the puranas, the jataka tales and many other subjects and disciplines.

The sweep of the judgment and the canvas covered is mind-boggling and it makes one proud of our judiciary. This judgment will be quoted discussed and dissected by legal as well as academic experts for several decades.

But we shall not discuss the judgment’s core aspects, and focus instead on what it has to say on our “eminent historians” who were shown to be not so eminent, and their attitudes fairly unacademic.

Many “independent experts”, historians and archeologists appeared on behalf of the Sunni Waqf Board but in the end the special bench of three judges unanimously dismissed the objections raised by them about the ruins of a temple under the demolished structure. It was Justice Sudhir Agarwal who put their claims to judicial scrutiny.

Interestingly many of these “experts” had deposed twice in the court — once before the ASI excavations and another after. Before the excavations they asserted that there was no temple beneath the disputed structure and after it was dug up they began to claim that what was unearthed was a mosque or stupa. Not only that, they found themselves withering under judicial scrutiny in spite of writing signed articles and issuing pamphlets and long public letters.

The judge asked pointed queries which might never been asked by their students.

The cross-examination covers several pages and a gripping reading. It shows the levels to which our academics have fallen and become hand maidens of the political machinery. Let us look at some of their statements, and how they do nothing to enhance their profession’s reputation.

Babri demolition: How HC verdict discredited eminent historians

Activists of the Bajrang Dal Party hold torches while standing behind a model of Ram Temple on the 14th anniversary of the demolition of the Babri Masjid. AFP

Supriya Verma an, “expert” who challenged the excavations done by the ASI, had not read the radar survey report on ground penetration that led to the court order for excavation. Verma and Jaya Menon, another “expert,” were not present at the time of actual excavations but alleged that pillar bases at the excavated sites were planted.

Suvira Jaiswal says: “Whatever knowledge I gained with respect to the disputed site is based on newspaper reports or what others told.” She also confessed that she “prepared a report on the Babri dispute after reading newspaper reports and on the basis of discussion with my medieval history expert in my department”.

Jaiswal made an important clarification: “I am not giving (my) statement on oath regarding Babri Mosque without any probe and not on the basis of my knowledge; rather I am giving the statement on the basis of my opinion.”

When opinion can be history why are they all screaming that "faith" cannot be an equally relevant criterion?

Archaeologist Shereen Ratnagar admitted she did not have any “field” experience as far as Babri was concerned and had written an “introduction” to the book of another “expert” who deposed before the court, namely Prof D Mandal. This expert witness for the Waqf Board admitted he wrote his “Ayodhya: Archaeology after Demolition” without even visiting Ayodhya and with an eye to the presidential reference to the Supreme Court. Mandal also admitted that “Whatsoever little knowledge I have of Babur is only that Babur was (a) ruler of the 16th century. Except for this I do not have any knowledge of Babur.” The judge, Agarwal, was sufficiently moved to say about Mandal that “the statements made by him in cross-examination show the shallowness of his knowledge on the subject”.



Suraj Bhan was providing evidence based on medieval history but another expert of Muslim parties, namely Shireen Musavi, says that Bhan is an archeologists and not a historian.

The ASI report submitted to the court after an excavation of the site had brushed aside the so-called Historians’ Report to the Nation authored by RS Sharma, M Athar Ali, DN Jha and Suraj Bhan, released in May 1991. This document was a plea to the government of India “to include impartial historians in the process of forming judgment on historical facts”. As an example of this “impartial” history, it was argued that “the full blown legend of the destruction of a temple at the site of Rama’s birth and Sita ki Rasoi is as late as the 1850s. Since then what we get is merely the progressive reconstruction of imagined history based on faith.” But Bhan confessed that the grandly titled Historians’ Report to the Nation was written under “pressure” in six weeks and “without going through the record of the excavation by BB Lal”.

Shireen Musavi suggested that “the legend of Ayodhya being the birthplace of Rama is found from the 17th century, prior to which there is no legend about Rama’s birthplace in medieval history”. However, during cross-examination, Musavi admitted: “It is correct that in Sikh literature there is a tradition that Guru Nanak had visited Ayodhya, had darshan of Ram Janmasthan and had bathed in the River Saryu.”

Prof Mandal retired from the Department of Ancient History and Archaeology, Allahabad University. He was appointed on an ad hoc basis as Lecturer in 1972 but prior to that he claimed to have worked as exploration assistant since 1960. Initially he appeared as an expert to depose that there was no archaeological evidence to show either the existence of any temple at the disputed site or that a temple was demolished before construction of the disputed structure. The statements made by him in cross-examination show the shallowness of his knowledge and provide a sample about all these “eminences”

A few of his quotes:  “I never visited Ayodhya”. “I do not have any specific knowledge of the history of Babur's reign.” “Whatsoever little knowledge I have about Babur is only that Babur was the ruler of the 16th century. Except for this I do not have any knowledge of Babur. I do not have knowledge of anything in 2nd Para of the editorial preface to my book (exhibit 63) in which Romila Thapar has written that Vishwa Hindu Parishad, BJP and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, for the first time, raised the issue of the Babri Masjid being located on the place which was earlier Rama's birth place. I also do not know whether or not it is correctly written on page 10 of the aforesaid preface that Ayodhya is a site of pilgrimage for adherents of Ramanand school.” “The Communist Party issues a red card, and I am its holder. It is true that I have no faith in religion.”

Further: “It is true that I have not seen the disputed building as yet. I did not make any physical investigation of stone used in inscriptions carved out in the disputed building. Likewise, I also did not make physical investigation of basalt stone.” “My finding in my book (exhibit 63) is not based  on any article. My finding is based on materials written in this connection and given in the book (paper no.118C-1/35) filed in Suit No.5/89 and chiefly on the photograph (paper no118C-1/36) depicting the excavation undertaken by Prof BB Lal near the Babri Mosque. It is also correct to say that I drew findings, taking the brief report of BB Lal, as given in paper no.118C-1/35 (Ram Janambhumi: Ayodhya) and the reproduction of the photograph taken by him to be sacrosanct.” “Many of my colleagues inspired me to write the book (exhibit 63).”

Mandal also said: “It is also true that I had requested one of them to write an introduction to my book, and the colleague thus requested was Miss Shereen Ratnagar.”

The learned Judge rightly observes: “A bare perusal of the above makes it clear that he virtually made a critical analysis of the book that is Paper No.118C1/36, a small booklet published by Prof BB Lal and beyond that made no further study/research, etc. Only on that basis, he wrote a book, and analysed the belief of the people whether the disputed structure was constructed after demolishing a temple or that there existed any temple of 11th or 12th century which was demolished before its construction. The own admissions and clarification this witness has given, we find that the entire opinion of this witness is short of the requirement under Section 45 of the Evidence Act, 1872, to qualify as an opinion of an expert which may be considered relevant on a fact in issue, by this court. “

The list goes on. Justice Agarwal refers to the signed statement of these experts and notes that “instead of helping in making a cordial atmosphere, it tends to create complications, conflict and controversy. The experts carry weight with public opinion and conclude that ‘one cannot say that though I had made a statement I am not responsible for its authenticity since it is not based on my study or research, but what I have learnt from what others have uttered.”

Clearly, the expertise of eminences has been exposed. If such a thing had happened in physics or chemistry or medicine or accounting, the concerned person would have been taken to task by their professional associations. Unfortunately, the social science disciplines in India are under the grip of Left charlatans and they are not accountable to any. It is important that they are made accountable. Many of the things they said hardened positions on both sides, and they cannot now wriggle out and claim what they said was not their expert opinion.

Their respective universities would do well to initiate action against them or take other disciplinary steps to improve the reputation of the profession of historian. The textbooks written or edited by them for schools and colleges should be revoked and other books of less eminent — but more honest — historians should be prescribed

They need to be made accountable and brought to book, howsoever highly networked or “eminent” they are. Is the HRD ministry, and various universities, listening?

The author is Professor of Finance and Control, IIM Bangalore, The views are personal and do not reflect that of his organisation.

Updated Date: Dec 06, 2012 16:05:57 IST



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Righting the historians’ wrongs


back to issue

WHEN the history of the Ayodhya movement comes to be written, there will be the inevitable search for heroes and villains. The selection will be contentious: one man’s hero is, after all, another man’s villain. At this interim stage, when the Allahabad High Court verdict of September 2010 has opened a small window of opportunity for an amicable settlement that leaves no side completely dissatisfied – an opportunity that, alas, won’t be readily seized – it would help to examine how the beauty parade of the good, the bad and the ugly has been viewed from the bench. How do India’s historians fare under intense judicial scrutiny?

An exploration of Justice Sudhir Agarwal’s voluminous judgment is pertinent in the context of a determined bid by India’s vocal left-wing intelligentsia to rubbish the judgment as a departure from modernity, constitutionalism and the rule of law. In a statement by 61 ‘intellectuals’ led by historian Romila Thapar, that includes the cream of the left-liberal establishment and sundry art dealers, photographers and food critics, the judgment was attacked for dealing yet ‘another blow to India’s secular fabric.’

At the heart of the fury of the ‘intellectuals’ is the court’s assault on the reputation of the clutch of ‘eminent historians’ – Arun Shourie’s sarcastic usage – who have dictated the ‘secular’ discourse on the Ayodhya dispute. The court questioned the competence of various ‘expert’ witnesses and cast doubts on their intellectual integrity.

It was the Archaeological Survey of India report of court monitored excavations of the disputed site in 2003 which set the cat among the pigeons. After exhaustive hearings of ‘all possible angles in the matter so that there may not remain a grievance’, the High Court accepted the ASI report which Dr R.C. Thakran of Delhi University, an expert witness for the Sunni Waqf Board, dubbed ‘an unprofessional document full of gross distortions, one-sided presentation of evidence, clear falsifications and motivated inferences.’

Thakran’s indignation was understandable. In its conclusion, the ASI submitted that ‘a massive structure with at least three structural phases and three successive buildings attached with it’ was located at the disputed 2.77 acres in Ayodhya. The scale of the buildings indicated that they were for ‘public’ functions. ‘It was over the top of this construction that during the early 16th century the disputed structure was constructed directly resting over it.’ In simple language, the ASI report confirmed a local belief in Awadhi that the 16th century Babri Masjid had been constructed on the site of a pre-existing public building which, presumably, could be a temple.

Without mincing words, the ASI report had brushed aside the so-called Historians Report to the Nation authored by Professors R.S. Sharma, M. Athar Ali, D.N. Jha and Suraj Bhan released in May 1991. This document was a plea to the Government of India ‘to include impartial historians in the process of forming judgment on historical facts.’ As an example of this ‘impartial’ history, it was argued that, ‘The full blown legend of the destruction of a temple at the site of Rama’s birth and Sita ki Rasoi is as late as the 1850s. Since then what we get is merely the progressive reconstruction of imagined history based on faith.’


The champions of ‘impartial’ history had clearly overstated their case by dating the dispute to the mid-19th century. Subsequently, as more research pointed otherwise, the goal post was quietly shifted. In her deposition as an expert for the Waqf Board, Aligarh historian Shireen Moosvi suggested that, ‘The legend of Ayodhya being the birthplace of Rama is found from the 17th century, prior to which there is no legend about Rama’s birthplace in medieval history.’ However, during cross-examination Moosvi also admitted: ‘It is correct that in Sikh literature there is a tradition that Guru Nanak had visited Ayodhya, had darshan of Ram janmasthan and had bathed in the River Saryu.’ Guru Nanak, it may be added, was a contemporary of the first Moghul emperor.

A horrific historical misrepresentation was sought to be covered up without the slightest show of contrition.

A curious feature of the 1991 intervention which emerged from Suraj Bhan’s cross-examination was the disinclination of the ‘impartial historians’ to undertake any field work. In his deposition, Bhan stated: ‘I gave this report in May. I might have gone to Ayodhya in February-March…In my first deposition I may have stated that I had gone to the disputed site before June 1991 for the first time.’

Nor was Bhan the only armchair archaeologist unconcerned with empirical detail. Echoing Moosvi, the medieval historian who felt that ‘to ascertain whether it is temple or mosque, it was not necessary to see the disputed site,’ Professor D. Mandal, another expert witness for the Waqf Board, admitted he wrote his Ayodhya: Archaeology After Demolition without even visiting Ayodhya and with an eye to influencing the presidential reference to the Supreme Court. Mandal also admitted that, ‘Whatsoever little knowledge I have of Babur is only that Babur was (a) ruler of the 16th century. Except for this I do not have any knowledge of Babur.’ Justice Agarwal was sufficiently moved to say about Mandal that, ‘The statements made by him in cross-examination show the shallowness of his knowledge on the subject.’ Yet, as the controversy raged through the nineties, Mandal’s book was cited as evidence of the spuriousness of the claims by Ram Bhakts.


Shallowness and superficiality are themes that recur. Bhan confessed that the grandly titled Report to the Nation was written under ‘pressure’ in six weeks and ‘without going through the record of the excavation by B.B. Lal.’

Lal, a renowned archaeologist who had undertaken excavations in Ayodhya had, in any case, by then been firmly located in the camp of those unable to distinguish between history and mythology.

The lapse would have put an undergraduate to shame but not the ‘impartial’ historians. During her cross-examination, Suvira Jaiswal, another Waqf Board expert historian, confessed: ‘I have read nothing about Babri Mosque… Whatever knowledge I gained with respect to the disputed site was on the basis of newspapers or …from the report of historians.’ Sushil Shrivastava, a ‘historian’ whose bizarre book on Ayodhya secured favourable media publicity and is still cited approvingly by CPI(M)’s Sitaram Yechuri, admitted he had ‘very little knowledge of history’, didn’t know Arabic, Persian, epigraphy or calligraphy and had got translations done by his father-in-law.

Justice Agarwal was stunned by Shrivastava’s ‘dishonesty’.

Once the ASI excavations confirmed that the Babri Masjid wasn’t built on virgin land, ‘impartial’ history turned to imaginative history. It was suggested by Suraj Bhan that what lay beneath the mosque was an ‘Islamic structure of the Sultanate period.’ D. Mandal went one better suggesting that after the Gupta period ‘this archaeological site became desolate for a long time.’ The reason: floods. Supriya Verma contested the ‘Hindu’ character of recovered artefacts from the Kushan, Shunga and Gupta periods – something even Bhan and Mandal had admitted to. These, she said, ‘could well have been part of palaces, Buddhist structure, Jain structure, Islamic structure.’ There were also stray suggestions, never proven or pressed, that the ASI had wilfully falsified and suppressed data.


The court was not amused. Dismissing the unsubstantiated allegations: ‘We find on the contrary, pre-determined attitude of the witness (Suraj Bhan) against ASI which he has admitted. Even before submission of ASI report and its having been seen by the witness, he formed (an) opinion and expressed his views…’ Justice Agarwal was ‘surprised to see in the zeal of helping …the parties in whose favour they were appearing, these witnesses went ahead …and wrote a totally new story’ of a mosque under a mosque.

The judge admitted to being unaware of what constitutes ‘scientific’ history in India. In her deposition as an expert in Ancient History, Suvira Jaiswal made an important clarification: ‘I am giving statement on oath regarding Babri Mosque without any probe and not on the basis of my knowledge; rather I am giving the statement on the basis of my opinion.’

She was articulating the prevailing philosophy of history writing in contemporary India. The court recoiled in horror at the ‘dearth of logical thinking’ and the underlying cronyism behind the public stands of India’s ‘eminent’ historians. Quoting a British Law Lord from an 1843 judgment, it suggested their expertise was ‘the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen’ – harsh words that civil society needs to remember the next occasion the ‘impartial’ historians strut on the public stage.


The issue, unfortunately, is not confined to the (mis)use of history in public controversies. The Allahabad High Court also heard the deposition of one Suresh Chandra Mishra, Reader in History of Satyawati College, Delhi University, who it may be presumed teaches the subject to impressionable undergraduates. Mishra boasted to the court that he had located the precise spot of Ram’s birth which, presumably, wasn’t where the disputed structure stood. However, since determining the historicity of Ram was beyond the court’s remit, he was asked some questions that could have a bearing on the dispute, since he admitted that ‘Babur was my favourite subject.’

Some of his answers are worth reproducing for the light they throw on the quality of history that is being dished out to students. ‘In my knowledge,’ Mishra asserted, ‘there was no Vishwanath temple in Kashi 100 years ago… I do not think that the Gyanvapi mosque was constructed by demolishing half of Kashi Vishwanath temple.’ Mishra admitted to having ‘read many books from the time of Baburnama to 1989 regarding the construction of the Babri mosque. I do not remember the name of any book. I must have read it.’

At this point, counsel must have amused themselves quizzing this so-called ‘expert’ about his knowledge of medieval India. ‘I have heard of jeziya tax’, declared Mishra reassuringly, although ‘I fail to recall under whose rule or at which time the jeziya tax was imposed… and for what purpose it was levied.’


In October 2010, a court in Normandy ordered the prosecution of the Mayor of the small French hamlet of Gonneville-sur-Mer for his refusal to take down a photograph of Marshal Philippe Petain, the head of the Vichy Government from 1940 to 1944. The photograph had, along with photographs of other presidents, hung on a wall in the Council chamber for the past 70 years. Earlier in the year, however, a visitor claimed to have been offended by the photograph and reported the matter to the League Against Racism and Anti-Semitism, which in turn initiated proceedings.

The court ruled against the Mayor. It accepted the prosecution plea that Petain was ‘the very embodiment’ of a regime that, apart from collaborating with the occupation forces, was also xenophobic and virulently anti-Semitic. The judgment also coincided with new revelations that Petain personally had a hand in the laws that excluded Jews from French public life after 1940.

The mayor and his council didn’t contest the ignominy associated with Petain and the Vichy regime. Petain, he argued, couldn’t be written out of the pages of history: ‘The figure of Marshal Petain has its place in the Town Hall, as do memories of the most painful and most glorious moments in our history.’

The mayor may well have been echoing General Charles De Gaulle, the man whose uncompromising resistance to the Vichy regime and the German occupation allowed France to emerge with its honour intact after Liberation. In a speech during a visit to the town of Vichy on 18 April 1959, De Gaulle struck an emotional note: ‘…history is a continuous thread. We are one people and whatever ups and downs we may have suffered, whatever events we may have seen, we are the great nation of France…I say this in Vichy. The past is finished. Long live Vichy! Long live France! Long live the Republic!’


This scarcely-remembered speech (quoted by historian Henry Rousso in his much-acclaimed The Vichy Syndrome) didn’t however permeate into the innards of France. The awkward reality of a vast section of patriotic French people having endorsed Petain’s truce with the Germans as a way out of further humiliation is undeniable. Contemporary accounts suggest that till the tide of war changed with the German defeat in Stalingrad, the average French person accepted Petain’s National Revolution as a viable approach to restoring national honour. Certainly, Vichy stalwarts like Petain, Pierre Laval and Robert Brassilach – all three convicted of treason after Liberation – perceived themselves as fiercely patriotic.

The awkwardness of having adjusted to the short-lived German occupation and ending up on the wrong side of history has troubled a large section of France. This may explain why, till very recently, embarrassed silence greeted attempts to probe too deep into the Vichy experience. In his own way, the Mayor of Gonneville-sur-Mer has challenged this evasion.

There may be few apparent similarities between the French discomfiture with Petain and Germany’s handling of its Nazi past. Ever since the second Auschwitz trials in 1977, Germany has unambiguously owned up to its responsibility for the Holocaust and other horrors. There have been German apologies to Israel, Poland, Russia, and countries where the swastika flew at some point during World War II. Indeed the earnestness with which Germany has atoned for its Nazi past once prompted Avi Primor, a former Israeli ambassador to Germany, to once ask: ‘Where in the world has one ever seen a nation that erects memorials to immortalise its own shame?’


The willingness of Germany to confront its troubled past and yet not be overwhelmed by it took another leap in October 2010 when the German Historical Museum in Berlin opened its exhibition, ‘Hitler and the Germans – Nation and Crime’. The exhibition addresses the issue that, until the late-1960s, many Germans were unwilling to confront: that Hitler would have been nothing had he not received the enthusiastic support of the German people. The curators deliberately kept the exhibits prosaic. The idea was to show the extent to which both ordinary Germans and the elite accepted Hitler and deified him.

There is, of course, a real danger that in being obsessed with confronting the inheritance of the Third Reich, the other facets of ‘German genius’ may be overlooked – an argument made forcefully by the English writer Peter Watson. Watson’s contention that Germany did itself incalculable harm by endorsing the Nazis – without Hitler, the 20th century may well have been Germany’s century and not America’s – is compelling and may serve to offset the impact of the guilt-tripping commentaries that have accompanied Chancellor Angela Merkel’s robust interventions on economic and social policy. Unlike France, which is still squeamish about its Vichy past, Germany appears to have handled its history with incredible maturity.


The German experience has a bearing on India’s uncertain clumsy experiments with the past. At the most basic level, India is happiest obfuscating many centuries of history under the mantra of ‘5,000 years of culture and civilization’. ‘Official’ India is most troubled when something like the dispute in Ayodhya erupts and a High Court judgment resurrects an issue that has been frozen in denial – the destruction of shrines under the Delhi Sultanate and the Moghuls.

The troubling feature of India is the growing chasm between popular historical memory and the officially endorsed ‘nation-building’ history. In the popular perception, there was widespread medieval vandalism and India is dotted with physical evidence of shrines that were either destroyed or whose denominational character was changed. Yet, since the early 1970s, historians whose works are deemed ‘respectable’ have wilfully glossed over themes that apparently run counter to an idyllic syncretic or composite culture. In schools and universities, narrative history has been junked in favour of a crude economism. It is somehow felt that ‘nation building’ will be better served by focusing on the economic intricacies of feudal societies rather than the bigoted excesses of Aurangzeb. Outright denial or obfuscation has thus become a hallmark of a country with a rich history and poor historians.

Unfortunately, the experiments with disingenuity haven’t really worked. Academic historians constituted themselves into a cosy club during the Ayodhya agitation, claiming that the whole Ram Janmabhoomi belief was an elaborate hoax and, most likely, a sinister colonial creation aimed at dividing a harmonious Indian society. No shrine, they insisted, had been destroyed to make way for a mosque in 1528. Far from neutralizing the Ram bhakts, this negationism actually drove the devout into greater bouts of frenzy, culminating in the demolition of the 16th century shrine. Had the more pertinent question – Must India spend its energies overturning medieval wrongs? – been asked, it is entirely possible that society wouldn’t have been so damagingly polarized. The battle to set back the clock of history was actually a crusade to right the wrongs of historians.

‘Our history,’ the British Education Secretary Michael Gove said at a Conservative Party conference in September 2010, while unveiling an initiative to restore narrative history to the school curriculum, ‘has moments of pride and shame, but unless we fully understand the struggles of the past, we will not properly value the liberties of the present.’ It’s an enlightened message that could just as well be relevant for India.


History is essentially a conversation between the past and the present, an engagement that doesn’t follow a predetermined script. However, this scintillating encounter will be hideously distorted if the past is bowdlerized to suit contemporary fashion. India is paying the price for trying to learn from a history built on questionable certitudes.

‘Teachers’, the historian Simon Schama who is helping out with a new history curriculum for British schools, recently reminded us, ‘need to be grown up and brave. Sensitivity is fine but it stops at the door of honest narrative.’




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 Ayodhya: Counterpoint

The Eminent Historians

A group of them raised the stakes and turned a local communal deal into a clash of civilizations, a life-and-death matter on which the survival of the greatest treasure in the universe depended, viz. secularism.

In 1858, the Virgin Mary appeared to young Bernadette Soubirous in Lourdes, France. Before long, Lourdes became the most important pilgrimage site for Roman Catholics and other Mary worshippers. France prided itself on being a secular state, in some phases (esp. 1905-40) even aggressively secular, yet it acknowledged and protected Lourdes as a place of pilgrimage. Not many French officials actually believe in the apparition, but that is not the point. The believers are human beings, fellow citizens, and out of respect for them does the state respect and protect their pilgrimage.

For essentially the same reason, the mere fact that the Rama Janmabhumi (Rama’s birthplace) site in Ayodhya is well-established as a sacred site for Hindu pilgrimage, is reason enough to protect its functioning as a Hindu sacred site, complete with proper Hindu temple architecture. Ayodhya doesn’t have this status in any other religion, though ancient Buddhism accepted Rama as an earlier incarnation of the Buddha. The site most certainly doesn’t have such a status in Islam, which imposed a mosque on it, the Babri Masjid (ostensibly built in 1528, closed by court order after riots in 1935, surreptitiously turned into a Hindu temple accessible only to a priest in 1949, opened for unrestricted Hindu use in 1986, and demolished by Hindu militants in 1992). So, the sensible and secular thing to do, even for those sceptical of every religious belief involved, is to leave the site to the Hindus. The well-attested fact that Hindus kept going there even when a mosque was standing, even under Muslim rule, is helpful to know in order to gauge its religious importance; but is not strictly of any importance in the present. For respecting its Hindu character, it is sufficient that the site has this sacred status today.

Secular PM Rajiv Gandhi had understood this, and from the court-ordered opening of the locks on the mosque-used-as-temple in 1986, he was manoeuvring towards an arrangement leaving the contentious site to the Hindus in exchange for some other goodies (starting with the Shah Bano amendment and the Satanic Verses ban) for the Muslim leadership. Call it Congress culture or horse-trading, but it would have been practical and saved everyone a lot of trouble.

That is when a group of "eminent historians" started raising the stakes and turning this local communal deal into a clash of civilizations, a life-and-death matter on which the survival of the greatest treasure in the universe depended, viz. secularism. Secure in (or drunk with) their hegemonic position, they didn't limit themselves to denying to the Hindus the right of rebuilding their demolished temple, say: "A medieval demolition doesn't justify a counter-demolition today." Instead, they went so far as to deny the well-established fact that the mosque had been built in forcible replacement of a Rama temple. 

Note, incidentally, that the temple demolition, a very ordinary event in Islamic history, was not even the worst of it: as a stab to the heart of Hindu sensibilities, the Babri mosque stood imposed on a particularly sacred site. Just as for Hindus, the site itself was far more important than the building on it, for Islamic iconoclasts the imposition of a mosque on such an exceptional site was a greater victory over infidelism than yet another forcible replacement of a heathen temple with a mosque. Though the historians’ and archaeologists’ ensuing research into the Ayodhya temple demolition has been most interesting, it was strictly speaking superfluous, for the sacred status venerated by most Hindus and purposely violated by some Muslims accrues to the site itself rather than to the architecture on it. The implication for the present situation is that even if Muslims refuse to believe that the mosque had been built in forcible replacement of a temple, they nonetheless know of the site’s unique status for Hindus even without a temple. So, they should be able to understand that any Muslim claim to the site, even by non-violent means such as litigation, amounts to an act of anti-Hindu aggression. Muslims often complain of being stereotyped as fanatical and aggressive, but here they have an excellent opportunity to earn everyone’s goodwill by abandoning their inappropriate claim to a site that is sacred to others but not to themselves.

After the eminent historian’s media offensive against the historical evidence, the political class, though intimidated, didn't give in altogether but subtly pursued its own idea of a reasonable solution. In late 1990, Chandra Shekhar's minority government, supported and largely teleguided by opposition leader Rajiv Gandhi, invited the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Babri Masjid Action Committee (BMAC) to mandate some selected scholars for a discussion of the historical evidence. The politicians had clearly expected that the debate would bring out the evidence and silence the deniers for good. And that is what happened, or at least the first half. Decisive evidence was indeed presented, but it failed to discourage the deniers. 

The VHP-employed team presented the already known documentary and archaeological evidence and dug up quite a few new documents confirming the temple demolition (including four that Muslim institutions had tried to conceal or tamper with). The BMAC-employed team quit the discussions but brought out a booklet later, trumpeted as the final deathblow of the temple demolition “myth”. In fact, it turned out to be limited to an attempt at whittling down the evidential impact of a selected few of the pro-temple documents and holding forth on generalities of politicized history without proving how any of that could neutralize this particular evidence. It contained not a single (even attempted) reference to a piece of actual evidence proving an alternative scenario or positively refuting the established scenario. I have given a full account earlier in my book Ayodhya, the Case against the Temple (2002).

Unfortunately, no amount of evidence could make the deniers mend their ways. Though defeated on contents, the "eminent historians" became only more insistent in denying the evidence. They especially excelled in blackening and slandering those few scholars who publicly stood by the evidence, not even sparing the towering archaeologist BB Lal. Overnight, what had been the consensus in Muslim, Hindu and European sources, was turned into a "claim" by "Hindu extremists". Thus, the eminent historians managed to intimate a Dutch scholar who had earlier contributed even more elements to the already large pile of evidence for the temple demolition into backtracking. Most spectacularly, they managed to get the entire international media and the vast majority of India-related academics who ever voiced an opinion on the matter, into toeing their line. These dimly-informed India-watchers too started intoning the no-temple mantra and slandering the dissidents, to their faces or behind their backs, as "liars", "BJP prostitutes", and what not. In Western academe, dozens chose to toe this party-line of disregarding the evidence and denying the obvious, viz. that the Babri Masjid (along with the Kaaba in Mecca, the Mezquita in Cordoba, the Ummayad mosque in Damascus, the Aya Sophia in Istambul, the Quwwatu'l-Islam in Delhi, etc.) was one of the numerous ancient mosques built on, or with materials from, purposely desecrated or demolished non-Muslim places of worship.

Until the Babri Masjid demolition by Hindu activists on 6 December 1992, Congress PM Narasimha Rao was clearly pursuing the same plan of a bloodless hand-over of the site to the Hindus in exchange for some concessions to the Muslims. The Hindu activists who performed the demolition were angry with the leaders of their own Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for seemingly abandoning the Ayodhya campaign after winning the 1991 elections with it, but perhaps the leaders had genuinely been clever in adjusting their Ayodhya strategy to their insiders’ perception of a deal planned by the PM. After the demolition, Rao milked it for its anti-BJP nuisance value and gave out some pro-mosque signals; but a closer look at his actual policies shows that he stayed on course. His Government requested the Supreme Court to offer an opinion on the historical background of the Ayodhya dispute, knowing fully well from the outcome of the scholars’ debate that an informed opinion could only favour the old consensus (now known as the “Hindu claim”). In normal circumstances, it is not a court's business to pronounce on matters of history, but then whom else could you trust to give a fair opinion when the professional historians were being so brazenly partisan?

The Supreme Court sent the matter on, or back, to the Allahabad High Court, which, after sitting on the Ayodhya case since 1950, at long last got serious about finding out the true story. It ordered a ground-penetrating radar search and the most thorough excavations. In this effort, carried out in 2003, the Archeological Survey of India (ASI) employed a large number of Muslims in order to preempt the predictable allegation of acting as a Hindu nationalist front. The findings confirmed those of the excavations in the 1950s, 1970s and 1992: a very large Hindu religious building stood at the site before the Babri Masjid. The Allahabad High Court has now accepted these findings by India's apex archaeological body. But not everyone is willing to abide by the verdict.

In particular, the eminent historians are up in arms. In a guest column in The Hindu (2 Oct. 2010: The verdict on Ayodhya, a historian’s opinion),  Prof. Romila Thapar claims that the ASI findings had been "disputed". Oh well, it is true that some of her school had thought up the most hilariously contrived objections, which I held against the light in my booklet Ayodhya, the Finale: Science vs. Secularism in the Excavations Debate. Thus, it was said that the presence of pillar-bases doesn’t imply that pillars were built on it; you see, some people plant pillar bases here and there once in a while, without any ulterior motive of putting them to some good use. And it was alleged that the finding of some animal bones in one layer precludes the existence of a temple (and somehow annuls the tangible testimony of the vast foundation complex and the numerous religious artefacts); and more such hare-brained reasoning. The picture emerging from all this clutching at straws was clear enough: there is no such thing as a refutation of the overwhelming ASI evidence, just as there was no refutation of the archaeological and documentary evidence presented earlier. 

Today, I feel sorry for the eminent historians. They have identified very publicly with the denial of the Ayodhya evidence. While politically expedient, and while going unchallenged in the academically most consequential forums for twenty years, that position has now been officially declared false. It suddenly dawns on them that they have tied their names to an enterprise unlikely to earn them glory in the long run. We may now expect frantic attempts to intimidate the Supreme Court into annulling the Allahabad verdict, starting with the ongoing signature campaign against the learned Judges’ finding; and possibly it will succeed. But it is unlikely that future generations, unburdened with the presently prevailing power equation that made this history denial profitable, will play along and keep on disregarding the massive body of historical evidence. With the Ayodhya verdict, the eminent historians are catching a glimpse of what they will look like when they stand before Allah’s throne on Judgment Day.

Koenraad Elst, a Belgian Indologist, is the author, inter alia of Ayodhya: The Case Against the Temple and Ayodhya, The Finale



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Dissecting the Ayodhya Judgment

Economic and Political Weekly
Vol. 45, No. 50 (DECEMBER 11-17, 2010), pp. 33-37, 39-41
Page Count: 8

Dissecting the Ayodhya Judgment

Economic and Political Weekly
Vol. 45, No. 50 (DECEMBER 11-17, 2010), pp. 33-37, 39-41
Page Count: 8

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