People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 11

March 16, 2003

Historians, Archaeologists Feel Excavation Order Is Dangerous


A distinguished group comprising historians, archaeologists and a senior lawyer  came together to express their view that the recent Allahabad High Court order to carry out excavations in Ayodhya was “wrong, dangerous and would only invite further mischief from communal forces.”


At a news conference, organised by Sahmat on March 8, this group also questioned the basis on which the High Court order was passed. Those who spoke at the press meet were Professor Irfan Habib, Professor K M Shrimali, archeologist Professor Suraj Bhan, senior lawyer and constitutional expert, Rajeev Dhavan.


Expressing serious doubts regarding the integrity of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) in carrying out excavation as per the court’s order, they said on the very same day the High Court order was passed, there was a change at the top in the ASI and the additional secretary, Department of Culture was made the new Director-General. “At a time when the deputy prime minister and the HRD minister themselves stand accused of having directly participated in the Babri Masjid demolition, no agency under their complete control can be held to be above suspicion”, they said.


Professor Irfan Habib also pointed out that for the last ten years the ASI has not had a professional Director-General and persons belonging to administrative service have been occupying this important position at the sweet will of the government. “ASI has a scarred reputation to undertake such an exercise of excavation”, he said.


Mounting a scathing attack, Professor Irfan Habib said “this is not archaeology but barbarism. The karsevaks had destroyed the Babri Masjid and the excavation is meant to destroy the evidence. What essentially it amounts to is that first a monument is destroyed and we are now trying to find reasons for justifying it.”


This judgement, the group said, could create a precedent for all types of wrongs. Rajeev Dhawan questioned as to why the courts are taking upon themselves the burden of proof. “It is upon those who are alleging the existence of a temple to prove its existence. Why should the court take upon this job?”, he asked.


When questioned by a reporter why there should be opposition when this excavation can lead to a solution, Rajeev Dhawan was categorical in his reply. “Whatever be the solution, this is certainly not the solution because even if doubtful evidence is found it will give fillip to the communal forces by strengthening their claims.”




Terming the geophysical survey conducted by the “Canadian” company, Tojo-Vikas International, on the basis of which the present order has been given, as not “free of bias”, they said that “it is unfortunate that the High Court  has now explicitly desired that the excavations be conducted by the ASI with the advice and assistance of Tojo-Vikas”.


Pointing out discrepancies in the Tojo Vikas report, a statement issued at the news conference said it seemed that the company had a “ previous briefing” to trace “pillars” so that it could be suggested that a temple existed at the site.


“For reasons not stated “, the Sahmat statement said “the company’s survey was confined only to a resistivity survey, using ground penetrating radar. No magneto-meter was at all used, so that there remained no possibility of locating hearths which would have indicated domestic habitations and, to that extent, could have narrowed the area where one might be looking for ‘temple signs.”


The Sahmat statement said that ‘one must remember that archaeological finds are subject to a wide range of interpretations.  One does not know what the hon’ble High Court is precisely looking for.  If it is trying to find out whether the Babri Masjid was immediately built upon a temple, then any stratum of lime-mortar bound rubble or medieval baked bricks or glazed pottery below the mosque should be enough to prove that such was not the case. If the search is on for anything that could possibly belong to a non-Muslim shrine of any sort at any earlier time, then almost anything could be defined as a temple relic; a pre 13th century carved stone or image or even a Kushana-period brick, though such might easily have come from a domestic house. In that case the dispute would be unending; or one could simply give the VHP the benefit of doubt and declare that archeology has spoken and decided in its favour. Whether such a course would accord with the rule of law, let alone the spirit of our secular Constitution, is another matter.” The order, said Sahmat, has raised widespread concerns about basic ethics about how the whole matter was being dealt with.