People's Democracy

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


No. 11

March 16, 2003

Digging Deeper Into An Abyss

Nalini Taneja


IN looking for Rama underground we may just dig ourselves deep into an abyss. There is no way that the cause of secularism, communal harmony, or justice and fairplay, can be served by such an exercise, whatever the claims for its sanction and whatever the “discoveries” that emerge from it. The Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court in its Order dated March 3, 2003 (in O.O. S. No.4 of 1989, Sunni Central Board of Wakfs & Others Versus Gopal Singh Vishnad (now deceased) & others), has opened a Pandora’s box of opportunities for the Sangh Parivar. It has transformed in one stroke what was legally a property dispute into a legal battle for the “Ram janmabhoomi”. It has also given a fillip to karsevak archaeology at the expense of the serious and humane discipline that it is.

The governing philosophy underlying the Order is based on presumptions that have no factual validity: a) that there were Rama temples in the Ayodhya-Faizabad region prior to the 16th century; b) that there would be a visible difference in the status or signs of remnants of preceding periods that were simple ruins or those that could have been destroyed; c) that the Hindu God Rama was a historical personage; d) that Rama was actually born at the spot where the Masjid stood. (Besides, the event of birth does not leave visible archaeological remains!).



In the light of any of the above mentioned four points lacking absolute validity, the whole case for digging becomes ridiculous, and can only generate a whole new series of mischief, concoctions and ‘discoveries’. Here we can in fact see that the Order seems to discount a priori precisely those aspects that are crucial to a rational, scientific and academic approach, i.e., that Rama is a mythological personage and the Ramayana legend is an epic based on myth rather than history, though it can convey a sense of history of certain periods because it was written and re-written (or re-told) in certain periods; that there is no one version of Ramayana; that a belief is not the same thing as fact. It is moreover, lending priority to one set of beliefs over another, and what is more crucial, the Order seems aimed at reversing archaeological layers through a juridical process i. e., that what came earlier must now find its place on the top. That archaeological layers become moral layers which can be corrected through a juridical process. As we dig, do we put the oldest thing on top? And where would we stop? Should we go back to the remains of the “original inhabitant” (presumed by the RSS to be Hindu) that the RSS is so obsessed with? What is the sanctity of just that point where the Masjid is alleged to be constructed, or something destroyed prior to its building (which in any case is not true)? There are numerous such political and moral implications that the Order does not address, but goes out of its way to respond to the pleas of a body of sectarian religious leaders obsessed with the idea of a temple below every mosque!



As Prof Irfan Habib pointed out at a Press Conference organised by SAHMAT on this issue in New Delhi on March 8, 2003, archaeology has its own ethics, which this judgment has disregarded. One digs to get evidence of cultural past, to learn more about ourselves, not to destroy evidence or wreak vengeance. There are numerous types of finds—not just boulders and pillars—like seeds, soil stratifications, artifacts of all kinds including normal dwellings and items of use. Also such findings can be interpreted variously. In such a ham handed excavation unconcerned with everything else but a temple all evidence could get destroyed. “The karsevaks have destroyed the mosque”, he said, “they are going to destroy the evidence underneath.”


This Order has reduced the serious and laborious work of archaeological excavation and scientific enquiry and explanation to the level of hastily organised and performed karseva by the ASI, which takes its orders from the same government whose members are facing charges for having planned, orchestrated supervised the destruction of the Babri Masjid in 1992, and who have wreaked bigger havoc since then. As Irfan Habib said, “Looked at objectively, the matter is that the mosque has been destroyed and now there is an attempt to justify it. Had the mosque been still there it would not have been possible to dig underneath.” He also raised the question that if there did exist a temple on the site earlier, could that in any way justify the demolition of the mosque which had been standing for so long on the ground? Would anybody allow his/her house to be demolished and the land handed over to some body else on the grounds that five hundred or a thousand years ago another structure stood there, and that therefore the original right over that land belongs elsewhere? This order, he pointed out, will set a precedent for all kinds of wrongs in future, and is based on an a priori discrimination between other structures and a mosque. Prof Suraj Bhan, an eminent archaeologist and historian, repeated what he has said many times: that there is no evidence of habitation in Ayodhya before 6th or 7th century BC and certainly not during the period pertaining to the Ramayana legend.

The High Court Order in question follows an earlier Order dated August 1, 2002, which put forward the suggestion of an excavation of the site and observed that till excavation order is passed the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) will get surveyed the disputed site by Ground Testing Radar and geo-Radiology and will submit its report in this regard. Certain objections were filed against this, which the Court rejected on October 23, 2002.




Following this, the ASI now filled with officials with RSS leanings contracted a private firm Tojo-Vikas International Private Ltd., an Indo Canadian firm of dubious credentials and having no previous experience of any archaeological survey, based in Kalkaji, New Delhi, to oblige. And sure enough it has obliged, because even before it started it made it as part of its mission to “discover” if there were any “pillars” underneath the spot where Babri Masjid once stood. This, as people concerned know, followed the strong suggestions by BB Lal, the well-known karsevak archaeologist, who has been saying now for the last few years, contrary to his own earlier findings, that there exist pillars below the site of the Babri Masjid which belong to the Ram Mandir. Never mind that so many eminent archaeologists have already contested and proved him wrong on the basis of historical facts and archaeological findings. The credentials of Claude Robillard, a “Canadian citizen” and the Company’s “Advisor and Chief Geophysicist” are equally doubtful since no bio data whatsoever about him are furnished in the Company’s report.


The manner of the survey itself raises cause for concern, apart from the politics behind getting it carried out. Generally all geophysical surveying for archaeological purposes demands two kinds of instruments. One, magnetic, for the purpose of helping locate metal artifacts and hearths. Two, those that test restivity, for providing clues about filled pits, buried walls etc. In this case no magneto-meter has been employed (no explanation is given why), with the result that there can be no indications of hearths, ordinary dwellings and signs that may show civilisational presence and domestic habitation. One cannot escape the conclusion that the survey intends to show signs of a temple to the exclusion of other things, although one must keep in mind that pillars are utilized in the construction of buildings other than temples!


To quote a SAHMAT statement on the issue: “The anxiety to bring in “pillars” anyhow, comes out very clearly from the following statement in the Tojo-Vikas report (p. 30): “Some of these anomalies…may correspond to pillars alignment, broken up sections of wall foundations or fortuitous patterns of independent or natural features”. Would anyone, with such varied possibilities have even thought of “aligned pillars”, unless one had a previous briefing that pillar bases must be looked for? Not only does the Tojo-Vikas team stop here, but its conclusion goes on to relate the same very “variety of anomalies” quite confidently to “structures such as pillars, foundation walls, slab flooring, extending over a large portion of the site.”



Besides, the area to be excavated has been chosen arbitrarily as 100 x 100 (feet, yards, meters?), and there is no instruction about how deep they are to dig (only till some ‘temple’ sign is found?). What they are to look for has been clearly told. This is not in keeping with the ethics of archaeology, as pointed out by Prof Suraj Bhan at the press conference.


Rajeev Dhawan, an eminent jurist, raised the more pertinent legal angle: “The burden of proof lies with the person/claimant who alleges, it is not for the Court to assume the burden of proof.” It goes to show, he said, that those who allege that a temple was destroyed to build a mosque had no proof, and now an effort is being made to find this “proof”. Why then and on what basis are they fighting the case in the first place?


Finally, how will it be proved through excavation that a temple was destroyed to build a mosque, and is the major aspect of case before the Court?


A Supreme Court Order of October 24, 1994 in paragraphs 86 and 87 directed for maintaining the status quo. Further the judgment of the High Court dated  February 23, 1996 was challenged before the Supreme Court and in that appeal an order was passed on August 10, 1996 directing the parties to maintain status quo.


According to the present order this has not been contravened because, to quote from the Order, “the order of the Hon’ble Supreme Court must be read in the context in which it was passed, namely, the parties should not raise any construction or do anything in regard to the possession of the land till the matter is decided. We do not find that the excavation of the land in any way amounts to the contravention of the order…” Further, …“the earth may bear the testimony and the Court in appropriate circumstances can pass order for excavation of the land. The excavation is by digging the land and after it is dug the earth is again filled in. Such excavation does not alter the nature of the land…”Again, …“It is made clear that the Archaeologists (Excavators) shall not disturb any area where the idol of Shri Ramlala is existing and approximately 10 feet around it and they shall not affect the worship of Shri Ramlala and thus status quo as regards His Puja and worshippers’ right of darshan shall be maintained..” (We were told that is the exact spot of birth, so should evidence be right below it?)


It is anybody’s guess what the ASI, equipped with RSS directions and mental make up, more than with any expertise now that it is filled with officials rather than professional archaeologists, is likely to find. What we do know that it needs to be entered into the Guinness books of Records for the fastest excavation ever to be prepared for and completed. The Court Order has directed that the excavation must start in a week and be completed in a month. And the report submitted as well!