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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.

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.