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SC Referred to Books in Sanskrit, Urdu, Persian and French Before Delivering Ayodhya Verdict

The Supreme Court exercised caution in making deductions out of historical context, saying interpreting history is an 'exercise fraught with pitfalls'.


Updated:November 10, 2019, 9:19 PM IST
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Supreme Court of India
File photo of the Supreme Court of India.

New Delhi: The Supreme Court referred to books on subjects as diverse as history, culture, archaeology and religion in languages as varied as Sanskrit, Hindi, Urdu, Persian, Turkish, French and English in its judgment on the politically and religiously sensitive Ayodhya land dispute, but exercised caution in making deductions saying there were "dangers" in interpreting history.

The apex court bench, headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and comprising Justices S A Bobde, D Y Chandrachud, Ashok Bhushan and S A Nazeer, perused 533 documentary exhibits, including religious texts, travelogues, archaeological excavation reports, photographs of the site prior to demolition of the mosque and details of artifacts found at the disputed site.

The exhibits also included gazetteers and translations of inscriptions on pillars.

On January 10, 2019, the top court had directed its Registry to inspect the records and if required, engage official translators.

It, however, exercised caution in making deductions out of historical context, saying interpreting history is an "exercise fraught with pitfalls".

"There are evident gaps in the historical record, as we have seen from the Baburnama (a memoir of the founder of the Mughal empire). Translations vary and have their limitations. The court must be circumspect in drawing negative inferences from what a historical text does not contain," the bench said in its 1,045-page judgment.

It further said there were dangers in interpreting history without the aid of historiography.

"We are not construing a statute or a pleading. We are looking into historical events knit around legends, stories, traditions and accounts written in a social and cultural context different from our own. There are dangers in interpreting history without the aid of historiography.

"Application of legal principles to make deductions and inferences out of historical context is a perilous exercise. One must exercise caution before embarking on the inclination of a legally trained mind to draw negative inferences from the silences of history. Silences are sometimes best left to where they belong — the universe of silence," the apex court said.

On February 7, 2002, counsel for the petitioners in suit number five filed a report before the Allahabad High Court pertaining to the Ayodhya Vishnu Hari temple inscription and under the court's orders, an e-stampage was prepared and was deciphered by an epigraphist, the apex court said.

It also referred to translated versions of Ain-i-Akbari, which was completed in the 16th century during Mughal emperor Akbar's regime.

"The Ain-i-Akbari was work of Abul-Fazl Allami, who was one of the ministers in Akbar's court. The Aini-Akbari was translated by H Blochmann from Persian to English. By its order dated March 18, 2010, the high court permitted the text to be relied on...," the bench said.

It said travelogues of Father Joseph Tieffenthaler, which were translated from Latin to French and then its English translations were filed before the high court, were extensively relied on by counsels arguing in the title dispute.

The Supreme Court judgment on Saturday cleared the way for construction of a Ram temple at the disputed site in Ayodhya and directed the Centre to allot a five-acre plot to the Sunni Waqf Board to build a mosque. In the process, it settled a fractious issue that goes back more than a century.

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