The orders that the Allahabad High Court (Lucknow Bench) issued on 5 March for an archaeological excavation of the site of the destroyed Babri Masjid, in order to find out if there are any signs of an earlier temple there, have raised widespread concerns about the basic ethics of how the whole matter of the Babri Masjid is being dealt with.
In a resolution passed by the Indian History Congress “by an overwhelming majority” at its annual session on 15 February 1993 (the first after the mosque’s destruction on 6 December 1992), the principal organisation of Indian historians protested against the principle that “a monument can be destroyed or removed if there are any grounds for assuming that a religious structure of another community had previously stood at its site.” It went on to warn that “such a post-facto rationalization of what was done on 6 December 1992 would place in jeopardy the fate of numerous historical monuments all over the country, an increasing number of which are being targeted for destruction by the communal forces.” It would seem that ten years later the very principle that the historians had found so intolerable, has received tacit judicial recognition. Otherwise the hon’ble High Court’s order remains inexplicable.
2. From the text of the order, it appears that the High Court had earlier ordered a geophysical survey through a “Canadian” company, Tojo-Vikas International (Pvt.) Limited, Kalkaji, New Delhi. This Company has no known previous experience of archaeological surveying. Nor are the credentials of Mr. Claude Robillard, a “Canadian citizen” and the Company’s “Advisor and Chief Geophysicists (sic)”, any less doubtful, since no biodata whatsoever about him are furnished in the Company’s report.
3. The Company’s report is singularly taciturn on what exactly it was required to find out. Geophysical surveying for archaeological purposes resorts basically to two kinds of instruments: (1) “magnetic”, which essentially help locate metal artefacts and hearths, and (2) “resistivity”, which give clues about filled pits, buried walls, etc. For reasons not stated, the Company’s survey was confined only to a resistivity survey, using Ground Penetrating Radar. No magneto-meter was at all employed, 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’.
4. While the Tojo-Vikas team in its report does not refer to any background information about the dispute being furnished to it, it certainly lets slip the fact that it was somehow expected by certain quarters to trace “pillars”, since the Parivar’s late convert, Professor B.B. Lal, in his second version (1989) of his original findings on his excavations near the Babri Masjid, proclaimed his earlier secret discovery of certain aligned “pillar bases”, which he thought had belonged to a large Rama Temple. 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 (sic) alignment, broken up sections of wall foundations or fortuitous patterns of independent objects or natural features.” Would anyone, with such varied possibilities available 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 in 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.” Such an addiction to “pillars” on its part is all the more remarkable when we find that the Tojo-Vikas team itself employs strike much space (pages 26-27) and two diagrams to show that “NOT all hyperbolas (sic) shaped radar anomaly (sic) correspond to pillars or wall foundations,” adding that “they could also come from debris or even a simple boulder of a certain size and shape.”
7. Finally, 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
Curiously, on the other hand, they try to make no distinction between strong mortar-bonded rubble (indicative of Muslim construction) and loose debris, and between stones or baked bricks and sun-dried bricks /rammed clay, which one should have expected from such a survey as theirs. (The geophysical survey by the German-Italian team at Mohenjo Daro in 1982-83 successfully demarcated the baked-brick and clay-platform zones precisely by use of resistivity instruments.) Such work would again have helped to separate medieval-Muslim structures from earlier remains.
5. It is thus clear that, despite its cautions and reservations, the Tojo-Vikas report is not free of bias; and it is unfortunate that the hon’ble High Court have now explicitly desired that the excavations be conducted by the Archaeological Survey of India with the advice and assistance of the Tojo-Vikas Company.
6. Questions can also very fairly be raised about the competence of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) to conduct rigorous, scientific and impartial excavations. For about ten years, this organisation has not had a professional Director-General to head it, and persons belonging to the administrative service have occupied this once highly prestigious position at the sweet will of the Government. Almost the very day the High Court gave its orders, it was announced that there had been a change at the top in the ASI, and the Additional Secretary, Department of Culture, had been made the new Director-General. When the Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister of Resources Development themselves stand accused of having participated directly in the Babri Masjid demolition, no agency under their complete control can be held to be above suspicion.