Two archaeologists have accused the Archeological Survey of India (ASI) of having ‘preconceived notions’ following the six-month-long excavation under the Babri Masjid that took place in August 2003 and ‘violating ethical codes and procedures’ during the excavation, HuffPost India reported.
In August 2003, following a six-month-long excavation, the Archeological Survey of India (ASI) informed the Allahabad High Court that it had found evidence of there being a temple under the Babri Masjid, the 16-century mosque demolished by kar sevaks on 6 December 1992.
The archaeologists, Supriya Varma, a professor of archeology at Jawaharlal Nehru University, and Jaya Menon, who heads the history department at Shiv Nadar University, told the court that the excavation did not find anything that supported ASI’s conclusion, the report stated.
In 2010, they published a paper in the Economic and Political Weekly, which challenged the methods used in collecting evidence and its interpretation.
During the excavation, the archaeologists had been observers on behalf of the Sunni Waqf Board, a party to the tile suit in the Ayodhya dispute, and stated that under the Bharatiya Janata Party-led (BJP) National Democratic Alliance government, the ASI was under pressure to ‘reinforce the Hindu right-wing narrative that Mughal emperor Babur’s general Mir Baqi knocked down a temple to build a mosque on the spot where Hindu god Ram was born’, the report said.
Ayodhya, a temple town in Uttar Pradesh, is on edge as the pitch is raised for the construction of the temple.
The disputed land’s issues revolve around access to a site traditionally regarded among Hindus to be the birthplace of the Hindu deity Rama, the history and location of the Babri Mosque at the site, and whether a previous Hindu temple was demolished or modified to create the mosque.
In conversation with Varma, the report stated that there ‘is no archaeological evidence that there was a temple under the Babri Masjid’. She thinks the ASI felt compelled to fabricate its conclusion, and procedural lapses during the excavation led by B.R. Mani, who was later replaced on an order by the Allahabad High Court. In 2016, the Modi government appointed Mani as the Director General of the National Museum.
Talking about the evidence being attributed to ASI’s claim, Varma said that in one of the excavations, in which a western wall was dug out, it contained the features of a mosque.
“It is a wall in front of which you say namaaz. It is not the feature of a temple. Temple has a very different plan. Underneath the Babri Masjid, there are actually older mosques,” she said, as quoted in the report.
Talking about the second piece of evidence to the claim, which were the 50 pillar bases, she said that these were ‘fabricated’, adding that they had filed complaints to the court.
“Our argument is that if you look at what they are claiming to be pillar bases, these are pieces of broken bricks and they have mud inside them. There is no way a pillar can even stand on it, it is so unstable. It’s a completely political issue. They wanted that report to say there are pillar bases and it said there are pillar bases,” she said, as quoted in the report.
The third piece of evidence, which were the architectural fragments– pieces of architectural buildings and were 400-500 in number–in which the 12 of them were believed to be important hadn’t been found during the excavation. Instead, they had been recovered ‘from the debris lying above the lime floor of the masjid’, the report stated.
In the last paragraph of the ASI’s report, they say that given the evidence of this western wall, and pillar bases, and some architectural fragments, there was a temple underneath the Babri Masjid. It is literally written in three lines. Otherwise, nowhere in the discussion, is there any talk of a temple being found. With the same evidence, we have interpreted that there were actually two or three phases of smaller mosques underneath the Babri Masjid.
“here is this one particular sculpture, which is closest to some kind of image, which they called a ‘divine couple.’ But even that is just one man and a woman and is half-broken. There is nothing else. A temple, a stone temple—supposedly this is a stone temple—has much more sculptured material than what they have found,” she said, as per the report.
She added that the stone could not be dated, since for that, a stratified deposit was needed.
Varma also criticized the ASI, saying that ‘they really are now no longer considered to have any kind of expertise’, on the concern that six months wasn’t a long time for such an excavation.
“They haven’t kept up to date with the latest methods, the recent theoretical developments, and they really just see it as more as an administrative job than as an academic discipline,” she said, as per the report.