How Allahabad HC exposed 'experts' espousing Masjid cause
NEW DELHI: The role played by "independent experts" — historians and archaeologists who appeared on behalf of the Waqf Board to support its claim — has come in for criticism by one of the Allahabad High Court judges in the Ayodhya verdict.
While the special bench of three judges unanimously dismissed objections raised by the experts to the presence of a temple, it was Justice Sudhir Agarwal who put their claims to extended judicial scrutiny.
Most of these experts deposed twice. Before the ASI excavations, they said there was no temple beneath the mosque and, after the site had been dug up, they claimed what was unearthed was a mosque or a stupa. During lengthy cross-examination spread over several pages and recorded by Justice Agarwal, the historians and experts were subjected to pointed queries about their expertise, background and basis for their opinions.
To the court's astonishment, some who had written signed articles and issued pamphlets, found themselves withering under scrutiny and the judge said they were displaying an "ostrich-like attitude" to facts.
He also pointed out how the independent witnesses were all connected — one had done a PhD under the other, another had contributed an article to a book penned by a witness.
Some instances underlined by the judge are: Suvira Jaiswal deposed "whatever knowledge I gained with respect to disputed site is based on newspaper reports or what others told" (other experts). She said she prepared a report on the Babri dispute "after reading newspaper reports and on basis of discussions with medieval history expert in my department." Supriya Verma, another expert who challenged the ASI excavations, had not read the ground penetration radar survey report that led the court to order an excavation. She did her PhD under another expert Shireen F Ratnagar.
Verma and Jaya Menon alleged that pillar bases at the excavated site had been planted but HC found they were not present at the time the actual excavation took place.
Archaeologist Shereen F Ratnagar has written the "introduction" to the book of another expert who deposed, Professor Mandal. She admitted she had no field experience.
"Normally, courts do not make adverse comments on the deposition of a witness and suffice it to consider whether it is credible or not, but we find it difficult to resist ourselves in this particular case considering the sensitivity and nature of dispute and also the reckless and irresponsible kind of statements..." the judge has noted.
He said opinions had been offered without making a proper investigation, research or study in the subject. The judge said he was "startled and puzzled" by contradictory statements. When expert witness Suraj Bhan deposed on the Babri mosque, the weight of his evidence was contradicted by another expert for Muslim parties, Shirin Musavi, who told the court that Bhan "is an archaeologist and not an expert on medieval history".
Justice Agarwal referred to signed statements issued by experts and noted that "instead of helping in making a cordial atmosphere it tends to create more complications, conflict and controversy." He pointed out that experts carry weight with public opinion. "One cannot say that though I had made a statement but 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," Justice Aggarwal has said, emphasising the need for thorough original research before concurring with what someone else has claimed.