Vishwa Hindu Parishad supporters celebrate in Ahmedabad on Nov. 9 after India's Supreme Court handed a huge victory to Prime Minister Narendra Modi by awarding Hindus control of the bitterly disputed Ayodhya holy site. (Photo: Sam Panthaky/AFP)
Religious leaders and activists have cautiously hailed a court ruling that a temple be constructed for Hindus on a 2.77-acre site in Uttar Pradesh’s Ayodhya town that has been at the heart of India’s biggest religion-political dispute.
The Supreme Court’s historic judgment on Nov. 9 also declared that Muslims should be given alternative land to build the mosque they want.
“We have to respect the judgment and it came at the right time because the dispute had created a hate-like atmosphere between religions,” Sister Anastasia Gill, a member of the Delhi Minorities Commission, told ucanews.
“My feeling is still that there is some discrimination toward the Muslim community and our solidarity is with them.
“When we speak and practice secularism in a country where we have equal rights for all religions, it would have been better if the matter had been seen from that perspective, which I feel is missing.”
Muhammad Arif, chairman of the Center for Harmony and Peace, said: “We have to obey the judgment of the Supreme Court but it looks more like a harsh judgment than justice.”
Arif, whose organization is based in Uttar Pradesh’s holy city of Varanasi, added: “Since the highest court has given its judgment, nobody can question it, but it is now up to the people to accept it with a heavy heart or with joy. That depends on the common man.”
The five-judge constitution bench, headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, ruled unanimously that the spot, where frenzied right-wing mobs destroyed the 400-year-old mosque Babri Masjid in 1992, should be handed over to a trust that must be constituted within three months to oversee the construction of the temple.
Contentious religious spot
The highly anticipated ruling is the outcome of a legal tussle that began in 1950, shortly after idols of deities were surreptitiously placed inside the structure. Hindu groups said the mosque had been built on top of a temple that had stood on the precise birthplace of Lord Ram, a claim disputed by Muslims. In fact, the earliest recorded instances of violence over the land date back to the 1850s.
On Dec. 6, 1992, Hindu mobs demolished Babri Masjid, a mosque built by Mughal emperor Babur in the 16th century after he conquered India. The demolition triggered religious riots that continued for months and claimed at least 1,000 lives.
According to surveys done after the demolition, it was found that the incident had created a deep wedge between Hindu and Muslim groups as well as instilling fear throughout India’s minority communities.
In 1984 Hindu groups, including Vishwa Hindu Parishad, demanded the construction of a temple on the disputed site, paving the way for a nationwide campaign by the BJP in 1990.
In the judgment running into 1,045 pages, the Supreme Court said a report by the Archaeological Survey of India had provided evidence of the remains of a building “that was not Islamic” beneath the demolished mosque.
The five judges accepted the claim by Hindus that Lord Ram was born on the site and cited the discovery of structures like Sita Rasoi (Sita’s kitchen), Ram Chabutra (Ram platform) and Bhandar Grih (the store house) as testimony to its religious origins.
However, it would not be correct to establish true ownership of the land purely on the grounds of religion, said the panel, calling such evidence as “only indicators” of what had transpired there.
On Sept. 30, 2010, Allahabad High Court had ruled that the disputed land be split into three parts: the site of the Ram Lalla idol would go to the party representing Ram Lalla Virajman (the installed infant Ram deity), the Hindu group Nirmohi Akhara would get Sita Rasoi and Ram Chabutara, and the Sunni Waqf Board would be awarded the rest.
All three parties then appealed against the decision in the Supreme Court and on Oct. 16 the court concluded a hearing that had lasted 40 days after an earlier attempt for an out-of-court settlement through mediation was unsuccessful.
“Justice would not prevail if the court were to overlook the entitlement of Muslims who have been deprived of the structure of the mosque through means which should not have been employed in a secular nation committed to the rule of law,” the court said.
“Having weighed the nature of the relief which should be granted to the Muslims, we direct that land measuring five acres be allotted to the Sunni Central Waqf Board either by the Central Government out of the acquired land or by the Government of Uttar Pradesh within the city of Ayodhya.”
Police stand guard outside a mosque in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh. Security has been tightened around religious buildings following the Supreme Court's verdict. (Photo by IANS)
Time for reconciliation
Rev. Joseph D’Souza, president of the All India Christian Council and a human rights activist, appealed to Indians to find a way forward toward peace and communal harmony.
“It is time for Indians to accept the Supreme Court’s decision, however they may feel about it,” he said.
“Those who are aggrieved with the decision need to find the strength to work for peace and communal harmony, while those who feel they have won must also find the humility to accept this judgment with the kind of attitude that respects the Muslim community and their rights in a democratic India.
“With the kind of deep-seated religious divisions that currently plague India, it is critical that people of all faiths work toward peace, communal harmony and economic development.
“India can ill afford another long-term trauma like the one it has faced over the demolition of the Muslim Babri Masjid and the campaign to build the Hindu Ram temple on the site.”
Hindus form 966 million or 80 percent of India’s population of 1.3 billion. Muslims account for 172 million or 14 percent, while Christians comprise 29 million or 2.3 percent.