Court Declares Ayodhya Hindu Land, Offers Muslims Other Space
The Supreme court in India has finally ended perhaps the world’s most controversial property dispute. The judges’ ruled that the holy site of Ayodhya should be given to members of the Hindu religion for the construction of a temple. This ruling is very controversial as it rejects Muslim claims that they own the site. It is feared the decision could further damage Hindu-Muslim relations in India and that it may lead to violence, as in the past.
The holy site of Ayodhya is in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh. The disputed land ‘lies 550 kilometers (350 miles) east of New Delhi,’ according to DW.com. The holy site has been claimed by both Hindus and Muslims. ‘At the center of the row is the 16th Century Babri mosque which was demolished by Hindu mobs in 1992,’ reports the BBC. This mosque was built during the reign of the Mughal Emperor Babur in the 16th century.
The Ayodhya Site is Holy to Hindus and Muslims
The Hindu community claim that the site of the mosque is located on land that is sacred to one of the most important deities in the Hindu pantheon, Lord Ram. According to DW.com, it is considered to be ‘the birthplace of the Hindu deity Lord Ram.’ Hindus believe that the mosque should be removed as they say they had worshipped here before the mosque was built.
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Painting of Rama. He is depicted blue-skinned and carrying a strung bow with a quiver full of arrows on his back and a single arrow in his right hand. On laid and water-marked European paper with a fleur de lys. This is elsewhere in the series dated 1816. (Public Domain)
Many Hindus asserted that the Muslims destroyed a temple at the location to make way for a mosque, but this has not been proven by historians. For over a century, the Hindus have demanded that the Islamic place of worship be removed and that a temple dedicated to Lord Ram be built on the site.
This has led to a bitter decades-long court battle and led to increased sectarian violence in the country. The destruction of the 500-year-old mosque in 1992 led to widespread sectarian rioting. At least 2000 people died in the violence, the majority of them are believed to have been Muslims. Since then many Muslims have demanded that the Babri Mosque be rebuilt at Ayodhya.
The Role of Hindu Nationalists
The destruction of the mosque at Ayodhya was supported by several Hindu nationalist organizations and the current governing party of India, the BJP. Today a temporary temple dedicated to Lord Ram stands on the site. It is guarded by security personnel, many of whom are members of Hindu paramilitary organizations.
Security forces deployed outside disputed site in Ayodhya ahead of the Supreme Court’s verdict in the case. (India Today)
In 2003, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) claimed to have discovered the remains of a building ‘that was not Islamic’ beneath the structure of the demolished Babri mosque, according to the BBC.
There has been wrangling on the topic in various courts since 1850, when the British ruled India, about who should legally possess the parcel of land. The country’s Supreme Court started hearing the case this year. ‘In 2010, a lower court ruled that the disputed land should be divided into three parts — two for Hindus and one for Muslims,’ reports DW.com.
This decision was not accepted by many Sunni Muslims nor Hindus. The 2010 decision was challenged by the Hindu Maha Sabha group and a Sunni Muslim organization, the Wafiq Board, in the highest court in India.
The Supreme Court Ruling
The Supreme Court, which consists of five judges, ruled that the site should be transferred completely to the control of Hindus. Their decision was based on the earlier archaeological finds that predate the construction of the Mughal-era mosque. The judges concluded that this proves that the site was originally possessed by Hindus and that they, therefore, are the legal owners of the plot of land. According to the New York Times, this ruling is ‘greenlighting the construction of a temple.’
The Babri Mosque, upper left, in the 18th century. From William Hodges' ‘ Select Views in India in the Years 1780–1783.’ (Public Domain)
The judges ordered that the government in New Delhi establish a trust to oversee the construction of a new temple. However, they also found that the destruction of the mosque was illegal. The BBC reports that a crowd gathered outside the court, chanting ‘Jai Shree Ram" (Hail Lord Ram).’ This was despite government calls for no public celebration of the ruling. Prime Minister Modi stated that the ruling was not a "win or loss for anybody,’ according to the BBC.
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Fears of Violence Following to the Decision
The Muslim community’s reaction to the verdict has been muted. Zafaryab Jilani, a lawyer who represented the Wafiq Board, stated that “We respect the verdict, but we are not satisfied ... we will go through the judgment carefully,” according to DW.com. However, many Muslims may view the ruling as another example of the growing marginalization of their community under the BJP government, which is closely allied to several Hindu nationalist groups.
There are now real fears that the court’s decision could lead to sectarian violence on a scale similar to 1992, especially in Ayodhya. It is believed that there are many members of right-wing Hindu groups in the city. Security has been tightened in Ayodhya and elsewhere in India to prevent an explosion of violence between Muslims and Hindus.
Top image: Ayodhya Temple, India. Credit: Denis / Adobe Stock
By Ed Whelan