Thursday, September 30, 2010

Disputed India Holy Site to Be Divided, Court Rules

Rajanish Kakade/Associated Press

Indian soldiers in front of a mosque in Mumbai on Thursday after a court ruled that a disputed holy site in Ayodhya that has set off bloody communal riots across the country in the past should be divided between the Hindu and Muslim communities.

By JIM YARDLEY
Published: September 30, 2010

NEW DELHI — With the nation on high alert, an Indian court handed down a long-awaited decision on Thursday over control of the country’s most disputed religious site by splitting the land into three portions to be divided among Hindus and Muslims, according to lawyers in the case.

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·                            The Lede Blog: Text of the Rulings on an Indian Holy Site (September 30, 2010)

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Rajesh Kumar Singh/Associated Press

An Indian Muslim walked past security personnel in Ayodhya, India, on Thursday

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Much of the detail and rationale behind the decision issued late Thursday by a three-judge panel in the state of Uttar Pradesh remained unclear. The court was expected to release the complete ruling only later in the evening. But lawyers in the case, interviewed on Indian news channels, said the panel had unexpectedly ruled by dividing the land in a way that gave something to both Hindus and Muslims after a legal battle that originated six decades ago.

The case focused on a site in the city of Ayodhya, which many Hindus have long claimed as the birthplace of the Hindu deity Ram, but which also was the site of a mosque, known as the Babri Masjid, built in the 16th century by India’s first Mughal ruler. In 1992, Hindu extremists destroyed the Babri Masjid, sparking riots that would claim the lives of about 2,000 people, mostly Muslims.

One of the central questions in the case had been whether a Hindu temple had existed on the site before the construction of the Babri Masjid. Lawyers in the case said the court’s ruling would reserve one-third of the land for construction of a temple to Ram, another third for another Hindu party to the case, while designating the final third for Muslims to build a mosque.

“The judgment is in favor of Hindus,” said H. S. Jain, a lawyer for one of the Hindu groups in the case. “The belief of Hindus that this is the birthplace of Ram is upheld.”

But Zafaryab Jilani, a lawyer representing one of the Muslim parties, denied that the ruling represented a loss to Muslims.

“There is no reason of any loss of hope,” Mr. Jilani said, noting that the judgment was several thousands pages long. He added: “We do not agree with the formula of giving one-third of the land to Muslims.”

Despite Thursday’s ruling, the court said that the status quo at the contested shrine would remain in place for three months. Lawyers representing both Muslim and Hindu groups said they would appeal the verdict to India’s Supreme Court.

The 1992 violence became a searing rebuke to modern India’s secular identity and deepened the religious passions invested in the Ayodhya case.

In recent weeks, India’s government has beseeched the public to remain calm, with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the leaders of the major political parties issuing appeals for peace. As a precaution, the Home Ministry deployed almost 200,000 paramilitary officers from both state and federal forces across Uttar Pradesh, which includes the contested site. One unit was assigned to stand guard outside the Taj Mahal in the city of Agra. The ministry also placed a temporary nationwide block on bulk text messages as a measure to block rumors or efforts to organize mass protests.

By early Thursday evening, with the details of the case becoming public through television reports, there were no reports of protests or violence. Earlier, Palaniappan Chidambaram, the home minister, had predicted the Indian public would respect the court’s finding.

“I think, India has moved on, young people have moved on,” he told the Indian media. “I think young people have recognized that the India story is much more than a dispute over a place where one religious group claims they are entitled to [rather] than another religious group.”

Indian leaders have warned that an eruption of violence might derail the economic and social progress the country had made since the 1992 outbreak. The destruction of the Babri Masjid occurred a year after the national government initiated reforms that have transformed India into one of the world’s fastest growing major economies, if also a country of deep inequality. Moreover, the political potency of the Hindu nationalist movement, which took the destruction of the Babri Masjid as a rallying cry, has since eroded.

Hari Kumar contributed reporting.

 

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