India’s Supreme Court has awarded Hindus control of a disputed religious site in the town of Ayodhya for the construction of a temple, in a landmark verdict announced amid heightened security across the country.
Muslims will be given five acres of land at an alternative site in Ayodhya, in northern Uttar Pradesh state, the top court ruled on Saturday.
In a unanimous decision over the site claimed by both Hindus and Muslims, the five-judge bench asked the government to set up a trust that will construct a temple for Hindu deity Ram.
“The judgement is not satisfactory but we respect it. We will have discussions and then decide further course of action,” Zafaryab Jilani, Sunni Waqf Board Lawyer, was quoted as saying by NDTV news channel.
Faizan Mustafa, Vice-Chancellor of NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad, termed the verdict “controversial”.
“The judges tried their best to have a kind of a balance but ultimately it’s the mystery of the faith over rule of law, because they [judges] said that we can’t be doing anything about the Hindu belief and if they believe that Ram was born here … we have to accept it,” he said.
“Belief is good for the purposes of religion, but can it become a basis to resolve property disputes?”
Al Jazeera’s Anchal Vohra, reporting from New Delhi, said a board of trustees [appointed by the government] would be formed in three months to essentially decide how to go about the construction of the temple.
She added that the alternative site for Muslims would be decided by the central government or the state government.
“Muslim intellectuals had already offered this when the mediations took place early this year as a possible solution to have broader peace between the two communities,” Vohra said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi hailed hailed the verdict, saying it had “amicably” ended the decades-old dispute.
“The halls of justice have amicably concluded a matter going on for decades. Every side, every point of view was given adequate time and opportunity to express differing points of view. This verdict will further increase people’s faith in judicial processes,” Modi tweeted.
Hardliners among India’s majority Hindus, including supporters of Modi’s Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), believe that Lord Ram, the warrior god, was born at the site where the Babri mosque existed. They say that the first Mughal emperor Babur built Babri Mosque on top of a temple at the site.
Muslims said they prayed at the mosque for generations until 1949, when Hindu activists placed idols of Ram.
The 460-year-old mosque was demolished in 1992 by Hindu mobs triggering nationwide religious violence that left about 2,000 people dead, most of them Muslims.
Appeals for calm
The top court on Saturday said a structure existed under the Babri Mosque, which was not built on vacant land.
A 2010 lower court ruling had divided the disputed 2.77 acres (1.12 hectares) into three equal parts, with two-thirds going to the Hindu community and one-third to Muslims. That order was challenged by both sides.
The five-judge bench, headed by the Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, opted to hand over the site to one of the Hindu groups that had staked claim to it.
After Saturday’s verdict, Modi called for calm and police went on alert, with thousands of extra personnel deployed and schools closed in and around Ayodhya, the centre of the bitter dispute, and elsewhere.
In some towns, internet services were also suspended to stop the spread of rumours.
Muslim organisations have appealed for calm to prevent communal flare-ups.
The BJP has campaigned for years for a temple to be built at Ayodhya, and a verdict clearing the way for that would be a major victory for the 69-year-old Modi, just months into his second term.
The verdict, it is hoped, will put an end to an angry and at times arcane legal wrangle that British colonial rulers and even the Dalai Lama tried to mediate.
India’s Supreme Court has given the ownership of a disputed religious site in the northern town of Ayodhya to Hindus for the construction of a temple, in a landmark verdict announced on Saturday amid heightened security across the country. Muslims will be given a five acres land at an alternative site in Ayodhya, in northern Uttar Pradesh state.