Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will on Wednesday lay the foundation for a temple in Ayodhya, a flashpoint holy site, exactly a year after imposing direct rule on Muslim-majority Kashmir.
The temple site is where the Babri Mosque once stood. Devout Hindus believe that Lord Ram, the warrior god, was born there some 7,000 years ago but that a mosque was constructed on top of his birthplace in the 16th century. In the 1980s a Hindu movement began to agitate for the mosque to be removed and in 1992 a mob demolished it with shovels, pickaxes and their bare hands.
A lengthy legal battle ensued but on November 9, in a major victory for the BJP, India’s Supreme Court awarded the site to Hindus, allowing a temple “touching the sky” to be built.
Pakistan had protested the decision, saying the verdict failed to uphold the demands of justice.
The November court case
The verdict was announced by a five-judge bench, headed by the chief justice of India, Ranjan Gogoi.
It ruled that a trust would be set up by the Centre to construct the temple. Muslims will be given five acres in Ayodhya to construct a mosque.
The court also said that it is an undisputed faith of Hindus that Lord Ram was born under one of the domes. The court should not interfere in faith, it has said.
However, the judges said the title of the land should be decided on legal principle. It has said that the Archaeological Survey of India’s conclusion that the Babri Mosque was built over an existing structure is supported by evidence. It was not constructed on vacant land, say the judges.
The mere existence of a structure beneath [the mosque site] cannot be basis of claim to have title over the land today, said CJI Gogoi. Muslims cannot say that they have composite title to the disputed site, he said.
The argument that the mosque was not built in the Islamic way was rejected. The demolition was a violation of rule of law, said CJI Gogoi. In the original ruling in the case, judges had ruled that the mosque was not built in the Islamic way.
The Babri Masjid
The tussle centres on an area of land measuring just 2.77 acres (1.1 hectares) in Ayodhya, a small city in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh.
India’s majority Hindus believe that Lord Ram, one of their most important deities, was born there.
They also believe the Muslim conqueror Babar, the first Mughal emperor, razed the temple in the 1500s to make way for a mosque, the Babri Masjid.
Under British colonial rule, a fence was erected to separate places of worship so Muslims could worship in an inner court and Hindus the outer.
The first legal dispute emerged in 1885 with a plea seeking permission to build a canopy outside the mosque premises for Hindu devotees.
But in 1949, two years after Independence, idols of Lord Ram appeared inside the mosque, which allegedly were placed there in a staged “miracle”. Muslims objected and both parties went to court, kicking off a tortuous legal battle over the right to worship at the site.
In 1984, Hindus formed a committee to “liberate” Ram’s birthplace and build a temple, led by LK Advani, a senior figure in the BJP, now headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
On December 6, 1992 a Hindu mob estimated to number 200,000 — aiming to symbolically lay the first stone of a new temple — reduced the mosque to ruins.
This triggered some of the worst religious riots since India’s bloody partition in 1947, leaving around 2,000 people dead, mainly Muslims. In 2002, 59 Hindu activists died in a fire on a train returning from Ayodhya, sparking riots in Gujarat state — when Modi was state premier — that saw upwards of 1,000 people perish, most of them Muslims.
An important ruling came in 2010 when a High Court ruled that Muslims and Hindus should split the site — albeit unevenly, with Hindus granted the lion’s share.
But this left no one happy. Both Hindu and Muslim groups appealed and the Supreme Court in 2011 stayed the lower court’s ruling, leaving the issue unresolved.
In March this year, the Supreme Court appointed a three-man panel including a famous guru to resolve the prickly issue through mediation, but this too failed.
With information from AFP