Indian court rules in favor of Hindu temple on disputed land

Court also orders that alternative land be given to Muslims to build a mosque.

By Sheikh Saaliq / Associated Press

NEW DELHI — India’s Supreme Court on Saturday ruled in favor of a Hindu temple on a disputed religious ground in the country’s north and ordered that alternative land be given to Muslims to build a mosque – a verdict in a highly contentious case that was immediately deplored by a key Muslim body.

The dispute over land ownership has been one of India’s most heated issues, with Hindu nationalists demanding a temple on the site in the town of Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh state for more than a century. The 16th century Babri Masjid mosque was destroyed by Hindu hard-liners in December 1992, sparking massive Hindu-Muslim violence that left some 2,000 people dead.

Saturday’s verdict paves the way for building the temple in place of the demolished mosque.

It is expected to give a boost to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party which has been promising the majority Hindus a temple of their most revered god Ram in Ayodhya town as part of its election strategy for decades. The minority Muslims fear that the court verdict will embolden Hindu hardliners in the country.

As the news broke, groups of jubilant Hindus poured into Ayodhya’s streets and distributed sweets to celebrate the verdict, but police soon persuaded them to return to their homes. As night fell, a large number of Hindus in the town lit candles, lamps and firecrackers to celebrate, and police faced a tougher time in curbing their enthusiasm.

The five Supreme Court justices who heard the case said in a unanimous judgment that 5 acres (2 hectares) of land will be allotted to the Muslim community to build a mosque, though it did not specify where. The court said the 5 acres is “restitution for the unlawful destruction of the mosque.”

The disputed land, meanwhile, will be given to a board of trustees for the construction of a temple to the Hindu god Ram.

Hindu hard-liners have said they want to build a new temple to Ram on the site, which they revere as his birthplace. They say the mosque was built after a temple dedicated to the Hindu god was destroyed by Muslim invaders.

Zafaryab Jilani, a representative of the Uttar Pradesh Sunni Central Waqf Board, a key Muslim body in the state and a party to the dispute, opposed the ruling.

“We are not satisfied with the verdict and it’s not up to our expectation,” he said. “These 5 acres of land don’t mean anything to us. We are examining the verdict and whatever legal course is open for us.”

Jilani hinted at filing a review petition in the Supreme Court challenging the verdict. At the same time, he appealed to members of all communities to maintain peace.

The judges said that the demolition of the mosque in 1992 was “in violation of the status quo orders of this court.” But they didn’t order any punitive action against those who demolished the mosque in the presence of several top leaders of current Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party.

Modi hailed the decision and said it had settled a long-standing matter.

“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.

He also in a broadcast over television channels and radio urged “all citizens to come together to build a new India and work for everyone’s development.”

Hindu supporters and activists celebrated the ruling on the court lawns, blowing bugles and chanting “Jai shree Ram,” or “Hail god Ram.”

The five judges said Hindus’ belief that Ram was born at the site “is undisputed,” and that Muslims have not provided evidence that they were in exclusive possession of the disputed site.

The judges also said the Uttar Pradesh Sunni Central Waqf Board had failed to establish its case. On the contrary, Hindus established their case that they were in possession of the outer courtyard of the disputed complex, they said.

Vishnu Shankar Jain, an attorney who represented the Hindu community in the case, said the journey over several years had been a struggle.

“It was a huge legal battle and we are happy that we convinced the Supreme Court. It’s a historic moment for Hindus,” he said.

The main opposition Congress party also welcomed the court verdict and appealed all parties to maintain peace and harmony.

In Islamabad, Pakistan’s foreign minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, criticized the verdict, saying it was indicative of the “hate based mindset” of Modi’s government.

After the demolition of the mosque, Hindus and Muslims took the issue to a lower court, which in 2010 ruled that the disputed land should be divided into three parts – two for Hindus and one for Muslims.

That was challenged in the Supreme Court by both communities.

The five judges started daily proceedings in August after mediation failed to find a compromise.

Modi had promised to build the temple during 2014 elections that brought him to power. But he later decided to wait for the court verdict despite pressure from millions of Hindu hard-liners who asked his government to bring legislation to build the temple.

Authorities on Saturday increased security in Ayodhya, which is located 550 kilometers (350 miles) east of New Delhi, and deployed more than 5,000 paramilitary forces to prevent attacks by Hindu activists on Muslims, who comprise 6% of the town’s more than 55,500 people.

Overall, Hindus comprise more than 80% and Muslims around 14% of India’s 1.3 billion people.

The town looked deserted on Saturday, with authorities turning back thousands of Hindu pilgrims who were congregating for a religious event scheduled for Tuesday.

Police have arrested about 500 people for posting provocative messages on social media in Uttar Pradesh. Police also have detained around 5,000 people with criminal backgrounds across the state to prevent them from creating trouble after the court verdict, according to Uttar Pradesh government spokesman Awanish Awasthi.

Authorities have stopped the entry of people into the state through the land border from Nepal, and ordered all of the state’s schools and colleges to remain closed until Monday.

———

Associated Press writer Zarar Khan in Islamabad contributed to this report.

———

This story has been corrected to show that the organization’s name is Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, instead of Rashtriya Sevak Sangh.

Talk to us

More in Nation-World

Joe Biden is sworn in as the 46th president of the United States by Chief Justice John Roberts as Jill Biden holds the Bible during the 59th Presidential Inauguration at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Biden becomes the 46th president of the United States

The new president vowed to heal and unite a nation in crisis.

President-elect Joe Biden, his wife Jill Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris and her husband Doug Emhoff arrive at the steps of the U.S. Capitol for the start of the official inauguration ceremonies, in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Watch the presidential inauguration here

Chief Justice John Roberts administered the oath to Biden; Justice Sonya Sotomayor swore in Harris.

Members of the Washington National Guard stand at a sundial near the Legislative Building, Sunday, Jan. 10, 2021, at the Capitol in Olympia, Wash. Governors in some states have called out the National Guard, declared states of emergency and closed their capitols over concerns about potentially violent protests. Though details remain murky, demonstrations are expected at state capitols beginning Sunday and leading up to President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Washington National Guard members activated for inauguration

The extra security comes in the wake of the insurgence at the U.S. Capitol last week.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., displays the signed article of impeachment against President Donald Trump in an engrossment ceremony before transmission to the Senate for trial on Capitol Hill, in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Trump impeached after Capitol riot in historic second charge

Ten Republicans fled the president, joining Democrats who said he needed to be held accountable.

An American flag flies over the White House in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
After excusing violence, Trump acknowledges Biden transition

A number of White House aides were discussing potential mass resignations before Trump’s term ends.

Nashville Chief of Police John Drake speaks at a news conference Sunday, Dec. 27, 2020, in Nashville, Tenn. Drake spoke before five officers told what they experienced when an explosion took place in downtown Nashville early Christmas morning. The officers are part of a group of six officers credited with evacuating people before the explosion happened. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
Suspect in Nashville explosion died, feds say

Police officers provided harrowing details of responding to the Christmas morning bombing.

Boxes containing the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine are prepared to be shipped at the Pfizer Global Supply Kalamazoo manufacturing plant in Portage, Mich., Sunday, Dec. 13, 2020. (AP Photo/Morry Gash, Pool)
COVID-19 vaccine shipments begin in historic US effort

The first of two shots are expected to be given to health care workers and nursing home residents.

A passenger aircraft at Ciudad Real International Airport in Ciudad Real, Spain, on Oct. 27, 2020. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Paul Hanna.
Airlines face ‘mission of the century’ in shipping vaccines

Cars, buses, trucks, motorcycles, bikes and even donkeys may be needed to get the drug to rural areas.

FILE - Election workers, right, verify ballots as recount observers, left, watch during a Milwaukee hand recount of presidential votes at the Wisconsin Center, Friday, Nov. 20, 2020, in Milwaukee. Wisconsin finished a partial recount of its presidential results on Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020 confirming Democrat Joe Biden's victory over President Donald Trump in the key battleground state. Trump vowed to challenge the outcome in court. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
Completed Wisconsin recount confirms Biden’s win over Trump

Dane County was the second and last county to finish its recount, reporting a 45-vote gain for Trump.

FILE - This Nov. 18, 2020, file photo provided by the Utah Department of Public Safety shows a metal monolith in the ground in a remote area of red rock in Utah. The mysterious silver monolith that was placed in the Utah desert has disappeared less than 10 days after it was spotted by wildlife biologists performing a helicopter survey of bighorn sheep, federal officials and witnesses said. The Bureau of Land Management said it had received credible reports that the three-sided stainless steel structure was removed on Nov. 27.  (Utah Department of Public Safety via AP, File)
Mysterious silver monolith disappears from Utah desert

It vanished less than 10 days after it was spotted by wildlife biologists from a helicopter.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks during a news conference with the coronavirus task force at the White House in Washington, Thursday, Nov. 19, 2020. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
Fauci: US may see ‘surge upon surge’ of virus in weeks ahead

He does not expect current recommendations around social distancing to be relaxed before Christmas.

FILE - In this Tuesday, June 20, 2017 file photo a Boing 737 MAX 9 airplane performs a demonstration flight at the Paris Air Show, in Le Bourget, east of Paris, France. Europe’s aviation regulator has taken a step closer to letting the Boeing 737 Max fly again. It published a proposed airworthiness directive on Tuesday that could see it clear the aircraft within weeks to resume flying after nearly two years and a pair of deadly crashes. (AP Photo/Michel Euler, file)
European regulator moves to clear Boeing 737 for flight

The move comes after the FAA already cleared the Boeing 737 Max earlier this month.