Court rules Hindus and Muslims to share disputed site
An Indian court ruled Thursday that a disputed religious site in Ayodhya claimed by both Muslims and Hindus be split between the two groups. Several litigants say they will appeal the verdict.
AFP - An Indian court ruled Thursday that a disputed holy site in Ayodhya with a history of triggering Hindu-Muslim clashes should be divided -- a judgement seem as favouring the Hindu litigants.
"All three sets of parties, i.e. Muslims, Hindus and (Hindu religious organisation) Nirmhoi Akhara are declared joint holders of the property in dispute," Justice S.U. Khan said in a ruling on the website of the Allahabad High Court.
Several of the litigants in the case said they would appeal the judgement to the Supreme Court, meaning the already 60-year dispute will continue in India's notoriously slow justice system.
Some 200,000 police and paramilitary forces had been deployed ahead of the court verdict to pre-empt any violent reaction.
In 1992 the demolition of a 16th-century mosque on the Ayodhya site by Hindu activists sparked riots that killed more than 2,000 people, mostly Muslims, in some of the worst sectarian violence since partition of the Indian sub-continent in 1947.
The process to divide the site would begin in three months, the court said.
A third will go to Muslims, a second part will become a temple for Hindus who claim the spot as the birthplace of their god Lord Ram, while another third will go to the Ayodhya-based Nirmhoi Akhara.
Hindu lawyers said the court's verdict backed Hindu beliefs that the site was the birthplace of the deity Lord Ram.
"I am very happy the court has accepted the historic fact and this is a matter of great happiness for Hindus," Nritya Gopaldas Maharaj, president of Ram Janam Bhoomi trust, told reporters in Ayodhya.
But Maharaj said his group would appeal in the Supreme Court against the court's decision to give a proportion of the site to Muslims.
"The court has respected the Hindu belief but we will take the matter to the Supreme Court as the fight still remains," he said.
Ever since the destruction of the mosque 18 years ago the site has been cordoned off with barbed wire and steel fencing and guarded by troops.
The main Muslim group contesting the case said it was "partly disappointed" by the verdict, which dismissed its claim to ownership of the entire site.
"The suit of Muslims were liable to be dismissed. But they are still entitled to one third of the site," the lawyer for the Babri Masjid Action Committee, Zafaryab Jilani, told reporters.
The government had issued public appeals for calm ahead of the verdict, as well as placing advertisements in newspapers urging respect for the rule of law and mobilising tens of thousands of security forces.
India is home to all the world's major religions. They co-exist for the most part in harmony, forming an essential part of the nation's image as a fast-modernising multi-racial society capable of coping with its diversity.
India and neighbouring Pakistan were both born in strife, however, after their creation via the partition of the then British-ruled subcontinent in 1947 led to religious clashes that left up to a million people dead.
The country has avoided any major outbreak of Hindu-Muslim violence since riots in the western state of Gujarat in 2002 and Home Minister P. Chidambaram expressed his belief Wednesday that the country had changed.
"India has moved on. Young people have moved on," he told a press conference, issuing another appeal for calm.
The High Court ruling turned on three key questions: whether the disputed spot was Ram's birthplace, whether the mosque was built after the demolition of a Ram temple and if the mosque had been built in accordance with the tenets of Islam.
Noted constitutional lawyer Rajeev Dhawan said he was disappointed with the ruling and felt the court had shirked its primary responsibility of discerning ownership of the site.
"If you seek to divide property, you should at least first find out who owns it," Dhawan told the NDTV news network.
"This judgement seems to be a judgement where the court has done what it was not supposed to do and said 'We cant answer this question. So we must split it three ways'."