India’s top court cleared the way on Saturday for a Hindu temple to be constructed at a hotly disputed holy site, in a huge victory for Hindu nationalists under Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The Supreme Court ruled that the site in Ayodhya in northern India, where Hindu mobs destroyed a 460-year-old mosque in 1992, must be handed over to a trust to oversee the construction of a Hindu temple, subject to conditions.
Indian authorities prepare to prevent any violence ahead of crucial ruling on Babri Mosque dispute in India's Supreme Court pic.twitter.com/8BtjgyZAo2
— TRT World Now (@TRTWorldNow) November 9, 2019
A separate piece of land in Ayodhya would be given over to Muslim groups to build a new mosque, the court ruled in a historic judgement aimed at ending a bitter and decades-old legal and sectarian battle.
Ahead of the verdict Indian authorities ramped up security across the country and Modi called for calm as police went on alert.
Thousands of extra personnel deployed and schools closed in and around the northern city of Ayodhya, centre of the bitter dispute, and elsewhere.
Read more: Hundreds of Indian Sikhs to make historic pilgrimage to Pakistan
Barricades were erected on roads leading to the Supreme Court building in New Delhi with officials and volunteers scouring social media for inflammatory posts in what is Facebook’s biggest market.
It remains to be seen if the verdict 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.
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 in Ayodhya.
Supreme Court: Hindus consider Ayodhya as birthplace of Lord Ram,they have religious sentiments,Muslims call it Babri mosque. Faith of Hindus that Lord Ram was born here is undisputed. #AyodhyaJudgment
— ANI (@ANI) November 9, 2019
They say that in the 16th century, Babur, the first emperor of the Mughal Islamic dynasty, built a mosque on top of a temple at the 2.8-acre (1.1-hectare) site.
Victory for Modi
In the 1980s, as Hindu nationalism and the BJP began to strengthen, pressure grew for the mosque to be knocked down and replaced by a glorious Hindu temple.
In 1992, a Hindu mob estimated to number 200,000 did just that, reducing the mosque to rubble.
This unleashed some of the worst religious riots since India’s bloody partition at the end of British colonial rule in 1947, leaving around 2,000 people dead, mainly Muslims.
In 1963, India adopted a law of imitations which stipulates a maximum period of 30 years to claim immovable properties from adverse possession
Ten years later in 2002, after 59 Hindu activists died in a blaze on a train from Ayodhya, riots in Gujarat state — when Modi was its chief minister — saw upwards of 1,000 people perish, again largely Muslims.
In 2010, a High Court ruled that Muslims and Hindus should split it — albeit unevenly, with Hindus granted the lion’s share.
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.
The case also involves a nonagenarian lawyer representing a Hindu deity and has seen a high drama including a lawyer representing Muslim groups tearing a purported ancient map showing the temple.
The BJP has campaigned for years for a temple to be built at Ayodhya, and the verdict is a major victory for the party, just months into Modi’s second term.
Read more: India Revoked Citizenship Of Aatish Taseer Due To Pakistani Father
But it will also send shudders through many in the 200-million-strong Muslim minority who fear that the BJP is bent on turning India into a purely Hindu nation.
Modi is nevertheless desperate to avoid bloodshed and ahead of the verdict, the BJP and the more hardline RSS organisation have told supporters to avoid any provocative celebrations.
Muslim groups have also appealed for calm.
So basically Hindutva wins as SC creates a Trust to be handed land to build temple saying mosque cannot be on that site! End of facade of secular India. Indian SC in tune with Hindutva narrative of Modi!
— Shireen Mazari (@ShireenMazari1) November 9, 2019
“Whatever is the verdict by the Supreme Court, it won’t be anybody’s win or loss,” Modi tweeted late Friday.
“My appeal to the people of India is that our priority is to ensure the verdict strengthens the values of peace, equality and goodwill of our country.”
Cases Presented in Court
The main Hindu parties in the case were Ramlalla Virajman (the deity), Nirmohi Akhara and the legal representatives of Gopal Singh Vish, a believer who filed a suit in 1950 seeking the right of worship in the mosque.
Following are the key arguments from Hindu parties presented by senior advocates K Parasaran and C S Vaidyanathan:
The entire disputed area of 2.77 acres is the Janmasthan, the birthplace of Lord Ram. It is the centuries-old belief of millions of Hindus that Lord Ram’s spirit resides in the Janmasthan. The faith of the devotees is itself the evidence that the Janmasthan is the birthplace of Lord Ram. There cannot be an adverse possession against, or joint possession of Janmasthan, which by itself is a juridical personality. Janmasthan is indivisible.
Read more: World Cries For Referendum In Kashmir Yet India Stays Oblivious
Under the argument that Mughal Emperor Babar did demolish a temple, they said Babri mosque cannot be regarded as a mosque built in line with the tenets of Islamic law, which prohibits the construction of a mosque by demolishing other structures.
After Babri Mosque demolition, BJP became untouchable in Indian politics for almost a decade. The party paid heavy price many times when smaller parties castigate it citing the above reason.
But BJP never abandoned the #RamMandir in its Manifesto.
— Rishi Bagree (@rishibagree) November 9, 2019
Even if Babri Mosque had legitimate grounds, it ceased to be a mosque as Muslims had stopped offering prayers there.
Following are the main arguments from Muslim parties presented by senior advocates Rajeev Dhavan, Shekhar Naphade, and Meenakshi Arora:
An array of factors occurring through the disputed land’s timeline were targeted. They argued that it is impossible to assess the legality of Mughal Emperor Babar’s acts after centuries, and The Archaeological Survey of India report contradicts the claim that a mosque was built over a temple.
Read more: Pakistan & Nepal Infuriated: New Indian Map Included Kashmir, Gilgit Baltistan & Kalapani
In 1855, the suit filed by Mahant Raghubar was dismissed as Hindu’s claim was barred. Later on, Hindus trespassed onto the mosque in 1949 and placed idols inside but the right of possession cannot be claimed on trespassing. Before 1949, Hindus would only worship in the outer courtyard.
Advocates fought for the notion ‘once a mosque, always a mosque’ as they said Muslims did not abandon the mosque but stopped praying there after an attack by the District Magistrate in 1950.
In 1963, India adopted a law of imitations which stipulates a maximum period of 30 years to claim immovable properties from adverse possession.
Finally, the mere belief of devotees cannot confer titles over disputed land.