Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will help lay the foundations on Wednesday for a “grand” new Hindu temple at a flashpoint holy site that has been the spark for some of India’s worst sectarian violence. What stood at the same site as the Hindu temple before it was torn down was a 450-year-old mosque.
AFP looks at the history of the three-acre patch of land in the holy northern town of Ayodhya and why it has long been an explosive source of contention between India’s majority Hindus and minority Muslims.
History of tensions
Hindus and Muslims have for decades been bitterly divided over the 16th-century Babri mosque in Ayodhya. Hindus believe the mosque was built on the ruins of an ancient temple dedicated to their god Ram, who is also believed to have been born on or near the site. Tensions boiled over in 1992 when a Hindu mob tore the mosque to the ground, sparking religious violence that left about 2,000 dead across India.
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Hindus believe a Muslim conqueror razed the Ram temple in the 1500s to make way for the mosque. The British erected a fence in the 19th century to separate places of worship so that Muslims could worship in the inner court and Hindus the outer. But in 1949, idols of Lord Ram appeared inside the mosque, allegedly placed by Hindus.
In history we were told that:
Amarnath cave was discovered by Muslim. The foundation of the Golden Temple is one of Lahore.Sufi Mian Mir laid by?So shall we tell our future generation that the foundation of the Ayodhya Ram temple is a Muslim Faiz Khan?#StopFaizKhan
— Cautious.Indian (@cautious_indian) July 29, 2020
Hindus believe a Muslim conqueror razed the Ram temple in the 1500s to make way for the mosque. The British erected a fence in the 19th century to separate places of worship so that Muslims could worship in the inner court and Hindus the outer.
Hateful mob tears down mosque
In 1984, a group of Hindus formed a committee to “liberate” the birthplace of Ram and build a temple at the disputed site. The movement was headed by L K Advani, a senior figure in the ruling BJP, now headed by Modi. Its supporters began travelling to the site to demand a temple be built.
On December 6, 1992, a huge Hindu crowd converged on the mosque site to symbolically and provocatively lay the first stone of the new temple. The 200,000-strong mob broke through police cordons, first smashing three domes to rubble before reducing the rest of the historic mosque to ruins. The destruction triggered some of the worst religious riots since India’s bloody partition in 1947.
Lord Shri Ram is a symbol of Indian history, culture and our faith. Today is a day of joy for every Indian. It has been a dream of all of us to build a grand Ram temple in Ayodhya.#राममंदिर_से_रामराज्य pic.twitter.com/RS9oBEQ6vh
— Shrikant V Patil (@ShrikantVPatil7) August 5, 2020
Ten years later a trainload of Hindu activists were burned alive as they returned from Ayodhya, sparking retaliatory riots in Gujarat state that left upwards of 1,000 people dead, again most of them Muslims. The same site would later be used to build the new Hindu temple in place of the 450-year old mosque.
India’s supreme court bows to nationalists’ pressure?
In November India’s highest court finally settled a decades-long, arcane legal fight that even saw the infant Ram represented by a lawyer. The ruling awarded the site to Hindus, in a major victory for Modi and the BJP. The Muslim side was given a nearby location to construct a “prominent” new mosque.
The mosque there, the Babri Masjid, was destroyed during a political rally which turned into a riot on 6 December 1992. A subsequent land title case was lodged in the Allahabad High Court, the verdict of which was pronounced on 30 September 2010.
In the judgment, the three judges of the Allahabad High Court ruled that the 2.77 acres (1.12 ha) of Ayodhya land be divided into three parts, with one third going to the Ram Lalla or Infant Rama represented by the Hindu Maha Sabha, one third going to the Sunni Waqf Board, and the remaining one third going to Nirmohi Akhara, a Hindu religious denomination. While the three-judge bench was not unanimous that the disputed structure was constructed after demolition of a temple, it did agree that a temple structure predated the mosque at the same site.
The five-judge Supreme Court bench heard the title dispute cases from August to October 2019. On 9 November 2019, the Supreme Court, headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, announced their verdict; it vacated the previous decision and ruled that the land belonged to the government based on tax records. It further ordered the land to be handed over to a trust to build the Hindu temple. It also ordered the government to give an alternate five-acre tract of land to the Sunni Waqf Board to build the mosque.
Modi’s holy plan
To shouts of “Hail Lord Ram”, Modi said in parliament in February that the new temple would be “grand”. His right-hand man, Home Minister Amit Shah, said it would “touch the sky”. Wednesday’s ceremony, held at a time recommended by astrologers and involving 135 “revered saints”, will use soil from almost 2,000 holy sites around India and water of about 100 holy rivers. Silver bricks will be used in the foundations.
AFP with additional input by GVS News Desk