India court divides disputed holy site between Hindus and Muslims

[JURIST] An Indian court on Thursday ruled [judgment Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, PDFs] that the disputed holy site Ayodhya [BBC backgrounder] must be split among Hindus, Muslims and Nirmohi Akhara, a Hindu sect representing the Hindu deity Ram. The dispute over ownership of the site has been ongoing for more than 60 years [WP report] and has resulted in tensions between the religious communities, leading to violence in the country. In 1992, a sixteenth-century Muslim mosque located on the site was destroyed by a mob, sparking riots that led to over 2,000 deaths. The court was asked to address several questions regarding the sit,e including whether a Hindu temple was destroyed in order to build the mosque, whether the site was the birthplace of Ram and whether ownership of the property could be established. The court determined that no Hindu temple was destroyed in order to build the mosque and that joint ownership among the parties had been established by their religious beliefs and over 150 years of Muslims and Hindus practicing their faiths side by side. The court also gave deference to the belief regarding the birthplace of Ram and allocated a courtyard near the previous mosque location to Nirmohi Akhara. Two of the judges ruling on the issues indicated that it would be possible for a new mosque to be built on the site in the future. The dissenting judge in the case rejected this decision, finding that the mosque had been built against the tenets of Islam and was therefore not entitled to be treated as a mosque. The changes at the site will not go into effect for three months, which could be extended because multiple petitioners have indicated that they will appeal the ruling [Times of India report].

The Indian government increased security [Times of India report] around Ayodhya and Delhi in anticipation of Thursday's ruling. Measures implemented by the government included blocking mass text messaging [NYT report] in order to prevent large, organized protests. The government also stationed paramilitary units across the Uttar Pradesh region and at culturally significant sites including the Taj Mahal. In addition to government efforts, officials representing both Muslims and Hindus urged the public to remain calm in light of the decision.

 

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