A 125-year-old Hindu-Muslim dispute that repeatedly frayed Indias secular fabric was sought to be settled Thursday with a court ruling that the place where the Babri mosque in Ayodhya stood before it was razed by Hindu mobs in 1992 was indeed the birthplace of Ram revered by millions.
A three-judge bench, comprising a Muslim and two Hindus, of the Allahabad High Courts Lucknow bench ruled by majority that a Ram temple had been destroyed to build the Babri mosque in Ayodhya in the 16th century and so the mosque violated Islamic tenets.
But judges S.U. Khan, D.V. Sharma and Sudhir Agarwal ruled that the entire disputed land in Ayodhya, a riverside town in Uttar Pradesh which for decades became synonymous with Hindu-Muslim tensions, should be divided among the Sunni Waqf Board, Hindus and the Nirmohi Akhara, a Hindu sect who were among those who fought the court battle.
The status quo, however, would be maintained for the next three months.
Despite the divisive nature of the judgement against which both Hindu and Muslim litigants have vowed to appeal in the Supreme Court, India — whose over one billion population includes 80 percent Hindus and 14 percent Muslims — remained calm. Both Muslim and Hindu leaders said nothing should be done to offend any community.
“The disputed site is (indeed) the birthplace of Lord Ram,” said the brief two-page official synopsis of the judgement. It ruled that the place of Rams birth must also be construed as a juristic person and a deity.
“It is personified as the spirit of divine worshipped as birthplace of Lord Rama as a child,” the majority ruling said.
The other highlights of the eagerly awaited judgement were that idols of Ram were sneaked into the Babri mosque in December 1949 and that archaeological evidence proved that a temple had existed at the mosque site.
The judgement, running into about 10,000 pages, was furiously analysed across India, where tens of thousands of security forces had been deployed to prevent any communal violence.
“The disputed building was constructed by (Mughal emperor) Babar — the year is not certain — but it was built against the tenets of Islam,” the majority judges said. “Thus, it cannot have the character of a mosque.”
The verdict sparked calls for Hindu-Muslim amity.
All India Muslim Personal Law Boards Kamal Farooqui said: “There could be a (temple) and a (mosque) existing alongside in Ayodhya in the larger interest of the nation. The court has opened up some consensus for us and a chance for reconciliation.”
Zafaryab Jilani of the Sunni Waqf Board, whose title suit for the Ayodhya land was dismissed by the court, vowed not to “surrender” but added that the board would abide by anything the Supreme Court decides.
Mohan Bhagwat, chief of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), which played a major role in the mass movement aimed at building a Ram temple at the Babri mosque site, said the ruling should not be seen as a victory or defeat for anyone.
“This has almost cleared the way for building a grand Ram temple,” he said, asking people to forget the bitterness of the past.
The Nirmohi Akhara, one of the three parties allotted a third of the disputed land, hailed the ruling as a “victory for all people who have faith in Lord Ram” but quickly added that it was no defeat or victory for any religion.
Hindu lawyer and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Ravi Shankar Prasad urged Muslims, Indias largest religious minority, to help in building a Ram temple at Ayodhya.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh stepped in soon after the verdict was announced, convening a high-level meeting to discuss the way ahead. The central government is the custodian of the land where a makeshift Ram temple stands.
“The correct conclusion, at this stage, is that the status quo will be maintained until the cases are taken up by the Supreme Court,” he said. “I have full faith in the people of India. I alsohave full vondidence in the traditions of secularism…”
Thursdays judicial fiat marked the end of a chapter in a more than a century-old Hindu-Muslim dispute that has its genesis in 1528 when a military commander of Babar is said to have built a three-domed mosque named after the emperor.
The row took a new twist in December 1949 when idols of Ram were sneaked into the mosque, leading to daily Hindu prayers. The present case kicked off in January 1950 in a court in Faizabad, Ayodhyas twin town.
The emotive movement took a volatile turn in the 1980s when Hindu groups began mobilizing the community so as to build a grand Ram temple at the Babri mosque site. It quickly escalated Hindu-Muslim tensions.
The issue led to the worst eruption of Hindu-Muslim violence after Indias 1947 independence when Hindu mobs demolished the Babri mosque in December 1992, leaving over 2,000 people dead across the country.
Hindu activists quickly erected a makeshift temple on the ruins of the mosque.
India Inc hailed Thursdays judicial ruling — and the countrys ability to digest it without taking to the streets. “The verdict is a win-win for all,” said industry lobby Assocham.
Political leaders were, however, more nuanced.
“We should all welcome it. If anyone has any reservation over the verdict, the Supreme Court is open…,” Congress general secretary Janardan Dwivedi said. “Nothing should be done to disturb harmony and peace.”
The Communist Party of India-Marxist said: “In our constitutional, secular, democratic system, judicial process which includes recourse to the Supreme Court should be the only way to resolve the issue.”