The Babri Mosque, upper left, in the 18th century. From William Hodges' Select Views in India in the Years 17801783.
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India's Supreme Court on Saturday granted Hindus permission to build a temple at the centuries-old site of Babri Mosque demolished in 1992 by Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) led right-wing mobs.
In their unanimous and historic judgment, the five Supreme Court judges stated that the site rightfully belonged to Hindus, based upon the claim it is the birthplace of their god Ram. The judges ruled a mosque that had stood on the site since the 16th century, and was the basis of the Muslim claim to Ayodhya, was "not built on vacant land" and that the Hindu belief that this site was where Lord Ram was born could not be disputed.
The judges declared that a separate "prominent" five-acre piece of land would be allocated to the Muslim community to build a mosque near the contested site. In a 1024-page verdict, the SC said that the mosque should be constructed at a "prominent site" and a trust should be formed within three months for the construction of the temple at the site many Hindus believe Lord Ram was born.
The court observed that the demolition of the mosque in 1992 was "in violation of the status quo orders of this court." But the justices left it at that and didn't order any punitive action against those who demolished the mosque in the presence of several top leaders of Modi's party.
The judgment shot down a 2010 Allahabad High Court decision splitting up the site, saying that it must be allocated as a whole. On September 30, 2010 Allahabad High Court ruled that the 460-year-old Babri mosque site in Ayodhya would be split into thirds with two-thirds belonging to Hindu groups and the remaining third going to the Muslim community.
The Supreme Court ruling, just six months after his landslide election win, is another huge victory for Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) government, who have made the restoration of Ram Temple at Ayodhya a focal point of their Hindu nationalist agenda. The supreme court judges said plans for the temple would be drawn up within the next three months.
"The judgment is not satisfactory but we respect it. We will have discussions and then decide further course of action," Zafaryab Jilani, Sunni Waqf Board lawyer, was quoted as saying. "We are not satisfied with the verdict and it's not up our expectation," said Jilani, who is representing the Muslim community's Babri Action committee. "These 5 acres of land don't mean anything to us," he said. "We are examining the verdict and whatever legal course is open for us." He hinted at filing a review petition in the Supreme Court challenging Saturday's verdict. At the same time, he appealed to members of all communities to maintain peace.
Faizan Mustafa, Vice-Chancellor of NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad, termed the verdict "controversial"."The judges tried their best to have a kind of a balance but ultimately it's the mystery of the faith over rule of law, because they [judges] said that we can't be doing anything about the Hindu belief and if they believe that Ram was born here ... we have to accept it," he said. "Belief is good for the purposes of religion, but can it become a basis to resolve property disputes?"
The Supreme Court judgment in the Babri Mosque dispute is likely to cast a shadow on the future of various mosques in the country contested by Hindu groups.
The mosques are protected under the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, which states that a religious place will retain the same character it had on the day of India's independenceAug. 15, 1947. The law was enacted in 1991, at the height of the Ramjanmabhoomi protests, and did not extend to the contested Babri Masjid in Ayodhya.
However, Legal sanctity is not enough to protect religious structures in India, as the Babri Masjid's demolition showed, according to Quartz India.
Tellingly, Acharya Giriraj Kishore, the international vice president of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, one of India's largest Hindu fundamentalist organizations, said after the 2010 verdict, that the Babri mosque ruling could pave the way for Hindus to retrieve more "Hindu holy places from Muslim occupation".
"Muslims would now also have to be ready to return to us the land beneath the two mosques where we used to have our temples in Mathura and Varanasi," Mr Kishore was quoted as saying. He was alluding to the Gyanvapi mosque in Varanasi and the Shahi Idgah mosque in Mathura. Hindu groups say Hindu temples were originally built on the sites and that the Hindu deity Krishna was born in Mathura.
It is a known fact that Hindu fundamentalists are claiming that thousands of Hindu temples were demolished to build mosques on those sites during the Muslim rule. One list names 299 Mosques in various districts of U.P, which were allegedly built after demolishing Hindu temples.
The latest Supreme Court verdict will open a flood gate of law suits against any mosque claiming that it was built on a temple site. Lower courts are likely to follow the Supreme Court verdict allowing building a temple on the site of a mosque.