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The bitter history of the Ayodhya dispute

Amid heightened security across India, the Supreme Court on Saturday unanimously ordered a government-run trust be set up to eventually pave the way for construction of a temple at the disputed Ayodhya land.

A highly emotive issue

The court said the government should, within three months, formulate a scheme to set up a trust for possession of the inner and outer courtyards of the disputed site. Until such a trust is formed, the government will hold the land.

A five-judge Constitution bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, who retires on November 17, said the Hindu litigants were able to establish their case that they were in possession of the outer courtyard. It added that the Muslim side was unable to prove their exclusive possession of the inner courtyard.

The 2.77 acres of disputed land in Ayodhya has gone entirely to Hindus, and Muslims will have to be given an alternative piece of 5 acres to build a mosque, the Supreme Court concluded in a unanimous judgment.

At the heart of the case was a property dispute dealing with the 2.77 (1.1 hectares) acres and who owned this land. But it was this piece of real estate that became the most divisive political weapon in modern India, which has plagued Hindus and Muslims for 70 years.

The judgment held the Hindu belief that the disputed site is the “birthplace of Lord Ram” is correct. It also said that the Sunni Waqf Board has not been able to prove adverse possession of the site, while there is evidence to show that Hindus worshipped at the premises of the mosque prior to 1857.

The much-awaited verdict comes nine years after the Allahabad High Court divided the disputed Ayodhya land equally between Ram Lalla Virajman, the Sunni Waqf Board (belonging to Sunni Muslims) and Nirmohi Akhara.

All three parties appealed the decision and Saturday’s judgment comes after day-to-day hearings for 40 days.

Appeals for calm and respect for order

Political reactions to the judgment were more or less on expected lines as most parties welcomed the order even as a tight security cordon was thrown around the northern state of Uttar Pradesh in the wake of the judgment.

The government had not just fortified Ayodhya in anticipation of trouble but across the country, security forces have been put on a high alert. In some towns, internet services were also suspended to stop the spread of rumors.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi hailed the verdict, saying it had “amicably” ended the decades-old dispute.

“The halls of justice have amicably concluded a matter going on for decades. Every side, every point of view was given adequate time and opportunity to express differing points of view. This verdict will further increase people’s faith in judicial processes,” Modi tweeted.

“We appeal to all the parties concerned and to all communities to abide by the secular values and spirit of fraternity enshrined in our Constitution. It is the responsibility of each one of us to reaffirm our tradition of mutual respect and unity among all that has defined our society through the ages,” said Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala.

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh or RSS, which is the ideological mentor of the ruling BJP, was quick to welcome the decision.

“We welcome the court verdict on the Ayodhya issue, it should not be seen as anybody’s victory or loss. We should forget disputes of past and work together to build Ram temple,” said RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat in a press conference.

But not all were happy with the unanimous order of the court and were even thinking of further legal recourse.

“We respect the judgment but we are not satisfied, we will decide the further course of action as the judgment is not according to our expectations,” Zafaryab Jilani of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board told DW.

“We are not satisfied with the verdict. The Supreme Court is indeed supreme but not infallible. We have full faith in the constitution, we were fighting for our rights, and we don’t need a 5-acre land donation. We should reject this 5-acre land offer, don’t patronize us,” said All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen chief Asaduddin Owaisi.

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    Mali’s iconoclasts

    They call themselves Ansar Dine, defenders of Islam, but defense is not their mission. They have been destroying Islamic treasures in the historic city of Timbuktu. At least 7 of the 16 UNESCO’s World Cultural Heritage shrines have been badly damaged.

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    Worldwide crimes against cultural heritage

    In the name of Allah

    The Tuareg rebels and Ansar Dine took control of northern Mali a few months ago, but it is Ansar Dine which is responsible for the destruction of the shrines. Once the World Heritage Committee had put Timbuktu on the list of endangered world heritage, Ansar Dine destroyed even more shrines.

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    In danger

    There are three major mosques in Timbuktu; Djingareyber, Sankoré and Sidi–Yahya. Together with the 16 damaged tombs, these three ancient buildings are Timbuktu’s contribution to the UN’s World Cultural Heritage list. As local residents looked on in bewilderement, the extremists smashed the entrance to the Sidi–Yahya mosque.

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    Worldwide crimes against cultural heritage


    Timbuktu has long been a center for Islamic teaching and scholarship. Rare documents, valuable religious and scientific texts are to be found in its libraries. The Islamists have threatened to destroy those valuable manuscripts and have already seized some of them.

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    Worldwide crimes against cultural heritage

    Long history of destruction

    Historically, Mali’s radical Islamists are certainly not the first to commit such deeds. Even in modern times, political or religious fanatics have destroyed irreplaceable cultural treasures. Particularly badly hit were temples and monasteries in Tibet during China’s Cultural Revolution. The oldest Samye monastery was among those that were badly damaged.

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    Worldwide crimes against cultural heritage

    A temple restored

    Almost all Tibetan monasteries were desecrated, looted and destroyed. Oldest surviving Samye monastery was later partly built and was reconsecrated in 1980s. The monastery is now an official monument of the People’s Republic of China.

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    Worldwide crimes against cultural heritage

    Built on old foundations

    The Babri mosque in Ayodhya in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh was built on the site of a Hindu temple, probably built in 1528.

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    Worldwide crimes against cultural heritage

    Hindu fanatics

    Hindu fanatics tried repeatedly to demolish the mosque and replace it with a temple, initially without success. But in 1992 it was destroyed in a nationwide riots that left at least 2,000 people dead, most of them Muslims.

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    Buddhas destroyed

    Just months before the world was shocked by 9/11 attacks, radical Islamists blew up two statues of Buddha in Afghanistan. The Bamiyan statues were among the oldest and largest in the world. Their faces were lost to posterity centuries ago.

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    On the world heritage list

    The explosion opened up a gap in the rocks, revealing religious inscriptions dating back to the fouth century AD. The Bamiyan Valley with its archaeological remains is now on the World Cultural Heritage list. The university of Aachen has recreated the statues with computer modeling, but UNESCO has ruled out any restoration work in the field. Author: Sabine Peschel / al | Editor: Mark Caldwell

1992 destruction

The religious site has become a fixture in the imagination of millions of Hindus and Muslims in India. The demolition of the centuries-old mosque by a Hindu mob in Ayodhya on December 6, 1992 sparked deadly religious riots around the country, killing about 2,000 people. Jihadist groups cited the destruction of the mosque as a reason behind the 1993 Mumbai bombings and other attacks in the 1990s.

Ever since the Supreme Court took it on itself to hear the sensitive issue on a daily basis, the calls for the temple construction have regained momentum as the BJP enjoys a majority in national parliament and also in the Uttar Pradesh state assembly.

While delivering its verdict, the judges referred to a report by the Archeological Survey of India (ASI), which they said confirmed that a structure existed underneath the mosque but did not specify whether it was a temple.

Prime Minister Modi’s government had detailed in its 2014 general election manifesto that it would “explore all possibilities within the framework of the constitution” to facilitate the construction of a Ram temple at the disputed site.

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, a Hindu priest and BJP leader, had even promised a huge statue of Lord Ram in Ayodhya. He has also changed the name of the district where Ayodhya town is located from Faizabad last year, which has Muslim origins, to Ayodhya.

While the majority Hindu community is celebrating the court’s decision, the Muslim community is content with the hope that Ayodhya would remain peaceful.

Each evening at 1830 UTC, DW’s editors send out a selection of the day’s hard news and quality feature journalism. You can sign up to receive it directly here.

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