After 60 years, an Indian high court has delivered its verdict on a site in Ayodhya that is disputed between Hindus and Muslims. The case is extremely complicated and the verdict is said to be 10,000 pages long.
Schoolchildren hold various religious symbols at a peace prayer
India held its breath for days. Over 200,000 security forces had been deployed to Ayodhya and other highly-sensitive regions, mainly in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, in case communal violence broke out between Hindus and Muslims.
Schools, businesses and offices were shut down for days in Ayodhya. The eerie calm only added to the fears and revived memories of the worst riots India had witnessed since partition in 1947.
Much of India awaited the verdict with baited breath
In 1992, more than 2,000 people were killed in riots that were triggered by the destruction of the Babri Mosque. Hindu extremists stormed the mosque that was built in 1528 on a site where they believe there was a temple that dated back to the 11th-century. Legend has it that Ram was born here 900,000 years ago.
Appeal for calm
Just before the verdict was due, Indian Home Minister P Chidambaram called for calm: "I would once again appeal to all sections of the people of the country to cooperate with the Government and uphold the values that are dear to our country."
The disputed site in Ayodhya, with a population of about 50,000, is currently surrounded by a fence and heavily guarded. Hindu nationalists have been calling for a new Ram temple to be built on the site since 1984. After the riots, a shrine honoring Ram was built on the ruins of the Babri mosque.
Businesses had been closed down ahead of the verdict
A sign of how explosive the whole matter is was that the only surviving gunman of the Mumbai attacks, Muhammad Ajmal Kasab, said that they had been revenge for the destruction of the mosque.
The fact that the complex was called Masjid-i-Janmasthaan (Mosque of the Birthplace) until the 1940s also shows how important the site is for both religions.
Land to be shared among three parties
The verdict states that the site will now be shared among the three parties that have laid claim to it since 1949. Two parts will go to the two Hindu parties, the other will go to the Muslims.
Rajeev Dhawan, a legal expert, was disappointed about the verdict, saying that "if one wants to divide land, one has to first find out to whom it belongs. I think the court has done something it should not have done, saying 'we could not answer the question of whom the land belongs to and therefore we are dividing it among the three parties.'"
The lawyer and activist Prashant Bhushan also said the verdict was wrong. "According to the law the verdict is wrong. It is based on the Hindu belief that the god Ram was born here but that does not mean there is a legal right to land."
The reactions among the general population were mixed. "I think this verdict should be satisfying to both religious groups," one man said. "It could give an example of brotherhood for the two groups."
Students at a Hindu school in Ayodhya prepare for prayers
"I think it would be better to divide the land in equal parts between the two religious groups," one woman said. "But if this is the will of the court then we all have to accept it."
Another man said "it would be good if Muslims and Hindus could pray there together. It doesn’t make any sense to argue constantly and to criticize."
Zafaryab Jilani, the Babri Masjid Action Committee’s lawyer, has already announced that he will appeal to the Supreme Court. It was right that the court accepted that a mosque had existed, he said but the sharing of the land among three parties was wrong.
According to the verdict the sharing of the land is supposed to begin in three months.
Author: Priya Esselborn (act)
Editor: Thomas Baerthlein