India's apex court has stayed the verdict in a case over a religious site in Northern India, disputed by Hindus and Muslims, which has caused a lot of bloodshed and tension between the two communities.
Security is high in Ayodhya ahead of the verdict
On Dec. 6, 1992, the demolition of the 16th-century Babri Mosque in the town of Ayodhya sparked widespread riots between Hindus and Muslims across India, especially in the commercial capital Mumbai. 2,000 people were killed.
Hindu nationalists argue that the Babri mosque was built by one of Mughal Emperor Babur's commanders after he demolished a temple that was dedicated to the god Ram.
Fears inter-communal tension could flare up
On Friday, a court in Allahabad was set to pronounce its judgment on whether a temple existed before the mosque was built.
However, the Supreme Court stepped in on Thursday, ordering the lower court in northern India to delay its verdict.
There are fears the ruling could exacerbate communal tension
It is feared that a judgment in favor of Hindu groups, who claim ownership of the land on which the Babri Mosque stood until it was torn down, could upset Muslim groups, which are also fighting for the title.
At the same time, the government worries that extremist Hindu groups could be angered in the event of Muslim groups getting ownership of the land.
Appeals for calm from all sides
New Delhi has already taken the precaution of stepping up security in cities and towns where there are communal sensitivities, banning bulk text messaging and even shutting down schools in places.
"I appeal to all the parties to the suits, as well as the general public and the media to reserve their opinions on the judgment or judgments of the special bench and to not make any hasty pronouncements," Home Minister P. Chidambaram said.
"All organizations must urge their members not to spread rumors or make provocative statements. It is the government’s earnest hope that all sections of the people will cooperate with the government in maintaining peace, order, harmony and tranquility."
Hindu extremists at the top of Babri Mosque, which was destroyed on Dec. 6 1992
Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi, whose state witnessed the worst communal riots in 2000, also appealed for quiet: "In the coming days we will be celebrating important Hindu festivals such as Diwali and Navratri. And the Commonwealth Games are also being held in Delhi. In the middle of this, after such a long time, the delayed verdict on the Ayodhya issue is also expected. So be brave and join me in ensuring a peaceful atmosphere and making the country proud."
New petition delays verdict
The decision to defer the verdict came after the Supreme Court heard a petition depicting how the ruling could flare up communal tension.
Some Hindus have proposed the building of a new Ram temple on the site
It also stated that the central and state governments were currently ill-equipped to handle an extreme law-and-order situation because of the pressures of the Commonwealth Games, the elections in the state of Bihar, the floods, and violence in Kashmir and Maoist-hit areas.
The question is now whether there will be a verdict by the end of the month. One of the High Court judges hearing the case in Allahabad is due to retire then. If the verdict is not delivered before Sept. 30, the entire trial might have to be conducted again.
Author: Murali Krishnan (New Delhi)
Editor: Anne Thomas