Indian Supreme Court passes verdict in temple/mosque dispute

A temple in place of a mosque . . . 

The Supreme Court of India ruled on November 9 that a Hindu temple may be built on controversial land in the city of Ayodhya, where until 1992 the 16th century Babri Masjid (mosque) had stood. Ayodhya has been at the centre of a centuries-old claim by Hindus that the Babri Masjid, built by the Mughal emperor Babur, had been constructed on the birthplace of the Hindu deity Ram. Similar disputed land claims exist elsewhere in India, with the desecration of religious places being a common practice during conquests in previous centuries. On Saturday, many cities and towns across the country went into physical and virtual lockdown awaiting the Supreme Court’s verdict.

A complex, contested history . . .

The history behind the Ayodhya case is complex and the disputes date back hundreds of years with the first of many legal actions starting in 1885. Over the years Babri Masjid was invaded on several occasions with Hindu activists inscribing “Rama” on walls and placing figurines of the Hindu deity inside the mosque. In 1992, irrespective of court orders, the mosque was demolished, an act that led to the deaths of 2,000 people across the country, some of the worst communal riots in Indian history. Even though the Muslim community has been given five acres of land elsewhere in Ayodhya to rebuild the mosque, observers claim that the ruling goes against India’s secular guarantees that places of worships, irrespective of religion, are respected.

What happens next?

Different religions sharing walls and spaces is not uncommon in India. One of the holiest cities for the Hindu religion, and Prime Minister Modi’s parliamentary constituency, Varanasi, is where Kashi Viswanath Temple shares a boundary wall with the Gyanvapi Mosque. Ayodhya may be the last case where one place of worship is replaced with another, as a 1991 law declared such changes as a punishable offence, although an exception was made for Ayodhya. The Ayodhya case, however, may not be closed as the All India Muslim Personal Law Board has decided to file a review petition with the Supreme Court contesting the verdict.