Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 7 December 2019

Ayodhya temple verdict raises fears it may be used as a precedent

India's Supreme Court awarded site of demolished mosque to Hindu groups seeking to build temple there

Supporters of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad celebrate after the Indian Supreme Court delivered its verdict on the disputed religious site in Ayodhya on November 9, 2019. AFP
Supporters of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad celebrate after the Indian Supreme Court delivered its verdict on the disputed religious site in Ayodhya on November 9, 2019. AFP

Niaz was eight years old when riots broke out in Mumbai in December 1992.

He did not understand them fully at the time. He just knew that a mosque had been torn down somewhere up north, and that the riots between Hindus and Muslims were a result of that.

On Saturday, when India’s Supreme Court awarded the site of the demolished Babri Masjid in the town of Ayodhya to Hindu groups, Niaz understood much more.

“By then, I knew all about how these Hindu groups wanted a temple to Ram where the mosque was,” he told The National.

Niaz does not know how to feel about the verdict. On the one hand, he sees it as unfair, as if the court had rewarded the Hindu mobs that tore the mosque down.

“But honestly, I was also afraid that if the decision went against the Hindu groups, there would be riots again,” he said.

Niaz lives in the Mumbai neighbourhood of Mahim, where he is a mathematics tutor.

“This is where I was when I was a boy as well, and I remember how scared we all were when there were crowds on the streets nearby. I didn’t want to feel that again.”

There was no violence over the weekend after the court ruled that a Hindu temple be built on the 1.1-hectare site of the demolished mosque, and that Muslims be given another 2 hectares of land in Ayodhya.

But the verdict’s reception has mirrored the political divide in India between supporters and critics of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party.

Critics of the BJP, Muslim and non-Muslim, have disparaged the court’s decision.

Syeda Hameed, the president of the Muslim Women’s Forum, wondered if the verdict held any justice.

“If breaking the masjid was illegal, why has the 2.77 acres been gifted to the very elements who were party to this?” Ms Hameed wrote in the Hindustan Times.

In a speech in Hyderabad on Saturday evening, Asaduddin Owaisi, a member of Parliament, said he found the verdict flawed for similar reasons.

“If a person demolishes your house and if you go to an arbitrator, and he gives your house to the person who demolished it and tells you that you will be given an alternate land at some other place, how would you feel?” Mr Owaisi asked.

But Zafar Farooqui, chairman of the Sunni Wakf Board in the state of Uttar Pradesh, said his organisation “humbly accepted” the verdict.

“I want to make it clear that we won’t file for a review of the judgment,” Mr Farooqui told The National, while refusing to comment on whether he considered the court’s decision fair.

The ruling has triggered worries that it may be used as a precedent to claim the land under other mosques.

In the 1990s, after the Babri Masjid was razed, the BJP and other Hindu nationalist groups suggested it was merely the start of a wider campaign.

There are mosques in Mathura, Varanasi and dozens of other towns that Hindus deem holy. These would also be destroyed, one slogan chanted by the groups promised.

Kapil Komireddi, author of the book Malevolent Republic, said the verdict marked "the beginning of a calamitous phase" of history.

"What they did in Ayodhya they will seek to replicate in a dozen other places," Komireddi wrote on Twitter. "And the horror of Ayodhya will seem trivial as they go about avenging history.

But on Saturday, Mohan Bhagwat, head of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the ideological parent of the BJP, said that mosques elsewhere would not become targets. The Babri Masjid, he said, was an exception.

In its judgment of more than 1,000 pages, the court implicitly urged the protection of other mosques by endorsing the Places of Worship Act.

The act, passed in 1991, preserves the status of all places of worship as it was on August 15, 1947, when India became independent. Only the Babri Masjid was cited in the act as an exception.

At least one Hindu group, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, signalled its intention to defy the law.

“About Varanasi and Mathura, I must make it clear," said Alok Kumar, the group’s president. "The Supreme Court judgment is not the end of the story. It is the beginning.”

Updated: November 11, 2019 01:52 AM

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