Ayodhya verdict: Indian holy site 'to be divided'

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Hindu nationalist groups celebrate in Amritsar after Ayodhya verdict - 30 Sept 2010Image source, AFP
Image caption,
Some Hindu groups celebrated after the verdict

A court in India has said that a disputed holy site in Ayodhya should be split between Hindus and Muslims, but both sides plan to appeal.

In a majority verdict, judges gave control of the main disputed section, where a mosque was torn down in 1992, to Hindus.

Other parts of the site will be controlled by Muslims and a Hindu sect.

The destruction of the mosque by Hindu extremists led to widespread rioting in which some 2,000 people died.

It was some of the worst religious violence since the partition of India in 1947.

Officials urged both sides to remain calm and respect the Allahabad High Court's verdict.

Hindus claim the site of the Babri Masjid is the birthplace of their deity, Ram, and want to build a temple there.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has appealed for calm. In a statement, he said: "My appeal to all sections of the people is to maintain peace and tranquility and to show respect for all religions and religious beliefs in the highest traditions of Indian culture."

The court ruled that the site should be split, with the Muslim community getting control of a third, Hindus another third and the remainder going to a minority Hindu sect, Nirmohi Akhara, which was one of the early litigants in the case.

It said that the current status of the site should continue for the next three months to allow the land to be peacefully measured and divided.

The Hindus will keep the area where a small tent-shrine to Ram has been erected, lawyers said.

"The majority ruled that the location of the makeshift temple is the birthplace of Ram, and this spot cannot be shifted," said Ravi Shankar Prasad, a lawyer for one of the parties to the suit.

'No-one's victory'

Both Hindu and Muslim lawyers say they will appeal against the ruling in the 60-year-old case to the Supreme Court, which is likely to delay a final decision still further.

"We have to study the judgement in details," said Zafaryab Jilani, lawyer for the All India Muslim Personal Law Board.

"It's an 8,500-page order. The court has said a status quo will be maintained at the site for three months so we have time to appeal in the Supreme Court."

He told the BBC: "We hope peace and tranquility will be maintained."

The head of the right-wing Hindu group Rashtriya Samajsevak Sangh, Mohan Bhagwat, said: "It is no-one's victory, no-one's defeat.

"The temple for Lord Ram should be built; now everyone should work unitedly to ensure that the temple is built at the site."

Nearly 200,000 security personnel were deployed across northern India to quell any unrest in the wake of the verdict.

However, there have been no reports of violence so far.

Some Muslims have given a cautious welcome to the judgement, suggesting it could begin a process of reconciliation, says the BBC's Mike Wooldridge in Delhi.

Correspondents say the Ayodhya ruling could not have come at a worse time for the authorities - they already have their hands full dealing with security preparations for the Delhi Commonwealth Games which begin on Sunday.

However, the BBC's Soutik Biswas in Delhi says the verdict is a test of India's secular identity and much has changed in the country since the mosque was destroyed in 1992.