Lawyer says Indian court rules disputed Ayodhya holy site to be split between Hindus, Muslims

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Lawyer: Disputed India holy site to be divided

LUCKNOW, India — An Indian court ruled Thursday that a disputed holy site that has sparked bloody communal riots across the country in the past should be divided between the Hindu and Muslim communities, a lawyer involved in the suit said.

The Muslim community said it would appeal the ruling in the 60-year-old case to the Supreme Court.

Muslims revere the compound in Ayodhya as the site of the now-demolished 16th century Babri Mosque, while Hindus say it is the birthplace of the god Rama.

The Allahabad High Court ruled that the 64-acre (25-hectare) site should be split, with the Muslim community getting control of one-third and two Hindu groups splitting the remainder, according to Ravi Shankar Prasad, a lawyer for one of the parties to the suit.

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

“The majority ruled that the location of the makeshift temple is the birthplace of Rama, and this spot cannot be shifted,” he said.

The court also ruled that the current status of the site should continue for the next three months to allow for the land to be peacefully measured and divided, he said.

Zaffaryab Jilani, a lawyer for the Muslim community, said he would appeal the verdict, which could delay a final decision in the case for years.

“It’s not a victory or defeat for any party. It’s a step forward. We hope this matter will be resolved,” he said.

The conflict over the compound in Ayodhya, 350 miles (550 kilometers) east of New Delhi, has sparked violence between Hindus and Muslims that killed thousands of people and challenged India’s ethos as a secular, multicultural democracy.

The government and the parties to the dispute had appealed for calm in the wake of the verdict. Leaving nothing to chance, the government flooded the streets with troops.

Police arrested more than 10,000 people to prevent them from inciting violence, while another 100,000 had to sign affidavits saying they would not cause trouble after the verdict, a top official said.

Helicopters hovered over holy sites in the state as people entering temples were checked with metal detectors, police said.

“We have deployed around 200,000 security personnel at sensitive places to prevent any violence post the Ayodhya verdict,” top state official Shashank Shekhar Singh said.

The Babri Mosque, built in 1528 by the Mughal emperor Babur, was razed by Hindu hard-liners in 1992, setting off nationwide riots that killed 2,000 people.

Hindus want to build an enormous temple to Rama there, while Muslims want to rebuild the mosque. The ruling Thursday would almost certainly force both groups to scale down those plans.

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