NEW DELHI/MUMBAI (Reuters) – After a decades-long legal battle, India’s top court is on Saturday due to rule on a centuries-old religious dispute that has strained ties between majority Hindus and Muslims and sparked deadly riots.
A supporter of the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP), a Hindu nationalist organisation, carries a cutout of a proposed Ram temple that Hindu groups want to build at a disputed religious site in Ayodhya, during “Dharma Sabha” or a religious congregation organised by the VHP in New Delhi, India, December 9, 2018. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi/File Photo
The Supreme Court in August decided to hear arguments every day in an effort to finally resolve the dispute over who should control the disputed land upon which lie the ruins of the 16th-century Babri Mosque, destroyed by a Hindu mob in 1992.
Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi will be leading a five-judge bench that will hand down the final verdict in a court battle involving three groups: the Sunni Waqf Board, a Muslim group, and two Hindu groups, the Nirmohi Akhara and Ram Lalla.
SIGNIFICANCE OF THE SITE
Millions of Hindus believe the mosque in the northern town of Ayodhya was built at the birthplace of Lord Ram, one of their most revered deities who is considered a physical incarnation of the Hindu God Vishnu.
Hindus say the site is one of their most sacred places – as sacred as Mecca is for Muslims.
Muslims say Islamic prayers have been offered at the site since 1528, when the Babri Mosque was first built during the rule of the Islamic Mughals.
The Muslim parties, through the Sunni Waqf Board, argued that their possession of the land is evident from the fact that they received grants for maintenance of the mosque dating back to 1528.
Hindus say the mosque was built on a site that was already holy for Hindus. Lawyers representing Ram Lalla submitted archaeological evidence that they said proved the site has long held religious sanctity for Hindus.
Muslim groups say government officials connived with Hindu priests to secretly place an idol of an infant Lord Ram inside the mosque complex in 1949.
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT?
Supreme Court’s ruling is likely to have a significant impact on the fraught relations between India’s majority Hindus and Muslims, who constitute 14% of its roughly 1.3 billion people.
Construction of a “grand temple” in Ayodhya has long been an election promise of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which secured a second term with a landslide general election victory this year.
The BJP had mobilised tens of thousands of people in Ayodhya in 1992 when fiery speeches inflamed the crows and led to a Hindu mob to tearing down the mosque.
The destruction of the mosque sparked some of the deadliest communal riots in independent India’s history that led to the deaths of nearly 2,000 people and deepened communal divisions.
Reporting by Mayank Bhardwaj and Rupam Jain; Editing by Euan Rocha, Robert Birsel