India’s Supreme Court has given the ownership of a disputed religious site in the town of Ayodhya to Hindus for the construction of a temple, in a landmark verdict announced amid heightened security across the country.
Muslims will be given five acres of land at an alternative site in Ayodhya, in northern Uttar Pradesh state, the top court ruled on Saturday.
In a unanimous decision over the site claimed by both Hindus and Muslims, the five-judge bench asked the government to set up a trust that will construct a temple for Hindu deity Ram.
Al Jazeera’s Anchal Vohra, reporting from New Delhi, said a board of trustees [appointed by the government] would be formed in three months to essentially decide how to go about the construction of the temple.
She added that the alternative site for Muslims would be decided by the central government or the state government.
“Muslim intellectuals had already offered this when the mediations took place early this year as a possible solution to have broader peace between the two communities,” Vohra said.
Hardliners among India’s majority Hindus, including supporters of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), believe that Lord Ram, the warrior god, was born at the site where the Babri mosque existed. They say that the first Mughal emperor Babur built Babri Mosque on top of a temple at the site.
Muslims said they prayed at the mosque for generations until 1949, when Hindu activists placed idols of Ram.
The 460-year-old mosque was demolished in 1992 by Hindu mobs triggering nationwide religious violence that left about 2,000 people dead, most of them Muslims.
Appeals for calm
The top court on Saturday said a structure existed under the Babri Mosque, which was not built on vacant land.
A 2010 lower court ruling had divided the disputed 2.77 acres (1.12 hectares) into three equal parts, with two-thirds going to the Hindu community and one-third to Muslims. That order was challenged by both sides.
After Saturday’s verdict, Modi called for calm and police went on alert, with thousands of extra personnel deployed and schools closed in and around Ayodhya, the centre of the bitter dispute, and elsewhere.
Muslim groups also appealed for calm.
The BJP has campaigned for years for a temple to be built at Ayodhya, and a verdict clearing the way for that would be a major victory for the 69-year-old Modi, just months into his second term.
The verdict, it is hoped, will put an end to an angry and at times arcane legal wrangle that British colonial rulers and even the Dalai Lama tried to mediate.