Who built the Supreme Court of India

A long awaited verdict

At the focus of two religions: The destroyed mosque of Ayodhya is to be relocated.

From Martin Kämchen

December 6, 1992 was a black day for independent India. In the Hindu pilgrimage site of Ayodhya in the north Indian city of Uttar Pradesh, fanatical Hindus attacked the Babri mosque and razed it to the ground within a few hours. An outcry went through the nation. For days after that she remained frozen. In protest and helplessness, the parties called one general strike day after the other. This prevented major unrest between Hindus and Muslims. Yet hundreds died and the polarization of the population between Hindus and Muslims was even stronger than before.

Due to the animosity between the two religions, the subcontinent was split into India and Pakistan in 1948 - with the result that two warring countries face each other to this day. Ayodhya is one of the focal points of this conflict. However, it must be emphasized again and again that the Muslim minority as a whole is peacefully integrated into India. Culturally, Islam exerts enormous influence there, especially in music and architecture; on the other hand, Indian Islam, for example in Sufism, incorporated numerous Hindu elements.

What is special about the small town of Ayodhya in the middle of the north Indian plain that the conflicts and wounds of the two religious communities crystallize there? One of the most revered gods in the Hindu pantheon is Ramachandra - Rama or Ram for short - an incarnation of the supreme god Vishnu; his life is described in the most popular epics, the Mahabharata and especially in the Ramayana. Although these two scriptures do not name his place of birth, the belief that Rama was born in Ayodhya has been solidified over the centuries.

Do gods have an earthly place of birth? In India, yes. Because deities there are heroically living people on the one hand, and gods and goddesses who exist forever on the other - the transitions are fluid. For the Indian understanding, time and timelessness, man and God are inseparable units flowing into one another. Accordingly, the believers are not determined to be Ayodhya as their place of birth, or in other words: Ayodhya is everywhere. However, it becomes difficult when it comes to power, ownership, rites, hierarchies and jurisdiction. Then people have to commit themselves.

Both faiths want to be in the same place

That is why Ayodhya has been a case for the courts since the British colonial era. Two religious communities want to dominate a certain place. The history of the conflict shows the complex attitudes between Hindus and Muslims, but also the efforts of the two religions to come to terms with one another and to find practical solutions for living together. Likewise, the interference of the British colonial government and later successive Indian governments have always been pacification efforts, although they have not always been impartial.

In the last few decades Indian archaeologists have evidently been able to prove beyond doubt that a temple initially stood at the site in question. The Mughal ruler Babar built a mosque there at the beginning of the sixteenth century. However, there was no evidence that the temple was destroyed with the intention of building the Babri Mosque. In the middle of the nineteenth century there were bloody confrontations with numerous dead.

From 1949 on, the dispute simmered uninterruptedly until today. At that time, a statue of Rama was secretly installed in the mosque - in the form of a child - and in this way the church was desecrated. It was closed following the protests of the Muslims. As the Hindu nationalists grew stronger and organized themselves culturally and politically, initiatives arose in the eighties to "liberate" the place - called "Ram Janmabhumi" (birthplace of Rama) - and to build a new temple there. They also received political support, which led to the tragic event in 1992, the destruction of the Babri Mosque. The entire terrain was then cordoned off. But the Hindus succeeded in enthroning a statue of Rams in an improvised shrine.

Since then, Indian politics has been overshadowed by this incident. He was condemned around the world, but the right-wing extremist forces in the country gained new support. Now Hindu organizations demanded the erection of a representative Rama temple at the place where the mosque had stood. Regional and Pan-Indian governments routinely renewed promises to build this temple: the success of elections depended on that promise.

Whole trains full of pilgrims who brought bricks with "Ram" branded on them drove to Ayodhya, where the stones were stored for the future temple construction. One of these trains was attacked and a compartment set on fire; many pilgrims perished. The next day, a huge mob took revenge on the Muslims in Ahmedabad and other cities in Gujarat. That was in 2002; around two thousand people died in these massacres.

How wise is the Supreme Court?

After long trials, the Supreme Court in Allahabad finally ruled in 2010 that Ram Janmabhumi would be divided among the three litigating parties: two parts to the Hindu parties, one part to the Muslim parties. However, that compromise was challenged and the case went to the Supreme Court, the country's highest court. Another nine years passed before the long-awaited and hopefully final judgment was pronounced a few days ago (F.A.Z. of November 11th). In short, it reads: The Hindu parties involved in the litigation are granted the entire terrain, while the Muslims are given a plot of land "in a prominent location" outside the Ram Janmabhumi in order to rebuild their mosque. The reason for reversing the previous division is that it does not contribute to peace and quiet. In other words: the area, about two football pitches, is too small for a temple and a mosque.

The jubilation of many Hindu believers was great. The government had thousands of police officers stationed in and around Ayodhya to prevent a riot. Official Muslim organizations had announced in advance that they would accept the judgment, whatever it was to proclaim. Apparently they were exhausted and did not expect any more justice for themselves in a country ruled by a radical Hindu party than this verdict would bring.

Yet the disappointment among the Muslims was unmistakable. The cardinal question was: What about the punishment of those who were responsible for the violent demolition of the Babri Mosque? The human rights activist and journalist Harsh Mander criticized the judgment bluntly in the magazine "The Wire": The Hindu community was assigned the birthplace of Rama because of their belief in God and his birth in Ayodhya. But could this be a legal reason for the transfer of a property?

And: The two criminal acts of 1949 and 1992 as well as the unauthorized erection of a Rama statue immediately after the destruction of the Babri Mosque are now "rewarded" by the relocation of the Muslim house of worship.

Muslim lawyers, however, also recognize the positive aspects of the latest ruling. Its purpose is to prevent it from triggering further similar court cases. A Hindu organization listed three thousand mosques that centuries ago replaced temples, with or without violence. Well-known examples are Varanasi and Mathura. The judgment wants to put a stop to claims for restitution. In this context, the highest court also confirmed that the Babri Mosque in Ayodhya was not built as a result of the destruction of the Ram Temple - as it is claimed by the radical Hindus.

Although the verdict seems to suit the Hindu majority in India, the court succeeded in bringing the decades-long struggle over "Mandir or Masjid" (temple or mosque) to a tolerable conclusion. The verdict emphasizes the equality of religions and the "secular" nature of the Indian state. The effectiveness of the decision depends on whether the two religious communities are willing to draw a line or whether they allow themselves to be carried away by violent outbursts of emotions.

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